May 01 2013

3 Government Leaders Dish on Telework Best Practices

Takeaways from the 2013 Telework Town Hall

Mobile Work Exchange, formerly Telework Exchange, pulled of another successful Telework Town Hall this week in Washington, D.C. More than 900 government employees and industry experts gathered to discuss pressing issues in mobility, security, BYOD and cloud computing. Here are a few key takeaways from this year’s event.

Strategy First, Technology Second

As FEMA deputy chief administrative officer Tonya Schreiber noted in her presentation, “Telework is all about leadership.”

She summed up her agency’s approach to telework in a single sentence: “If it doesn’t work in the field, it doesn’t work.” With emergency workers venturing into unstable environments, FEMA’s technology must be both flexible and powerful. As the agency begins to roll out a workplace transformation,” strategies that have traditionally related to field workers are now being applied to office employees. This mentality exemplifies a strong commitment to telework and is forcing both employees and leaders within the agency to shift their views of how work should be accomplished.

Other executive-level decisions are affecting the agency’s commitment to mobility. For example, FEMA is making an effort to go paperless whenever possible. The lack of scanners and fax machines in the field drove the decision, but technology initiatives, such as e-signatures, are facilitating the move toward teleworking. The agency is also consolidating its offices, from eight down to three, and expects to save $9.1 million annually by 2016 as a result. This move will benefit the agency in a number of ways but will also push the telework agenda forward.

It Takes a Village to Power Telework

Once leadership is on board, many technologies are needed to protect government data while enabling employees to be productive from home. For that reason, Keith Trippie, executive director for the Enterprise System Development Office of the Homeland Security Department, says the government needs robust solutions from vendors. “Instead of buying airplanes, we want plane tickets,” says Trippie. In addition to cloud storage and applications, agencies need tools for email, mobile device management, collaboration and virtual private networks.

Because hardware can be fragmented, agencies are focusing mostly on software to control endpoints. Interestingly, the Homeland Security Department is not exploring telework because of the complex security issues that it causes. “The BYOD concept sounds great on paper, but we aren't doing it,” says Trippie.

A Blueprint for Security

Security is top of mind for all agencies, and Ron Ross, a fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, recommends data architecture as a starting point. According to Ross, “In order to truly leverage mobile, we have to commit to a secure infrastructure.” That infrastructure starts with architecture that pairs data with personnel. By allowing only approved users to access protected data, agencies can mitigate risk. If a breach occurs, only one portion should be at risk.

Forward-thinking strategy is needed to categorize data in this manner, and Ross wants to begin “building information systems like we build bridges and space shuttles.”

Ross also recommends that every agency have a contingency plan. He used a simple analogy to explain the fundamental need for backup plans. “Soldiers rely on GPS technology, but if the technology fails, they have a compass and map. What’s your compass and map?”

For more information about Telework Week, download the 2013 report.

<p>Jimmy Daly</p>