The Marine Corps is banking on a new approach for managing its mobile devices — one that that could pave the way for civilian and uniformed personnel to use their own smartphones for work.
The service is on the verge of launching a small beta program with Verizon, Sprint and AT&T to test the feasibility of wireless carriers managing the security of mobile devices, based on Marine Corps policies and standards, said Rob Anderson, chief of Command, Control, Communications and Computers-Vision & Strategy Division at Marine Corps Headquarters.
While the ultimate goal is to allow personnel to use their own devices, the four-month beta will test a small pool of 20 loaned Apple and Android smartphones from the carriers, Anderson said at a March 7 Federal Mobile Computing Summit. Sprint is providing multi-personality smartphones, based on the Android operating system, that isolate the business and personal domains of the phone, a key enabler for rolling out bring-your-own-device capabilities.
“We can’t touch that side no matter what because of the security inside of the device,” Anderson said of the phone’s personal domain. The business domain on the phone used for government work will be managed by the carriers and can be remotely wiped if needed.
The loaned devices must first undergo penetration and security testing, Anderson said. If the solutions are not secure, “then we have to change our approach with the pilot.”
If the tests go well, the Marines could begin implementing the plan by the second quarter of 2015, he said. “The technology exists now,” he said. “It’s a legal issue.”
One concern is that people will bear the cost of using their personal devices for work, essentially providing a free service to the government. But if the government funds the management of the device and capabilities for accessing work data, “we have now paid for something,” he said.
One of the major drivers for moving to a personally-owned, government-managed model is cost savings. But those savings would come from shifting the cost of voice and data to the user, which could be a sticking point from people without unlimited plans. There are also cost implications for users overseas.
The Marine Corps will use a survey to gauge user interest among uniform and civilian employees. With no additional funding being allocated for the mobility effort, Anderson said the benefits of allowing employees to use their personal devices are huge.
“If we eliminate half of our voice and data plans, that means we can increase devices by 85,000 for no additional costs,” he said. Today, the Marine Corps manages about 11,000 devices.
“If our experiment doesn’t work, then the pilot will end up not involving the carriers anymore and would involve us managing the devices through our own infrastructure.”
Another alternative is using a new mobile device management service provided by the Defense Information Systems Agency, but that’s only for government devices. Plus, the projected cost of managing mobile devices in-house or through a carrier is less expensive than DISA, Anderson said.
Under the Marine Corps strategy, users would be able to do work on their personal devices similar to how they use government- issued BlackBerry devices. Anderson envisions other military services using companies like Verizon and Sprint to manage their devices.
“If the Marine Corps can do it, than that means the Army and the Navy and Air Force and civilian agencies can do it, unless they have something that would preclude them from having a personally-owned, corporate-enabled device,” Anderson said.