The Federal Government’s Mobile Makeover – Top 7 Most Exciting Trends - Clearly Innovative | Web and Mobile DevelopmentClearly Innovative | Web and Mobile Development

Sequestration and budget issues aside, the Federal Government is taking large strides in mobilizing its workforce – from federal civilian agencies to the DoD and Intelligence Communities.  Recently, at the MobileGovSummit, we had a chance to hear firsthand about the latest developments from the government’s top leaders.  Here is our take on the ‘status’ of enterprise mobility in government:

1.    Device Diversity – The most surprising developments may be around device diversity.  This does not necessarily mean BYOD (although some agencies already have BYOD), but the fact that the DoD is planning to support many different devices – all the way up to Top Secret data – is a big shift in thinking.  DoD CIO Teri Takai presented an overview of the recently announced mobility strategy.  Throughout the presentation were mentions of iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows devices.  This does not mean that security will be relaxed – only that measures are being taken to sufficiently test and approve more devices.  This includes an MDM (Mobile Device Management) solution to be the ‘gatekeeper’.  The EEOC’s CIO, Kim Hancher, had a team review the idea of BYOD and determine that there was minimal risk due to no classified data, no PII (Personally Identifiable Information), and no critical infrastructure impacts.  Therefore, they implemented BYOD.  Probably one of the most under-discussed implications of BYOD and device diversity is that individual applications will need to be developed for multiple platforms.  In order to reduce the associated time & cost of app development, the government will likely need a strong strategy around utilizing cross-platform tools (aka MEAPs – Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms) such as Appcelerator (also see here: Enterprise Mobile Apps – How to Maximize ROI Without Sacrificing Performance or Features).

 2.    Partnerships & Cross-Agency Sharing – The government is often criticized for ‘silos’ of standards, technologies and initiatives.  What is clear now is that standards for mobile are not being developed independently.  For example, the DoD is leveraging work done by DHS and NIST on mobility standards, architecture and security.  GSA is helping to drive device cost down with volume purchasing, a move that will benefit all agencies.  What’s also being taken into account is interoperability across agencies, across US allies and even across humanitarian partners – whether it is communication technologies and protocols or even applications.

 3.   Business Cases for Mobile – Government organizations are not just going mobile due to pressure from a few senior leaders in love with the iPad – they are going mobile due to significant business and mission cases to do so.   Among the justifications are cost savings and mission enhancement through equipping field agents with real-time data collection and sharing tools.  Other business cases are increased engagement with citizens – many of which, in certain demographics, predominantly access services and the Internet via mobile devices.  Some agencies, such as the USPS, are taking advantage of the commercial mobile revolution to replace expensive custom-built devices.  The USPS currently has over 200,000 10 year-old custom-built devices that its carriers use for scanning and address lookup.   For the DoD, the same commercial economies of scale can apply by no longer needing to fund the development of unique devices solely for their use.  Another interesting business case is around recruiting and retaining younger workers.  Younger workers are expecting, if not demanding, flexibility and mobility, and if the government can embrace that attitude as the corporate world has, it can be better off for it.

 4.    Enterprise App Stores – In order to effectively deliver agency-approved apps, Enterprise App Stores are being procured and implemented.  Behind the scenes are Mobile Application Management (MAM) solutions that properly secure and control getting the right apps and features to the right users.  This also accounts for leveraging ‘white listed’ external consumer or commercial applications that may provide functional value at a fraction of the cost to develop a federal version.  The DoD has already piloted app stores intended to foster innovation through ‘grassroots’ development of apps for soldiers.  Some have even spoken of ‘app competitions’ among contractors, although the viability of such a plan will depend on the reality of economics.  For instance, would contractors really step up to build complex apps that might only ‘lose’ in a competition, or that might not be ‘purchased’ by end users at a sufficient rate?  Another consideration surely must be the complexity that has to go into some federal apps – can a team of developers sit in a vacuum and really develop a sufficient product, meeting the needs of the end users and clearing hurdles around standards, security and other constraints?

5.    Data Mobilization – Devices, applications and standards are virtually useless if valuable data sources are ‘held hostage’ due to legacy technology.  A key to the government’s mobile strategy is unlocking its ‘treasure troves’ of data for access by mobile devices.  This includes special APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and web services as well as data formats that are optimized for the comparatively lower bandwidth offered available on devices.  Batch-based systems need to be updated to handle the real-time data accuracy needs of mobile users.  To do this entails considering the time and budget for exposing and optimizing those data sources for mobile, which is not always technically or fiscally easy.  Another challenge and opportunity is dealing with the sheer amount of data available.  Lt. General Ronnie Hawkins, CIO of DISA, stated that, “90% of data is falling on the floor,” meaning that much more data is being collected than is being analyzed or utilized.  In addition, he noted that, “90% of the data in the world was created in the last 2 years”, attributing much of that to mobile devices.  He mentioned a strategy around ‘Big Data’ with technologies such as Hadoop to begin to attempt to harness that data and convert it into actionable information.  Finally, it wouldn’t be a modern discussion about data without ‘the cloud’ coming up, and the term did come up frequently.  In order to properly secure data in the mobile world, it was stated several times that data should be in the cloud and not on the device – in the event of the loss or inappropriate use of a device.

 6.    Connectivity – As personal device users, we often take connectivity for granted, or at least understand the frustration when unable to receive an email or speedily access the Internet.  As the government begins to rely more on mobilized functionality for the fulfillment of its mission, connectivity begins to become more and more critical.  The lack of connectivity, reduced speed of connectivity, or even just inconsistent connectivity could pose serious issues.  On the positive side, expanding commercial carrier networks and more prevalent Wi-Fi connections are offering more possibilities.  For the DoD, high-bandwidth satellite communications have been made available throughout the world – delivering VOIP, videoconferencing and more.  From a cost savings perspective, DoD is even leveraging local in-country commercial carrier services where possible to use the most cost-effective method, given the security requirements for the type of communication.

 7.    Agile Development – These days, government IT leaders readily acknowledge that waterfall development (and procurement) is not well suited for mobility (if it even is for non-mobile endeavors anymore).  Shorter delivery cycles and update cycles will save time and money and deliver greater value sooner by following Agile methods.  A one or two-year mobile application project cannot succeed, or at least cannot succeed at a reasonable price for the American taxpayers.

About the Author

Brian Blankenship is a Senior Mobile Solutions Provider with Clearly Innovative, Inc.  He is an experienced mobile developer, as well as a certified project manager with experience and certifications in agile development.  He has developed apps for various industries including the federal government.

Clearly Innovative, Inc.

Clearly Innovative, Inc. is a certified small business and a premier provider of mobile technology solutions for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, HTML5, Windows 8, Nook and Kindle.  Based in Washington, DC and founded in 2009, Clearly Innovative has developed dozens of apps and serves clients in various industries such as the Federal, DoD, Commercial, Social Media, Non-profit arenas. Clearly Innovative specializes in mobile app development using the Appcelerator Titanium platform, which essentially allows code to be written once and ‘published’ across multiple platforms – drastically reducing time and cost throughout the development lifecycle. Clearly Innovative is an official Appcelerator Gold-Level Integration partner, with many certified mobile app developers and deep expertise on the platform. In addition to bringing top-notch mobile expertise, Clearly Innovative brings solid project management and process improvement expertise to support a solid and lasting solution.