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Between the pandemic-induced requirement for remote work and recent advances in technologies like cloud and virtualization, a lot has changed when it comes to how Defense IT leaders think about how service members access government data. And there are arguably no two bigger use cases for implementing those changes than the National Guard and Army Reserve – two of the most geographically distributed and complex IT user populations in the federal government.
After all, 93% of Guardsmen – spread across 54 states and territories – don’t have government-furnished IT equipment issued to them. It’s much the same in the Reserve, which also manages 624 separate access points outside the fencelines of traditional Army garrisons.
In light of all that, it makes some sense that the Army’s reserve components would spearhead approaches like secure bring-your-own-device (BYOD) technologies. Starting last year, the National Guard was the first to pilot the BYOD approach that’s now being tested across the broader Army.
Kenneth McNeill, the National Guard Bureau’s chief information officer, said the solution is valuable, in part, because it essentially eliminates the need for the Army to secure data-at-rest on individual soldiers’ personal devices. All of the actual information is stored in the service’s trusted C-Army cloud environment, so those phones and tablets are essentially just viewers, moving pixels back and forth across the network.
“That’s huge,” McNeill said. “Typically, in each state, there’s only a small number of full-timers that have to manage our IT capabilities. So not having to have that hands-on, and rely on capabilities in the cloud to perform our homeland mission is essential. We still have to secure the network – as a CIO, that’s my number one priority. But when we’re called out for deployment, our force needs to focus on the task at hand. So all of this technology helps us enable our resources to focus on actually doing the mission.”
The National Guard’s situation is complicated by the fact that it very often needs to share information with other federal, state and local agencies, so breaking outside of data stovepipes while also maintaining a high degree of confidence in information security is key.
So it is with the Army Reserve, which needs to worry about delivering usable and interoperable IT services to about 2,000 individual units, many of which are outside the U.S. And when they’re not serving on active duty, about 80 percent of the force isn’t near an Army installation.
“What you’re trying to do is eliminate that risk, and we’re looking at VDI solutions to both reduce the threat and streamline all these endpoint devices scattered throughout the states and OCONUS,” said Col Carlos Jaffett, the Reserve’s CIO. “A lot of our units don’t have [the IT staff to manage those devices], and they want to rely on a higher level for that. If it’s a medical unit, for example, they’re going to probably want to have a medical person as opposed to an IT person. You’re still going to have that requirement there, but it’s going to kind of pull back that need on the unit’s staff.”
On the BYOD front, the move away from the need to store data at rest was something of a happy accident, said Jared Shepard, the president and CEO of Hypori, the company that built the solution soldiers are now using to get access to email and other information from their personal mobile devices.
He said the Army’s insistence on extensive security-focused penetration testing of the product it was proposing ended up having second-and-third order benefits, including ones that wound up alleviating privacy concerns on soldier’s mobile devices.
“We were purely focused on security. It’s an accidental convenience that from an engineering standpoint and the way that we designed this virtual platform, we decided that we just don’t trust the edge device,” Shepard said. “The second-order effect of that is we also don’t need to see anything inside the edge device, nor do we have anything resident on the edge device. So in the case of a data spillage, I don’t need to take your device away from you.”
The fact that the Army is managing to make data available without insisting on intrusive permissions to manage its users’ personal devices is especially significant in the Guard and Reserve.
That’s because the preponderance of their soldiers also have full-time jobs outside the Army, and many of their private employers already require them to install a mobile device manager if they want to get access to company data from their phones. For that fairly large user base, things could get messy very quickly if both the Army and their private employer were insisting on running their own MDMs on the same device.
“We have a large population of team members that work in corporate America, and [this approach] turns out to not be a problem at all,” he said. “This is also important for recruiting. If I’m coming into the National Guard, I expect the latest and greatest technology to enable me to do my job, because I already know what industry looks like.”
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Col. Carlos Jaffett
Chief Information Officer/G-6
Office of the Chief of Army Reserve
Chief Information Officer/J6
National Guard Bureau
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