New mobility management ideas coming soon from OMB’s cross-agency team

A governmentwide team of mobility experts is poised to soon release its ideas for a more efficient and workable enterprise-wide mobile services strategy.

The goal of the Mobile Services Category Team (MSCT) is to give agencies better tools to cut back on the 1,200 mobile agreements and 200 unique services plans that cost the government about $1 billion annually — and put them on a path to reinvest those dollars in tighter security measures or other initiatives.

“If I save in A, then I can put it toward B and C. All we’re trying to do in the Mobile Services Category Team is begin framing what B and C mean,” said Jon Johnson, manager for enterprise mobility programs at the General Services Administration, during an Oct. 4 panel discussion at the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center’s Federal Mobile Computing Summit in Washington. “There’re many agencies who want to reinvest, but they don’t know what to reinvest in. They don’t know what to prioritize. It’s easy to get lost in this space, particularly with the security components alone.”

Johnson, along with mobile experts from the departments of Homeland Security, Defense and State, all sit on the MSCT, which OMB established under a final memo on category management and mobile services. The administration released it in August.

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The memo requires four tasks of the Mobile Services Category Team. First, it must develop a mobile strategy for all of government by Oct. 31.

“That is in review right now and we’re expecting to be able to release that very, very soon,” Johnson said.

OMB is also looking for management guidance from MSCT, which would give agencies some best practices for administering and overseeing mobile devices in their workforce.

“As soon as a new device comes out, every agency has people asking for that device — whether they need it or not,” Johnson said. “We are looking to put out guidance that provides flexibility for agencies in order to get the devices that their personnel not only calls for but also needs, while at the same time structuring things in a way for them to continue to contain costs.”

Part of this mobile management guidance will include some ideas on how agencies can sustainably get rid of old devices and put those resources to better use, Johnson added. He said the team is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department to develop policies so agencies can recycle unwanted devices in exchange for “credits” they could use to their advantage.

“CIOs across government and personnel can turn to something that helps enable and helps leverage what are really good, sound business practices to continue to contain costs,” Johnson said.

In addition, the team has reviewed a potential brokerage concept for small agencies to work with carrier services and devices. MSCT is finishing its study on that concept now, which should be finished by the Dec. 4 deadline.

Finally, the team is looking at the idea of creating an acquisition vehicle or approach for mobile services by May 2018. Part of that effort, Johnson said, means that agencies should all have a common set of definitions and standards around other aspects of federal mobility. It will be a major project for MSCT in fiscal 2017.

“At the very least, we’re all referring to the same thing on the same page, not dictating to what subcomponent agencies need to do or how they need to look at it, but again, decrease that gap, decrease that time, decrease that effort associated with procuring the different parts of mobile services,” Johnson said.

This initiative should be particularly important to small agencies, which may not have the resources or the time to spend looking closely at these challenges, he added. Departments instead can leverage expertise from agencies that have already developed mobile best practices.

Better data

For Rob Palmer, deputy chief technology officer at DHS, the core of these forthcoming best practices goes back to how well agencies collect and use data to make decisions about their mobile services.

Some agencies are getting better at making data-driven decisions to inform mobile services contracts, but others still have a long way to go, he said.

“Many of the challenges that we have in setting the direction or the strategy in mobility is just that: we aren’t quite sure of where we want to go at any given time,” Palmer said. “It gets exacerbated by the fact that the technology landscape is moving as well. I’ll plug that one very important piece: we have to have good data to make assumptions from and to make conclusions from, which would feed these strategies.”

And many agencies don’t know exactly how much they spend on IT and mobile services.

“We see [this] as a really good opportunity to get a solid set of standard data elements from these contracts that further expands the insight into how we’re spending dollars on mobile devices,” Palmer said. “We don’t know what’s out that we’re not getting right now. We don’t have a good read on any procurement activities that we’re engaged in regarding mobile services.”

The expectation on mobile asset data reporting will soon change. The MSCT spent its first meetings with OMB identifying the mobility-related data fields that agencies should keep track of and report to the administration.

“This is not a hard sell for CIO offices and it’s not a hard sell for acquisition offices either,” Johnson said. “It’s sharing data. That’s it. It’s not sharing it with the world. It’s sharing it with each other. It’s sharing it with the mobile leads, so that the CIO offices have some visibility into their component groups.”

MSCT also discussed the idea of creating a common list of all contract vehicles that agencies could use to purchase mobile products and services for a particular category or function. That idea goes back to OMB’s recent ban on most new individual contracts for mobile devices and services.

Leadership

OMB’s memo also calls for agencies to develop a mobility lead to manage and oversee their organization’s work in this area.

MSCT is still discussing exactly what this leadership model should look like, who should evaluate the agency’s applications and make sure they’re secure, who should buy new products and services and who should manage the relationship with industry.

Palmer said he doesn’t foresee the administration creating a “chief mobile officer” position. It will likely depend on each agency to develop its own leadership model, he said.

For example, Palmer said no one person will be in charge of making mobility decisions for DHS. Instead, a group of experts within the department’s components will talk about those decisions together.

The issue of leadership also comes back to the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), said Mike Vande Woude, director service broker for architecture engineering and vendor management at the Justice Department.

“How do you leverage [your CIO] to reduce your spend, build better systems, provide better mobile services and at the same time have better relationships with your vendor support?” he said.