Big changes ahead for the military's BYOD strategy

The Defense Department’s game plan of allowing mobile devices in the workplace includes exploring mobile device management (MDM), a strategy that could potentially turn some defense employees off to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept, DOD and industry sources say.

This year could spell big changes on the BYOD front in the DOD workplace. The agency made its first official overture toward embracing BYOD in late October, when the Defense Information System Agency (DISA) put out a solicitation for MDM capabilities, as well as a Mobile Application Store. The MDM capability, according to DISA, should provide a user “traffic cop” to enforce policy by defining functions allowed on mobile devices.

It’s a strategy that could muddy the waters, according to an industry insider.

“We end up dealing with BYOD, where it’s the user, employee or service member who owns the device wanting to access the network. For that, MDM is really the wrong approach because it’s some entity taking full control and full management of that system essentially,” said Jon Green, director of government solutions at Aruba Networks, an infrastructure provider focused on connecting mobile devices to their applications. “It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out.”

BYOD makes a lot of sense for agencies looking to cut costs, in areas such as hardware acquisition and service contracts. But DOD is not just any agency, and the Defense Department stands apart by charting its own policy. At the same time, in the mobile device arena, DOD’s age-old strategy of buying government-owned equipment is no longer cost-effective. For example, if it took DOD five years to develop a smart phone, the commercial sector would have updated its available technology many times during that same time period.

“As soon as you say ‘you’ve got to bring your own device but we’re going to take full control over it, and we’re going to restrict what you can do with it,’ suddenly that whole cost savings argument goes out the window,” Green said.

Still, there will likely be many military service members with personally owned iPhones who are going to need to have some sort of DOD application running on them, Green added. “Obviously, these are going to be unclassified devices with low sensitivity in terms of the information they carry. There is a case for that, versus MDM, [which] is more appropriate for an Enterprise-owned and issued device,” he said.

“The MDM thing is certainly a big deal, but is the government going to purchase 200,000 iPads or Android tablets or smart phones to issue them to people in order to take them under full enterprise control?” The answer to that question, Green says, will likely be somewhere in between.

Commercial companies, for example, often have a subset of devices that are enterprise-owned and managed, and another subset that is employee-owned, Green said.

“But what does that breakdown look like? That’s the future we need to discern,” he said. “It’s tricky to find that balance in how much control you cede over to IT.”

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