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ATF: A case study in smart mobile advance

Jul. 15, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By TOM SUDER   |   Comments
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Rick Holgate, CIO of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is well into his mobile deployment as an early leader, initially instituting a mobile phone surveillance pilot at the ATF in 2011.

You may remember Holgate as the Co-Chair of the ACT-IAC Advanced Mobility Working Group, which supported the landmark Digital Government Strategy, the Presidential Memorandum released in May, 2012, as the pathway to the adoption of digital technologies—and specifically mobility—in the federal government.

ATF is well on its way through what I call the first phase of mobility: Building an infrastructure that supports smartphones and tablets to provide e-mail, browser and legacy desktop tools using virtualization.

Holgate’s current mobile infrastructure is robust. His agency uses the AirWatch Mobile Device Management system, has completely transitioned from Blackberry devices—and Blackberry Enterprise Server—to iPhones.

“We currently have about 4,000 iPhones distributed among our 4,800 employees,” Holgate said. “We have about 400 iPads deployed, primarily for executive support and in the field for operational purposes.”

In addition, ATF recently transitioned from a pure-play iOS environment, and have started a move to the Dell Venue 11 Pro with keyboards as a laptop replacement.

“As part of a larger user technology refresh, we recently made the decision to go to Windows 8 tablets, a device that can be used both in the office and in the field to support our regulatory and law enforcement missions,” Holgate said.

Some of these tablets may replace iPads in the field, as well as the laptops, he said. “We’re doing all of this in an environment of constrained resources. We’re not just adopting new technology for its own sake, we’re using it as a means to drive other costs out of our business and simplify and streamline our technology environment.”

The next big challenge for Holgate: Replacing an antiquated case management system.

“Our case management, built in the ‘90s, is really a set of four case applications that handle our criminal investigative and regulatory (inspection) missions,” Holgate said. “One issue we have is old tools designed for the traditional desktop. Working with large spreadsheets can be difficult on a tablet. In the office, it’s not a problem with a larger monitor.”

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The new case management system will offer a completely new experience for the users.

“It has to be built on a mobile-first paradigm,” Holgate said. “We need to build a business process management system that is mobile-first ready. We also need an off-line capability for data capture in those environments.”

Work on the case management system is currently planned to begin in early 2015 with an initial implementation by 2017.

Holgate is even looking into the future, when a better case management system is in place and opportunities in using Big Data analytics are available to help with the mission.

“We are already using modest data analytics, tapping into the various data systems at our disposal,” he said. “We are looking to address the emerging area of online activity and what intelligence we can derive, leading to actionable information.”

Another area that the ATF is looking into down the road: Wearables and the “Internet of Things.”

“There’s a great potential for using wearables to conduct law enforcement operations or to respond to arson scenes,” Holgate said. “There are huge implications for wearables in public safety, and Verizon and others are doing some very interesting work to show what’s possible. We are also looking at improving real-time awareness and tapping into social media to get real-time info.”

It is difficult to keep up with the pace of change in technology, but by leveraging the convergence of mobility and big data—most likely built on a flexible cloud infrastructure—government can greatly benefit.

Forward-thinking agencies like ATF are pushing the envelope with new technologies and leading the charge.

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