Mobility: A moving target

As mobility becomes more and more entrenched in the culture of government, the push is on to make it as safe, user-friendly and widespread as possible. Agencies at every level of government are making progress on all of these fronts, surely and steadily.

Security is at the top of the list. While agencies have made great strides in improving mobile security, the push continues. Last year, a group of 46 federal technologists known as the Mobile Technology Tiger Team developed the Federal Mobile Security Baseline, which gives agencies and departments a set of instructions for assessing risk and improving mobile security.

Another important trend is the concept of the personal mobile workplace, an idea that Gartner identified as one of its Top 10 strategic technology trends for smart government. The idea is that whether a mobile device is agency-issued or employee-owned, the use of mobile devices in the government workplace is inevitable. According to a recent survey by the Mobile Work Exchange, 90 percent of government employees today use at least one mobile device for work purposes. The use of mobile devices in government means that agencies have no choice but to develop policies for allowing and managing these devices that aligns with internal security policies, yet provides employees with enough privacy.

Agencies also are working to improve the user experience, whether that user is a government employee or a citizen. By creating more engaging user experiences and improving usability, agencies hope to increase user acceptance of mobile apps across the board. To help agencies get on the right track, GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, in concert with more than 100 participants from 35 federal agencies, states, the private sector, and academia, developed a list of 42 guidelines.

These included using plain language, providing user-centered content, optimizing apps for performance, providing well-organized content to create increased feelings of trust and making content easy to share.

Sharing is another major mobility trend. GSA is leading the charge with Mobile Code Catalog, which allows federal agencies to share code to make mobile development easier. The site includes sharable frameworks and modular code for HTML/CSS/JS, ColdFusion, Ruby, Python and JSP, as well as modular code and complete apps for Android, Blackberry, iOS and .Net/Windows. Other resources include test scripts, a Federal App Catalog, federal APIs and a link to the Mobile App Development Program.

Agencies at all levels of government also continue to increase citizen engagement through better mobility. Another one of Gartner’s Top 10 strategic technology trends for smart government, mobile citizen engagement is widely considered to be the best way to deliver services, disseminate information and contribute to citizen satisfaction with government. One way governments are improving mobile citizen engagement is by developing user-friendly, citizen-facing apps.

On the federal side, agencies are motivated to develop more citizen-facing apps to comply with the Digital Government Strategy, which requires it. Apps run the gamut, from financial, business and education to health and fitness, medical, news, reference and travel. State and local governments are even more invested, with hundreds of apps for everything from traffic management to first aid.

Coming soon to an agency near you

As exciting as these trends are, advances in technology promise to make the future of mobility in government even more interesting. One of the most exciting areas of focus is wearable technology—an area that IDC Government says will improve smart mobile government.

First responders and soldiers are the most obvious recipients of wearable gear. For example, DARPA’s Warrior Web program is working with Harvard University to develop a lightweight suit to be worn under uniforms to protect parts of the body prone to injury. The suit, which would include sensors that could measure health signs, also could be constructed to allow soldiers to carry heavier loads by making them feel lighter. State and local governments could use similar technology to outfit first responders with wearable, voice-activated, hands-free devices for transmitting and receiving critical voice, video and data information. The devices would be GPS-enabled and have integrated sensors to monitor video, heart rate and external and internal temperatures.

There is a lot of potential for wearable technology in other areas as well. For example, wristbands for emergency signaling and health monitoring or wearable devices to improve worker productivity by keeping people on task may be on the way. Another area ripe for development is using visual devices such as Google Glass for situational awareness. DARPA is working on something similar through its Urban Leader Tactical Response, Awareness & Visualization (ULTRA-VIS) program, which already has a prototype of a tactical augmented reality system that would allow soldiers in the field to see the location of other forces, vehicles, hazards and aircraft in holographic form through a visual display.