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Let employees use their own smartphones for business

Oct. 23, 2011 - 10:33AM   |  
By ADELAIDE O'BRIEN   |   Comments

The federal government was asked by outgoing federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra to move from asset ownership to services provisioning, and relieve its annual information technology budgets of hardware investments and pesky legacy maintenance costs. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that shifting to a "cloud first" policy will save $5 billion annually savings that can be applied to software and help close the technology adoption gap between the private sector and government.

In addition to embracing cloud, moving away from asset ownership is a concept that is catching on with agency CIOs who are considering allowing employees to use their own smartphones at work. In an IDC survey of more than 200 government IT professionals in January, 44 percent indicated at least half of their workforce carries at least one government-supplied mobile device, and more than half of these responders indicated that at least 75 percent of government employees have at least one government-supplied device.

The Veterans Affairs Department has been testing the use of the iPhone family of smart mobile devices, and with successful processes, procedures and security in place, is starting this month to roll out support more widely for those devices. Eventually, VA will provide device-agnostic support to the multiple brands of smart devices used by employees.

The General Services Administration has launched a project Making Mobile Gov that is focused on helping agencies work together to make a more open, innovative government and better meet citizen expectations. This project provides a synthesis of government mobility needs and challenges captured via blogs and videos, and is in the third phase of its approach:

Helping agencies discover information and make the case for mobile.

Providing a portal for chats and discussions of the challenges to deploying mobile government.

Facilitating a dialogue across government, industry, nonprofits and the public on how to design a mobile future.

IDC Government Insights predicts that government will make information easily available to employees and the public via the Internet and smart mobile devices, making use of the burgeoning number of devices and accompanying applications used by citizens and government employees alike. So the VA test and GSA project are timely.

But there are a few critical questions government should address. Given the push from asset ownership to services provisioning, should government purchase mobile devices for employees or just allow employees to use their own? Agencies are faced with the reality that by the time they release their procurement for smart mobile devices, chances are the current devices are the next generation.

And given that government is getting into device agnosticism, should government get into creating applications for smart mobile devices, or should that be left for service providers and contests? For example, should the Social Security Administration spend taxpayer dollars on a Baby Name Playroom application for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch that provides more than 45,000 names for expectant parents to consider?

To be fair to the agency's intent, mission-critical information is also provided, such as how to apply for the baby's Social Security number. However, at a time when Social Security benefit cuts are part of balanced budget discussions, perhaps developing applications isn't the best use of government resources.

By supporting employees' preferred devices, some confusion might be eliminated, and IT departments can demonstrate their progressiveness. Governments can lower costs and provide employees the convenience of using for business the devices they selected for use in their personal lives.

Adelaide O'Brien is a research director with consulting firm IDC Government Insights.

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