OMB evolving mobile strategy as focus broadens

The upcoming federal mobile strategy is becoming less about devices and apps and more about giving agencies a roadmap to improve functions and interactions with citizens and businesses.

The Office of Management and Budget still expects to release the broader digital services strategy in April, said Lisa Schlosser, deputy administrator in the Office of E-Government and IT.

Schlosser, speaking at the AFFIRM/GITEC conference on mobile computing in Washington Thursday, said the new focus of the strategy is based on the administration’s desire to focus more broadly on how and when data is delivered, and not about the devices.

The digital strategy now includes mobile and the .gov reform effort, Schlosser said.

OMB launched the .gov reform effort in June. It froze agencies from creating new .gov sites. OMB then created a task force in August to figure out how to reduce the more than 2,000 main sites and 24,000 subsites. The task force released its report in December where it found 19 percent of all sites are inactive, and agencies plan to terminate or merge 442 sites in the coming year.

But the .gov reform effort now is less about reducing the number of websites and more about ensuring agency websites are able to provide that easy access to data from anywhere at any time and from any device.

“Going digital means making sure data is built right from the beginning, that it’s open and that we create content that can be delivered through multi-channels,” Schlosser said about what OMB learned from comments from agencies, industry and other experts on their draft mobile strategy concept released in January. “It’s not just about having something cool, but how this is helping out mission, how is this helping us communicate? It’s not about technology, it’s about how we deliver better on our mission agenda.”

A sneak peek at new strategy

Schlosser offered a high-level sneak peak at the strategy.

She said it will be both guidance to agencies and concepts around ensuring the anywhere, anytime access to consider.

“There’s security and privacy, an absolute cornerstone of this strategy. The strategy will really talk about data,” she said. “How do we build our data? How do we get our data out there? How do we make it in a way that can be found that it can be put into good content that’s delivered anywhere, anytime and in a secure way?”

Schlosser said the strategy will include more details on strategic sourcing plans for devices and services, and how can agencies work more closely with industry to improve how data is delivered to citizens.

Steve Kempf, commissioner, Federal Acquisition Service, GSA
And along those lines of acquisition, Steve Kempf, the commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, said his organization will make an award under the strategic sourcing initiative next month for wireless services and some devices.

The digital services document also will get into more technical areas such as the use of Web services to pull data from legacy systems.

Schlosser said agencies will be told to use HTML5 to open up the data more easily.

The strategy is part of the way the administration is trying to ensure agencies move down the mobile path in a consistent way without repeating the mistakes of the PC-era.

Rick Holgate, the chief information officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the co-chairman of IAC-ACT’s mobility task force, said there are several areas agencies need direction or help with.

“The need for a common understanding on how we approach these problems, some of that is technical in the sense of things like security standards for devices, and some of it is culture in terms of what’s possible from a telework perspective or from policies related to workforce,” he said. “But it comes down to how do we act more like a federal government? How do we exert influence across the federal government when there isn’t necessarily a clear and obvious top down authority to make things happen across the federal government? And furthermore, how do we think strategically in the sense of what do we need to look like as a federal government in 2-5-10 years from now, but then what do we do about that in the near term, in the next 6 months, 12 months, 18 months in a very tactical, tangible and achievable manner?”

He said the digital services strategy is looking at what’s happening across government and trying to make those lessons learned and best practices available more widely. Holgate said he didn’t think the strategy would be overly prescriptive.

Mobile pilots everywhere

Many agencies are stepping into the mobile computing pool quickly with programs to test iPads and smartphones. Agencies such as GSA and the Office of Personnel Management are offering some employees iPads as their only computing device, and the Veterans Affairs Department was the first agency to let employees use these devices on their network.

Schlosser and other CIOs also are considering letting employees use their personal devices for work, called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

Emma Garrison-Alexander, CIO, Transportation Security Administration
Emma Garrison-Alexander, the CIO at the Transportation Security Administration, said she carries three phones — two for work and one for personal communications. She said TSA is looking at BYOD and even more broadly at how to make it easier for employees who want to have only one device instead of a phone, a laptop, a desktop and in some cases now a tablet.

Garrison-Alexander echoed what many said at the conference, it will not be mandatory to use your own device, but if an employee volunteers, they may have to give up some amount of privacy to ensure security.

ATF’s Holgate said agencies are trying not to make the same mistakes they made with computers. He said in the 1990s, everyone got a desktop. Then managers realized laptops would be useful, and some got both a laptop and a desktop, and eventually some workers just moved to a laptop. Holgate said it took a decade for agencies to understand the computing needs of employees.

Despite the lack of a cohesive governmentwide strategy, there is some progress.

Holgate offered an example of how ATF secures its tablets.

“One of our agents happened to leave his iPad on a plane, and fortunately it has mobile device management software on it and it had a secure container so no enterprise data that was at risk,” he said. “Through the MDM software, we were able to find that device and so we actually executed a search warrant within 24 hours and got the device back. We wouldn’t have been able to do that with a laptop so there are opportunities in the mobile space that we wouldn’t have in the traditional space.”


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