Apr 03 2014

The Future of Mobility Goes Far Beyond BYOD

What does GSA know about a mobile workforce that others may not? Work is wherever the worker is.

Just as government agencies get a handle on bring-your-own-device initiatives, which allow employees to use their own mobile technology to perform work, some say the BYOD issue is almost moot.

“On BYOD, I think that conversation is going to be outdated before we figure out the answer to it,” said Tony Macri, workplace and organizational strategist at the General Services Administration, at the Intel Security Through Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C.

“We’re getting away from whether it’s bring-your-own-device or whether it’s a provided [device],” said TJ Kennedy, deputy general manager of the First Responder Network Authority, which is tasked with building a high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety. “We’re currently using department-provided devices, but our customer base is actually public safety. And in the future, as we build this new network, I expect them to use any and all kinds of devices. We have to be able to adapt to that. “

Kennedy said the key to exploiting mobile computing in government is less about mobile devices and more about the back end. “The reality is, it’s going to come down to building an infrastructure that’s secure, that allows people to do their jobs,” he said.

The Pushback Against the Mobile Workforce

In many situations, the key to mobility success lies in management. Agency leaders need to understand that mobility can breed productivity, and they either adjust or get out of the way.

“Right now, across government, management resistance is still the top issue,” said Mika Cross, workplace transformation strategist for the Office of Personnel Management. “It’s not technology barriers, it’s not resource barriers. It is management resistance. That’s what’s preventing mobility and telework from being implemented on a widespread basis.”

Even when agency managers accept a mobile workforce, they need to invest in making it a success. “Technology is driving collaboration and innovation,” Cross said. “But without the right policies and training, people are not using the options that are available.”

GSA’s Winning Approach to Workplace Mobility

At GSA, managers have turned the workplace on its head, not only to make workers more productive, but also to save money. The average desk in the Washington, D.C, area costs $4,500 a year to maintain, said Macri. “If it stays empty 40 percent of the time, you’re burning that cash.”

So GSA has done away with traditional offices, adopting a “hoteling” model where workspaces are shared. “Our telework agreement basically says, ‘work anytime, anywhere,’” Macri said

GSA leans heavily on wireless and cloud computing to enable its mobile workforce. Through its wireless services contract, GSA enjoys unlimited hotspot service. “Our employees can basically take their BlackBerrys or iPhones or whatever they’re using and create a hotspot,” Macri said. “Any environment can be their work environment.”

When it comes to collaboration, email, calendaring and other resources, GSA exploits its Google cloud. “I can go to any device, any computer — public or private — enter my credentials, and I get a secure authorization to a device I select,” Macri said

In Macri’s case, the Google cloud sends a text message to his personal cellphone. The message includes an authorization code that changes every time he needs to log in. (“This got rid of those tokens you have to tote around.”) He enters the code and accesses GSA’s cloud securely.

“Because it is cloud-based, I don’t think it’s going to matter what device is getting access to it,” Macri said.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All in Mobility

Solutions for enabling mobility, whether on personal or agency-owned devices, will vary. David Phillips, an enterprise architect at the National Institutes of Health, swears by his iPad and said that NIH uses a mobile device management (MDM) program.

“Having a secure container on our mobile devices makes a huge difference,” Phillips said. “We’re using [MDM] to allow staff to access email, access calendars, and — through the browser that’s part of that application — to access a variety of resources that they’d normally need to VPN in for.”

In a nod to the one-size-does-not-fit-all world of mobile computing, Phillips acknowledged that what works for one person, might not work for another — and that’s just fine.

“When it comes down to getting the work done, it’s fundamentally about people being able to choose the right tools that make sense for them within the bounds of what’s allowed within the organization,” Phillips said. “You can’t keep nursing a dinosaur, technologically, within your organization just to satisfy people and keep them happy.”


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