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Edging toward government mobile management

Apr. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By | AMBER CORRIN   |   Comments
Agencies are developing mobile device management policies at varying rates.
Agencies are developing mobile device management policies at varying rates. (Getty Images/Ingram Publishing)

As the demand for mobile devices on the job in federal agencies grows, corresponding management policies for secure mobility are taking off in government offices across the country.

The policies are in various stages of development. Some organizations are leading the charge, providing services for other offices, while others struggle to balance the pressing information-sharing needs both spurred and solved by mobility and its inherent security concerns.

“We have to get past those concepts of how do we secure the data and how do we properly identify the individual,” Kevin Graber, deputy chief information security officer at the Homeland Security Department, said April 2 at an industry event in Washington. “It started with the idea that people wanted to do business and they felt it was important to be able to send emails back and forth, so the security that’s built into [a Blackberry] and the infrastructure that’s built around it is why it still exists today. But to that point, I can’t IM on this thing or download random [apps]…so MDM is a necessary evil.”

Blackberry has long been the government’s go-to choice for secure mobile devices. But as other devices make their way into federal agencies, it is inevitable that managers need to find other options beyond the stalwart Blackberry’s tightly coupled operating systems.

At the Defense Department, those options include a range of devices used at every level of the military. Stateside, some defense agencies are taking advantage of the new MDM program being offered by the Defense Information Systems Agency – and even those who are not are watching very closely.

DISA’s July 2013 contract award to Digital Management Inc. was one of the most talked-about buying decisions in government IT, but details on the program’s implementation have remained relatively scarce. Now DISA is onboarding customers who pay fees to use the service, and the agency, through DoD’s “DISA first” strategy, is to be an earlier adopter and top choice for MDM capabilities, according to officials.

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“A prime example is our work with Air Mobility Command to service large mission needs that have not been connected to the network in the past. AMC is deploying more than 18,000 devices in their electronic flight bag program,” a DISA spokesperson said. “We continue to transition pilot users to the [DoD Mobility Unclassified Capability] operational system, along with new Army customers, [Air Force headquarters] and AMC as our first priorities.”

DISA also has a classified mobility pilot program under way, and the next major release for the unclassified capability will add gateway support and an office capability package to enable editing of Word documents and other Microsoft Office items, the spokesperson said.

The agency is ready for those interested in signing up, according to DISA mobility chief technology officer Greg Youst, who spoke at the April 2 event.

“If they want to join up for mobility then they just log into our provisioning system, they sign up for their devices – and we have only a select list approved, because we’re not taking every device. They have to go through an approved security process,” Youst said. “We have a program plan for rolling on customers as we go along; we program so many per month.”

Youst declined to say how many customers have joined so far, but he acknowledged that some potential DOD users are taking more of a wait-and-see approach – not unlike in the case of DISA’s enterprise e-mail service.

“Some of the services are laying back and seeing which route they want to go, how they want to proceed with mobility. The Marine Corps [is] taking on a pilot because they are looking at a different approach,” Youst said. “DISA is part of DOD CIO and has an enterprise strategy for mobility, we’re providing the service and it’s open to DOD customers to sign up for the plan. They bring their own phones and their own data plans, but we provide them the [MDM] policy capability to manage devices and as well as the app store.”

Outside DOD, the General Services Administration still is determining the best way forward for a civilian MDM platform, according to Jon Johnson, GSA managed mobility program manager.

“GSA and the managed mobility program, we’ve been working with a lot of these agencies, whether it’s as they’re going through pilots like the State Department is going through, kicking the tires on different situations,” or with agencies that are further along in the process, Johnson said. “It still is a relatively immature market. We don’t know necessarily where the MDM is going to reside…whether on the backend infrastructure, the carriers, as a feature on the devices -- that’s something that’s yet to be determined. It might be a combination of all three.”

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