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Editorial: Bring Your Own Device plan is worth the risk

Jun. 24, 2012 - 12:37PM   |  
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When the White House last month released its long-awaited digital strategy, many federal information technology managers and federal employees were disappointed.

The strategy laid out a laudable vision for making more federal data available to the public on a wide variety of digital platforms. But it was a letdown for those seeking guidance on another high-interest topic: mobile devices.

Specifically, the strategy was silent on how agencies should proceed with allowing employees to use personal mobile devices for work.

Punting on the subject, the White House said it would create a Digital Services Advisory Group to work with federal chief information officers on a governmentwide Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) plan by September.

A clear policy can’t come soon enough.

Employees, unions and federal IT managers are all keen to establish a policy as soon as possible in order to harness the digital computing and communications power employees are carrying around in their pockets.

Some agencies are plowing ahead with their own BYOD plans, despite the lack of direction from the Office of Management and Budget. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among others, has already issued rules. They should be applauded, but they must also be prepared to change course if their approach proves at odds with rules established by the Digital Services Advisory Group.

Still, it’s not like IT managers have to re-invent the wheel. Numerous corporate entities, including government contractors handling sensitive information, have already tackled this issue. There are established best practices that can be adopted, and if employees object to some of the rules — such as the agency retaining the ability to wipe the phone clean in case it is lost — they are free to opt out of using it for work emails and other tasks.

The fact is, OMB is already years behind the power curve. Smartphone technology has been widely available and affordable for individual customers for at least five years. It shouldn’t have taken this long for the government to wake up to the idea that agencies could benefit if staff could use their personal BlackBerrys and iPhones to access official correspondence.

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