Mobile apps, services have changed so the government’s approach is too


The General Services Administration is updating how agencies buy mobile computing services across 11 areas.

The new special item number (SIN) under Schedule 70 is part of the recognition by both GSA and agencies that mobile computing, like so many other areas of technology, is being driven by the commercial sector and not by the need for customization.

This is clear in the updated list of services coming under the SIN ranging from mobile application vetting to mobile backend-as-a-service to Internet of Things (IoT) design, development, operation and maintenance services.

Jacob Parcel (left) is the Director of the Innovation Portfolio at the GSA’s Technology Transformation Service.
Jake Marcellus is the portfolio manager for DoD mobility at DISA.  Keith Bluestein is the associate CIO for Enterprise Services & Integration at NASA. All spoke at the recent Ask the CIO Live panel at the ATARC mobile summit.

Additionally, GSA says it will launch the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) Wireless Request for Quote (RFQ) generator tool on the Acquisition Gateway. It will assist agencies in developing their requirements and expediting their mobile procurement efforts.

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Maybe the biggest change the refreshed SIN will address is around mobile apps.

This is because of a change in thinking across the government.

Jacob Parcell, the director of the innovation portfolio at GSA’s Technology Transformation Service, said agencies have moved from wanting to build their own applications to an approach to mobile that is a part of a broader digital strategy.

Parcell said one big driver of this change in thinking is the Connected Government Act, which Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law in December 2017.

The law requires agencies to ensure new or updated websites used by citizens to be mobile friendly.

“What we are working on now with my community of practice, which is about 1,100 strong now, are ways to make sure your website is really mobile. A lot of people think a mobile website is just a responsive web design. That’s somewhat correct, but there are strategies you can use like mobile-first strategy where you design the website for mobile devices and then build it out,” Parcell said during the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center’s Live Ask the CIO at the recent mobile summit. “Some of those things there are performance questions around mobile like not building a website that is full of pictures and basically kill someone’s battery or it doesn’t load. There are studies in the private sector that say every second it takes for somebody to load your website means they are going to another provider.”

In addition to back-end considerations, Parcell said the community of practice also wants agencies to think about the needs of citizens and customers on the front end.

These considerations are becoming more important as more and more users are coming to federal websites via smartphones and tablets. The latest data on analytics.usa.gov show 41.1 percent of all web traffic is coming through smartphones and 5.7 percent is coming from tablets.

“I can’t wait until it goes to 50 percent because I think that’s a clear indication that we need to be more mobile friendly,” Parcell said. “What I’m working to do, and I talk to three or four agencies a week so I think there is more awareness around this, is build an awareness campaign so every agency is thinking about this and they have resources to do it the right way. I’m working on resources on digital.gov and there are ways to join the conversation and spread the conversation.”

NASA is one of those agencies that had to think about mobility not just from the citizens’ perspective, but how its own scientists, researchers and employees access data from sensors and other data sources.

Keith Bluestein, the associate CIO for enterprise services and integration at NASA, said the agency’s mobility platform for decades called the International Space Station.

“We have a two-year phase-in just in the mobility platform,” he said. “Everything we do is data-centric … and if you can secure the data and make it transactable in any way, any shape or form you want, that’s truly powerful.”

Bluestein said mobile devices and the cloud is giving scientists more of an opportunity to take advantage of the data more quickly.

The challenge is NASA has a complex environment and relied for too long on stovepiped systems. The space agency has 70,000 users of mobile devices, of which 18,000 of them are government employees and the rest are support services.

“One of things we took a look at is we have a wide diversity across each of the 10 centers of how they were doing things,” he said. “We came across a two-year path of what the desired end-state will look like and provided them tools to get there.”

Bluestein said NASA has a mobile device management (MDM) tool that they want to standardize on and the continuous diagnostics and mitigation (CDM) program also will help understand both what’s on the network and push NASA toward standard protections.