New mobile tools give agencies ‘giant innovation permission slip’

On the one-year anniversary of the Digital Government Strategy, the Office of Management and Budget highlighted the progress being made to make agency informati...

Agencies now can access a host of tools, guidance and advice for jumping deeper into the mobile world.

The Office of Management and Budget marked the one-year anniversary of the Digital Government Strategy Thursday by expanding the range of ways agencies can implement smartphones, tablet computers and mobile apps.

“It’s been quite a year of innovation and embracing technology to drive innovation to help the economy and make a more efficient, effective and accountable government,” said Steve VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, yesterday during a briefing with reporters.

VanRoekel said he hopes the new tools and guidance will be a “big, giant innovation permission slip” for every agency.

“It’s telling government now is the time to innovate,” he said. “In a fiscally constrained environment, the pressure of cybersecurity and the pressure of citizen expectations who are expecting more from their government, how do you meet those two together to deliver a great product? It’s about innovating and doing innovation in the context of efficiency and effectiveness. A lot of what you see in the digital strategy on how are we buying mobile, to how are we driving this thing, to how we are building the next generation of apps, not only thinks about risk and cyber and other things, but how can we do it in an efficient and effective way.”

The milestones under the strategy fall in three broad categories:

  • Information-centric
  • Shared platform
  • Citizen-centric

VanRoekel said the General Services Administration launched the application programming interface (API) catalog with more than 400 bits of software code to help developers create mobile apps. He said developers can find government resources and data streams more easily through this catalog.

“Most agencies have launched their developer pages. If you go to the agency website slash developer, you can see information on how to access those APIs and to utilize those resources,” he said. “Today also marks the launch of a new beta version of that really embraces the principles of the open data policy and brings a new model to the way we present government data.”

Security baseline, architecture

The shared platform focus area probably brings the biggest benefits to agencies.

OMB and an interagency team that includes the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology released a mobile security baseline, architecture and use cases.

VanRoekel said the guidance focuses on government-furnished devices initially.

“What we intended to do here is layout a consistent way of approaching this across government, and get that out there in a way we can catalyze and accelerate the use of smart technology,” he said. “The future for us really holds a future where mobile is the default computing platform. Today we treat mobile, on premise computers, desktops and laptops, as a separate computing environment. There’s actually kind of separate security guidelines, separate ways of deploying applications and separate ways of managing it.”

VanRoekel said the speed at which computing and technology advances requires the merging of all of these platforms.

“We’re not far from mobile being the default computing environment,” he said. “The fact we treat them different is a disconnect.”

The security baseline and architecture, the app development and mobile device management guidelines are the three key pieces to improving how agencies securely manage mobile devices and apps.

The third area focuses on customer centric, which builds on the open data executive order and policy released May 10. It includes a Web analytics tool that will let agencies better understand who and how citizens are using their websites and data.

Website consolidation

VanRoekel said the Office of Federal Student Aid in the Education Department used these concepts of digital innovation to improve its services to the citizen.

“They announced as part of the digital government one-year anniversary the launch of a student aid app. Prior to this administration, the Department of Education student aid group had 14 different websites that would allow students to learn about student aid, to apply, different websites to reapply and things like that,” he said. “They have been doing really great work thinking in a very customer- centric way on how to bring all that together. Today they launched an app as part of that with an API and other things.”

VanRoekel said the Student Aid Office’s example shows just how powerful data analytics could be in helping to simplify federal services.

OMB expects more agencies to follow in the footsteps of the Federal Student Aid Office in how they present data and websites to the public. VanRoekel said there are dozens of other examples of agencies developing apps to improve service, including the Office of Personnel Management’s USAJobs app and the Transportation Department’s SaferBus app.

VanRoekel said many agencies also met the requirement to make data from at least two existing major customer-facing systems available through Web APIs, apply meta data tagging and publish a plan to transition additional high-value systems.

“The two [APIs] is really the crawl of the crawl, walk, run though and really focused on how are we teaching agencies to build these APIs and giving them the expertise to institutionalize them internally, understanding that now the open data policy is out, the Executive Order is there, how are they then wiring up these open data streams with APIs both internally and externally to utilize those systems,” he said. “I think it’s the first step of many that we will see really turning into quite the phenomenon across government.”

All of this work really sets the foundation for the next phase of federal computing, VanRoekel said.

OMB and the CIO Council are far from done at the one-year mark. VanRoekel said more tools are coming, including bring- your-own-device (BYOD) security guidance.

VanRoekel said additional policies are possible depending on what OMB finds as agencies implement and begin using the Digital Government Strategy’s policies and tools.


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