What if the government gave each employee a tech allowance to spend on the device of his or her choice? That was one of federal CIO Vivek Kundra's last recommendations before revealing plans to step down from his job.
Certainly, tablets are an option some users in government, particularly those who work in the field or travel often, might consider. Census takers, tax auditors and housing inspectors are among federal workers who would likely find tablets hardy devices.
OS: Android; Display: 7"
The Army, Federal Aviation Administration, and Interior, Homeland Security and State departments are among the agencies running pilots or researching tablets. Most boldly, the Veterans Affairs Department will begin a "bring your own technology" project this fall to integrate users' personal devices, including tablets, into its network.
The vast number of tablet choices — literally hundreds are coming to market over the next year — will make it a challenge for agencies trying to figure out which ones they can support, says Kevin Plexico, senior vice president of research and analysis services for research firm Input.
"I really expect there to be a consolidation of the different types of mobile devices that employees are allowed to use, hardening those for government agents to use and then making those be the ones that they use," he says. "Otherwise, agencies are going to be stuck kind of custom-building everything."
That is definitely a concern within agencies looking at the latest mobile devices, says Capt. Joshua Dixon, a Naval Postgraduate School student who is developing a set of global mobile device requirements for the Marine Corps.
"I don't want to create a Marine CorpsÂspecific handheld," says Dixon, who spoke at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement's Command and Control Summit. "I want a handheld that the Air Force can use, that the Army can use." (To read more about the Marine Corps' plans, go to fedtechmagazine.com/0711MCmobile.)
There's definitely a swell in government interest around tablets, says Chris Dixon, an Input analyst. He credits Apple for sparking the revolution but believes there's room for competitors and no loyalty to any one platform.
Craig Mathias, a principal with wireless and mobile advisory firm Farpoint Group, recommends that IT leaders carefully examine the purpose of a tablet deployment and weigh attributes such as ease of use and management.
For example, if an agency has a Cisco Systems video-conferencing infrastructure, then the Cius tablet might be a good fit. If it has a large stable of RIM BlackBerry devices, then the BlackBerry PlayBook might be appealing.
Organizations that use web-based applications and have campuses blanketed with Wi-Fi will have more choices, will find it easier to adopt tablet technologies and will more quickly show a return on investment.
"Tablets definitely favor lines of business that are doing most of their transactions through a web interface," Input's Dixon says. "That way, IT doesn't have to worry about purchasing, installing and updating client software."