5 good ideas for making government more mobile

The online dialogue sought feedback from experts, industry, techies and the public

The National Dialogue on the Federal Mobility Strategy used social media to allow a wide audience of government, industry and other stakeholders to assist in developing a plan for the use of mobile technology throughout the federal government.

The dialogue, which ran from Jan. 11 to Jan. 27, was sponsored by the Executive Office of the President and the General Services Administration. According to federal officials, the purpose of the strategy is to accelerate the government’s adoption of mobile technologies and services that will:

  • Improve delivery of government information, products and services.
  • Engage citizens more fully and meaningfully with government.
  • Reduce the cost of government operations through technology-enabled efficiencies.
  • Increase productivity by freeing federal employees and contractors from less effective 20th-century work practices.

With many disparate mobility efforts currently under way at various agencies, the new initiative is designed to take advantage of “the good work already being done; identify and address policy and guidance gaps in the mobility space; reduce duplication of efforts; and increase collaboration and sharing of contracts, code and lessons learned that can help us make exponential improvements in federal mobility,” according to the dialogue’s website.

The online dialogue is being used to gather ideas, comments and opinions on how the federal government can accelerate mobility. Members of the public were asked to contribute their best ideas about how to incorporate the power and possibilities of mobility into government efforts; how to build mobile technologies and services for reuse and share common services among agencies and public developers; how to manage mobile technology acquisition, inventory and expenses; how to foster collaboration among agencies, industry and academia; and how to establish a governance structure for federal mobility.

Some of the most valuable suggestions collected from the dialogue involved:

  • Considering content portability. One contributor suggested that because every agency has Web content that is viewed on a daily basis, extending that content to mobile environments would help each agency more easily adopt a mobile strategy. As that contributor said, “Based on page views of the Web content, it will be easy to prioritize” the content that should be made accessible to mobile users. One person who voted in favor of the suggestion added that “enabling cloud computing to help analyze the Web traffic could help identify and manage the data to port over to mobile services.”
  • Developing a governmentwide shared services catalog that houses code, application programming interfaces, and Web services that agencies and the public can easily access and use. The suggestion encourages cross-sharing of data, code, etc., and was among the most popular, garnering more than 30 votes. One contributor commented, “The goal is trying not to have 26 agencies do everything 26 times. Agencies could come into the 'environment' and pick tools/resources, etc., to do application development. Plus, they could host and create next-generation customer service environments for citizens as additional services. Bottom line: They would offer a platform for all to use (a shared technology platform).”
  • Harnessing the power of crowds. “Everyone — specifically [those] with an Internet-enabled device — is a sensor.” one contributor wrote. “All of these individuals have the capability to report events in real time. As federal budgets are slashed, the federal mobility strategy can incorporate the use of free, publicly available information to uncover firsthand situation reports. Constant flow of geotagged information and images provides government the opportunity to collaborate with the public and allocate resources more effectively.”
  • Bringing one’s own device to work. This also ranked among the hottest topics. Approximately 75 percent of enterprises now have “bring your own device” policies, according to research by the Aberdeen Group. The contributor of that idea said that due to the power, availability, and relative affordability of smart phones and tablet PCs, the federal government shouldn’t be required to keep up with the pace of new technology. Instead, this contributor said the government should provide standard mobile data management security protocols to allow employees to use their own devices. The contributor also suggested that agencies provide a monthly stipend to cover the cost of wireless services. Some commenters noted that many federal employees are already bringing their own devices to work out of operational necessity. Others raised potential security and privacy concerns. However, one contributor said that if the content “resides in the cloud, not on the device, it’s entirely possible to make these devices secure.” Another contributor highlighted privacy issues by asking, “Who owns the pictures/images on a privately owned device?”
  • Establishing centers of excellence for common services, especially those related to security. The centers could perform valuable certification and accreditation of applications, devices and operating systems, similar to what the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program has been established to do for cloud computing in the federal sector. The idea was hailed by voters in the online dialogue. One contributor said, “Centers of excellence could provide best practices, samples, case studies and guidance.”

Still another widely discussed topic revolved around the difficulty of establishing federal governmentwide strategies in general. One contributor said a governmentwide mobile strategy should not be limited to the purchasing of devices. Agencies must recognize the need to establish short- and long-term plans and strategies for mobile deployment and application development. Without a strategy for effectively using mobile technology in the federal space, application and device deployment will remain inefficient and costly.

Adaptability and responsiveness were among the primary concerns of those who commented on the challenges involved in building a successful governmentwide approach to mobility. As one voter explained, the strategy “can’t be a static plan.” Instead, it must describe “how mobility (not just mobile technology) fits into any government organization, regardless of the device, platform, application or services [used].”

The online dialogue, which closed Jan. 27, provided an important opportunity for a diverse community of stakeholders that included mobile experts, policy-makers, developers, industry suppliers and citizens to submit ideas on how to accelerate federal mobility. Officials will consider the suggestions when creating a guidance document for the federal mobility strategy, due to be published later this spring. Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said that within the year, “I expect the government to change the way we work — to start embracing mobility-enabling technology across the federal workforce in a coordinated way and to start working on plans to deliver mobile-accessible content and services to the American people.”

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Custom Media Group, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media, please e-mail us at [email protected].