Apr 16 2021

What Is Device as a Service and How Can It Help Government Agencies?

The DaaS model is distinct from equipment leasing and provides lower total cost of ownership and enhanced cybersecurity for federal agencies.

The coronavirus pandemic showed that for continuity of operations and to fulfill their missions, federal agencies sometimes need to rapidly deploy devices to users, especially those who are distributed geographically, on a massive scale.

One operating model they can use to make such deployments cost-effective and secure is to leverage the Device as a Service model. DaaS, which is a different model than traditional hardware leasing, simplifies IT management and enables agencies to shift device purchases and maintenance from being a capital expense to an operating expense.   

Under a DaaS model, the vendor partner an agency works with becomes responsible for acquiring the devices via a secure supply chain, provisioning them, managing and maintaining them and then, ultimately, the recovery, sanitization and disposition of the devices. DaaS can be used for smartphones, tablets, laptops and other equipment. 

The most visible example of DaaS in government to date has been the Census Bureau’s use of the model for the 2020 decennial census. The Census Bureau partnered with CDW•G and used DaaS to deploy about 600,000 Apple iPhone 8 devices to enumerators so they could carry out their data collection in the field.   

What Is Device as a Service? 

While Device as a Service is sometimes used as a way to refer to device leasing contracts, a more robust DaaS partnership between an agency and a vendor can enhance every aspect of deploying and managing devices. 

In a DaaS environment, agencies receive devices and ongoing management services from their partners on a subscription basis. 

As a CDW blog on DaaS notes, CDW•G’s DaaS solution is focused on the device and services around the device’s lifecycle. One aspect, the blog notes, is to “define the user personas in their environment and understand their technology needs, including the device, data and app access and support” and then also provide “a web-based order management process for product ordering.” 

In the Census Bureau’s case, CDW•G had the responsibility of acquiring the devices via a secure supply chain.

In terms of device fulfillment, once an agency selects a device, CDW•G uses its ISO 9001- and ISO 14001-certified Configuration Centers to “configure, enroll and integrate devices and peripherals, ensuring that the device is ready for use out of the box,” according to the blog. 

The blog also notes that CDW provided device services to aid users with installation and data transfer, and also with “core end-user support functions, including service desk, warranty support and device monitoring options to ensure workplace productivity.”

CDW also provides “performance analytics information, proactive monitoring of device health and predictive insight into device performance,” the blog notes. 

When an agency is done using the devices, CDW also “provides reclamation services, including retiring and data wiping of the devices,” the blog notes. For the Census Bureau project, CDW•G was able to recover close to 600,000 devices in “a remarkably short period of time,” according to Randy Harris, CDW•G’s vice president of federal program management, capture and services . The devices had their data sanitized and also were cleaned.

Device as a Service Benefits

There are numerous benefits to a robust DaaS model. It provides agencies with greater flexibility in device selection and connects an organization with virtually any device that users need or want. 

DaaS also delivers a lower total cost of ownership for agencies. By procuring devices, security services and ongoing management from a single partner, agencies can reduce their costs.

For the Census Bureau, Harris says, “the cost of ownership was outweighing the benefits of having Device as a Service, where they essentially were pay as you go or pay as you use the devices and then return the devices to CDW, which then has the responsibility to recover the devices, data sanitize them and essentially dispose of them in a fashion that was part of our overall business model.”

DaaS also reduces the burden on an agency’s IT staff, and there is a large opportunity cost that agencies must take on in having IT staff perform the usually routine work of configuring and managing end-user devices.

With the Census Bureau, CDW•G was able to develop more efficient processes that could be applied to other agencies, such as automating software scripts for provisioning, to quality control, to unloading the devices off pallets when shipments arrive.  

Enhanced security is also a benefit of DaaS. Trusted third parties work to procure devices for agencies via manufacturers that they vet for security controls all the way up and down the supply chain. 

An end-to-end DaaS engagement will also include unified endpoint management tools that give agencies advanced security capabilities, such as the ability to remotely lock or wipe devices.

In the case of the Census Bureau, the devices were also secured from the start and locked to the agency’s management system when they came from Apple, according to Harris. When the devices were powered on, they could only contact Apple and be used to access Census Bureau services. CDW•G provisioned the devices with extra security layers and password protection.  

DIVE DEEPER: What are the key things to know about Device as a Service?

Device as a Service vs. Equipment Leasing

DaaS differs from traditional equipment leasing in several significant ways.

With hardware leasing or financing, agencies typically pay for hardware over installments, and at the end of the leasing period, the organization usually owns the hardware and then becomes responsible for upgrades, replacements and the disposition or sale of the devices. Equipment leasing does enable agencies to acquire the latest hardware at a reasonable cost while remaining flexible as technology needs evolve. 

With DaaS, the third-party partner assumes nearly all of the responsibilities associated with the devices, including configuration, monitoring, IT support and even eventual disposal.

For the Census Bureau, Harris notes, CDW•G provisioned and maintained the devices, both while they were in the company’s possession prior to the census operation and then while they were in the field. CDW•G also used tools such as mobile device management to manage the devices and maintain them, including down to the software and operating system level. CDW•G was also responsible for the recovery and ultimate disposition of the devices. 

Additionally, DaaS allows organizations to quickly scale their device environments up or down in response to changing needs. Indeed, for the Census Bureau, the agency initially wanted to provision and support about 490,000 iPhone devices. 

However, the bureau determined it would need more enumerators in the field and more backups in case enumerators contracted COVID-19, Harris notes. That led the bureau to increase the number of devices needed to 600,000. 

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