Aug 02 2013

How Federal Agencies Can Build a Business Case for Mobility

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission CIO lays out his strategy for implementing mobile computing.

The world is changing. Mobile devices continue to evolve into smaller, lighter form factors, making it easy for employees to carry around enough computing power to do their jobs. Agencies face the challenge of building justifiable business cases to take advantage of the power provided by notebooks, tablets and smartphones.

But unfortunately, agencies simply can’t afford to provide mobile devices to every user. Determining which users will receive government-furnished mobile devices means examining how the device will be used and how this will affect the user’s productivity. Simply making life easier, while worthwhile, doesn’t override financial, management and security considerations.

The Office of Management and Budget recommends that agencies be judicious in their device proliferation to meet organizational needs. In order to effectively do this, agencies should look at several factors, including the type of job being performed, the need for immediate accessibility, the amount of processing power required, the type and sensitivity of data being handled, the mobile nature of the job being performed and users’ personal capabilities and preferences. These factors should be applied to develop user classifications and a map of what device fits which need.

At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we have classified users into different groups. These include:

  • Information creators: These are individuals who develop information for consumption by others, both structured (such as databases) or unstructured (such as legal briefs or rule-makings). These users typically need devices with CPUs and specific applications to perform their work.
  • Information aggregators: These users collect information from various sources to help build analyses for decision-making. They need midlevel machines and some specialized applications.
  • Information consumers: These are users whose work requires them to use information to make management decisions. Their “consumption” of data requires less computing power and usually can be done with ubiquitous applications.

This type of analysis helps build justifications that prevent unnecessary — and potentially unproductive — expenses.

FERC considers information consumers to be good candidates for using technologies such as tablets and smartphones because they don’t need much computing power but require immediate access to information. FERC is also considering employees who travel, such as engineers who go out into the field to do physical energy infrastructure inspections, as potential users of mobile devices.

Whatever the device, all agencies must make sure their data is secure. FERC uses device encryption, two-factor authentication and virtual private network technologies, and a virtual desktop infrastructure to enhance ease of access and data security.

As agencies begin to expand their adoption of mobile computing, they should analyze how mobility can increase productivity. Implementing mobile devices just because they can is a mistake. Implementing mobile computing levies infrastructure and security costs that must be weighed against the benefits it provides.

My advice for agencies as they move forward on mobile is:

  • Understand what your business needs are and how mobility enhances the satisfaction of these needs.
  • Take into account the full cost of providing mobile within the environment, not only the cost of the devices and of access, but also of all the underlying infrastructure, management and security.
  • Understand your users’ profiles to determine not only computing needs and preferences, but also capability to perform using mobile platforms.
  • Analyze the sensitivity of your data and your organization’s ability to effectively manage and secure it.

Agencies will continue to advance toward a fully mobile workforce. A measured approach will help justify the costs and serve the needs of the organization.