A new breed of worker has entered federal service in recent years: those who were raised on computers and cell phones and who now never go anywhere without their tablets. They’re more technologically savvy than previous generations, and they represent both a challenge and an opportunity for agencies.
These workers want to use the technology they’ve grown accustomed to, the smartphones and tablets they have with them at all times. Their IT experience doesn’t come solely from specialized training; it’s how they live. Accommodating them may take some effort, but it benefits agencies to do what’s necessary to make it work.
The agencies that do so can establish themselves as workplaces that value innovation and ambition. Those that don’t risk missing out on young workers who can help them move toward the future.
A Valuable Tool for Recruiting Young Workers
“I think, on the recruitment front, it’s critical that the department showcase that the United States government is a place that you want to come work for,” says Peter Tseronis, chief technology officer of the Energy Department. “I would like to see more of a focus — and we see this a lot in the White House’s push for innovation and open government — on being an attractive landing place for recent college graduates.”
Getting there could be a challenge. Many questions remain unanswered as agencies grapple with the uncertainties that come with a more open IT environment. A chief concern among IT officials is making sure that allowing users to bring their own devices does not create an unacceptable security risk.
“It definitely brings up a whole host of issues for us from a security perspective,” says Lovisa Williams, a senior policy adviser and social media strategist at the State Department.
There’s a need for agencies to keep tabs on the data these users may be accessing and transmitting from personal devices, and how they’re using it. To address this situation, the State Department has established a policy that covers how employees should use personal devices within the workplace, and that sets rules for security. State officials are working on an updated version of this policy as they learn from the first set of rules.
Other agencies are facing the same concern. “We have to put a security wrap around it, obviously, and make sure that privacy is considered,” says Adrian Gardner, CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
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Establishing an IT environment in which users can safely use their own computing devices can encourage new ways of looking at problems. Technology is only going to evolve more rapidly and bring new opportunities. Agencies need a workforce that can take advantage of them.
“It definitely allows older workers and other people in the enterprise to be exposed to new ideas and new innovation,” Williams says. “It really challenges them to rethink what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”
At NASA Goddard, Gardner says he’s trying to stay ahead of the curve. The center has established a new position — associate director of innovation — to look at emerging technology and evaluate how it can be used to improve operations.
As agencies make progress, we’ll continue to see a government that’s more mobile and more flexible, and one that’s ready to meet the challenges the future brings.