Preparation, mobile office management key to USDA’s secure remote workforce

If there is one consistent quality that has allowed certain federal agencies to seamlessly transition to maximize their employees ability to telework, it has been preparation.

For the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with more than 100,000 employees around the country, the mission to move to telework, and ensure a secure remote workforce, was critical.

“With respect to IT modernization, we began our journey in modernizing the core IT infrastructure that included the data center consolidation, the deployment of a modernized, wide-area network, to support the traffic and the capacity needed to support the mission, not only for today, but also the future,” Bajinder Paul, USDA deputy chief information officer (DCIO) said on Federal Monthly Insights – Secure Remote Workforce.

Before the world changed in March, USDA’s stable position allowed it to support the demand for increased teleworking, having deployed cloud computing on the back end and deploying network services. They could deliver applications, which were web centric. They leveraged mobile office management (MOM) to securely deliver applications across iOS and Android devices.

“It really, truly became a central enabler to the mission of the USDA. In fact, today through MOM management, not only can we deliver a full suite of Microsoft Office applications, but we can also conduct Microsoft Ping, Skype meetings collaboratively, anywhere, anytime across the country. So we have done fairly well and the technology has enabled USDA to maintain its focus on delivering the mission,” Paul said

Part of the preparation, to simply be prepared for all contingencies, was taking into account all best-case and worse-case scenarios.

“We continuously monitor the traffic on the network. And as additional bandwidth is needed, we are able to provision that on demand. Similarly, in terms of the secure AVPN solution, we built enough capacity. We also leveraged Microsoft Office 365 that enabled our users throughout the country to securely access some of the critical applications, the messaging and the collaboration applications. And through non-VPN applications as well. So it was a very balanced use of infrastructure, secure VPN, and MOM” Paul said.

As noted earlier, the agency has some 100,000 employees in all corners of the U.S. The department has historically had serious IT challenges in some of its rural areas and forests.

“So we have taken a very proactive approach, and really partnered with industry companies like AT&T and CenturyLink to develop innovative solutions, where we have deployed, for example, devices like CradlePoint that adds to the network connectivity. And as I mentioned earlier on our mobile devices as well, we have deployed mobile office management solutions that are able to deliver a full suite of secure, mission-critical applications, as well as collaboration suites, such as Microsoft Teams or Skype capabilities for end users,” Paul said.

Ultimately Paul views his two decades in the IT world as a journey, that has allowed him to be prepared, so that surprises are few and far between.

“It’s a combination of a holistic, fully integrated modernization strategy that focuses on the network, – on the infrastructure as a whole,  and also application design that enables us to leverage the security via the web-based access and the mobile office management suite on our mobile devices. The combination of all these has enabled USDA to provide holistic access to the mission-critical information and application by our end users,” Paul said.