Although mobile devices are frequently seen in the hands of federal workers, the technology still presents challenges that IT and acquisitions experts are trying to overcome.
Speaking at the 2019 GITEC Emerging Technology Conference in Annapolis, Md., on Monday, officials from several agencies talked about the process of integrating mobile and other emerging technologies:
- The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is researching best-use practices for mobile when it comes to archiving, security when a mobile phone connects with a landline, and how to comply with the Trusted Internet Connections initiative, says Vincent Sritapan, portfolio manager for physical security and cybersecurity for DHS S&T.
- Without the cloud and mobile devices, workers at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency would have been hobbled during the year-long transition to a new office, as utilities in their original location grew erratic, says Ben Bergersen, the agency’s CIO.
“We ended up getting real services to our people … while those systems were going up and down for an entire year because we’d migrated to the cloud,” he says.
- And the IRS began “reverse industry days,” during which employees could talk to tech companies and find out more about how their products could be used.
“The information that’s coming back from industry helps them get where they need to go,” says Harrison Smith, acting chief procurement officer for the agency. “If we go out there for emerging technology that, frankly, we’ve never used, that we don’t have a good enough grasp of — that doesn’t do anybody any good.”
Guidelines Will Make Mobile Tech Even More Safe
Mobile technology is “an enabler for the mission,” says Sritapan, but agencies have to be cautious about security measures. Tools that secure desktops aren’t always appropriate for mobile; when a cellphone connects to a landline, what works well for one might not for the other, he adds
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is also developing new guidelines for such use cases, says Gema Howell, a computer scientist in NIST’s Applied Cybersecurity division. Some guidelines will cover when the device is corporately owned and personally enabled; eventually there will also be guidelines for BYOD.
“We’re not just talking about things being secured, we’re actually doing it,” she says.
DHS S&T is trying to get a handle on how many devices are actually in use, compared with how many devices an agency might have in hand; many agencies buy enough to have spares available, or extras to fulfill needs during an emergency.
The count will provide better information on how often an agency should buy new devices and how many they really need — answering the question, Sritapan says, “does what we’re asking for actually make sense?”
Acquisition Must Become More Flexible and Adaptable
Acquisition remains an eternal challenge, says Keith Nakasone, the deputy assistant commissioner for IT acquisition at the General Services Administration. By the time a purchase is approved, it might be outdated.
“The government has got to get better and faster at approving commercial devices,” says Col. Jack Wayman, Army G-8 chief in the Integration Improvement and Initiatives Office. “It’s crazy when the only thing I can get is old — and we know that things are going to get worse, because people are going to put things out faster.”
GSA is working to create new contract vehicles and other purchasing mechanisms that would provide more flexibility, Nakasone says, not just when it comes to buying mobile, but for all emerging technology.
“We’re actually developing a bidding exercise, creating a portfolio where we can meet an agency’s needs as they make their modernization journey,” he says; for example, to the cloud. GSA is watching what private industry is doing as a guide.
“We have a lot of movement within industry where they’re just layering on top of emerging technology,” he says. “You see a lot of artificial intelligence being solutioned within a product itself, we see efficiencies that can be gained by combining these solutions, and so we see over time changes occurring. It’s not just where government is moving, it’s where private industry is moving as well.”
The IRS is very interested in these kinds of efficiencies. The agency once had 500 people working on procurement, and is now down to about 300, Bergersen says. Robotic process automation, he adds, would be a game changer.
“If we don’t pursue RPA, then we’re not going to be able to do what we’re here to do,” he says. “By rolling out RPA, we can gain [the equivalent of] 10 to 15 people a year.”
For more articles from GITEC 2019, check out our conference landing page.