Nov 21 2013

Defense Agencies Manage Mobility with MDM

DISA and the Army Corps of Engineers secure devices with pilot programs.

Much like their counterparts in the business world, federal agencies are under the gun to manage the influx of mobile devices coming into organizations today.

Mobility takes on a great sense of urgency in the Defense Department and its many agencies that support U.S. interests overseas and assist in emergency response here at home. Although the Defense Information Systems Agency has specified MobileIron as part of a $16 million contract to deliver mobile device management (MDM) to the Defense Department, other branches of the military such as the Army Corps of Engineers have evaluated other MDM products.

Dr. Robert Wallace, chief of the computational science and engineering division at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., says his group has run AirWatch for the past 18 months as part of a pilot R&D program to automate and support Operation Blue Roof, one of FEMA’s disaster relief programs. The Army Corps provides temporary roofing immediately following a natural disaster.

“The app lets the inspectors accomplish the same tasks on digital tablets that they previously did using paper,” Wallace explains. Inspectors take photos and send assessment information to a contractor who performs the repair; then the inspectors verify that the work has been done so the contractor can be paid.

An MDM tool such as AirWatch enables the Army Corp to remotely wipe units that are lost or stolen, and also lock down devices so that they run only authorized apps, Wallace says. “Basically, we can whitelist apps that people can use and push them out from a central location,” says Steven Friederich, program manager for mobile computing for Army Corps Corporate Information in St. Louis.

In January, Friederich will head up a second MDM pilot test of Citrix Systems XenMobile with 25 Apple iPhones and 25 Android smartphones. “We’re going to give the users everything they would have with the BlackBerry,” Friederich says. “We’ve been watching what’s been going on with BlackBerry and realize that we really need to be device-agnostic.”

Phil Hochmuth, security products program manager for IDC, says the MDM pilot by the Army Corps of Engineers fits in well with the application it was designed for. “We find that most organizations that deploy a cloud-based MDM system are ones in which mobility is essential to the operation and a requirement for getting work done,” he says.

DISA Makes Its Move


The percentage of IT managers who say they have experienced a breach or data loss in which a mobile device was a factor

SOURCE: “U.S. Mobile Security Survey, 2013” (IDC, April 2013)

Mark Orndorff, chief information assurance executive and program executive officer for mission assurance for DISA, says the MDM pilot will include other groups within DISA. “The rollout will include representatives from many DOD organizations with an emphasis on transitioning current mobility pilot users,” he says.

Orndorff says the MDM software will perform the following functions for DOD agencies: automated and remote device provisioning; software distribution via an interface to the software repository; group policy management for access control and security; policy enforcement to remote wipe and disable devices; and user/identity management with an integrated controller.

In terms of return on investment, the true benefit lies in the capabilities mobility enables, Orndorff says. “There are efficiencies and savings in the approach we’ve taken, but the big savings are in the functional areas that will benefit from mobile technology,” he says. “Good examples include training, flight books and printing reduction.”