Our recent guide, Making Mobile Matter, explored best practices for mobile adoption in the public sector. We spoke with industry and government mobile pioneers, below is an excerpt from our interview with Neil Bonner, Program Manager, Applications Development at Transportation Security Administration. You can read the full guide here by downloading a PDF, or the guide is embedded below for online viewing.
At the federal level of government, mobile adoption has been one of the core initiatives by the current administration. The Digital Government Strategy pushed agencies to develop comprehensive mobile strategies and create mobile applications. As such, the federal government has embraced mobile devices and has begun to set up infrastructures to support the variety of devices entering the workplace.
On May 23, 2013, CIO.gov released a report, Adoption of Commercial Mobile Applications within the Federal Government: Digital Government Strategy Milestone 5.4. This report highlights best practices and lessons learned from federal government agencies on leveraging commercial mobile devices. The report provides insights on how to safely and securely adopt mobile applications into government to propel the overall goal of accelerating adoption. The report also specifically mentions its focus on government-owned devices, and not BYOD initiatives. The key findings of the report were:
In addition to highlighting the CIO Council report, GovLoop spoke with Neil Bonner, Program Manager, Applications Development at TSA, to learn how TSA has leveraged mobile and discuss some of the challenges and plans for TSA to leverage and implement mobile. Bonner mentioned that mobile in government is a fairly new phenomenon, and agencies are currently at the early stages of adoption. TSA has recently purchased a MDM solution and is working to develop mobile applications.
TSA is working on an app that will connect field workers to headquarters to aid in communications. Bonner stated, “We want the ability for both headquarters and field management to improve communication. We want the ability for directors and staff to improve communications with their team with local based messaging, notifications and alerts, as well as information from headquarters.”
Bonner also identified that similar to the work being done at the State of Indiana, TSA is looking for the best way to implement BYOD, and for starters, are focusing on setting up the proper infrastructure. Bonner noted that the size of TSA is enormous and gives rise to many challenges to IT professionals. Bonner stated, “We would need to work on both iOS as well as Android because the size of our workforce is so large. We can’t give everyone smartphones. So one of the things we are trying to wrap our heads around is BYOD and what that means. So the way we are architecting our app would lend itself to also work in a BYOD area.”
5 Benefits of an Enterprise App Store
During the interview, Bonner noted that TSA is still in the early stages of adopting mobile technology. Similar to Indiana, they have recently purchased an MDM solution along with an enterprise app store. Bonner notes, “There are a number of foundational elements that have to be put into the infrastructure to make it all work when you talk about enterprise systems. One is an enterprise app store.” An enterprise app store allows you to:
- Approve and recommend apps
- Not wait for approval from a third party
- Host apps in a common location
- Provide increased security
- Setup infrastructure for BYOD initiatives
Focus on Content Delivery
In June 2010, TSA launched a popular app, My TSA, which provides airline passengers with 24/7 access to the most frequently requested airport security information on mobile devices. Bonner believes that the success of this app has led to many best practices and lessons learned for internal mobile adoption.
This application saves passengers’ time and helps them prepare for security checkpoints. Additionally, by educating citizens on regulations for air travel, TSA staff can spend less time directing citizens at the airport and can speed up security lines and procedures. It’s a win-win for citizens and the TSA. The My TSA app includes the following features:
- Airport Status: Citizens can see what airports are facing delays due to events, weather or conditions.
- ‘Can I Bring?’: Citizens can look at what kinds of items are allowed and prohibited to bring on a flight. To increase accuracy, citizens can also submit items for recommendation that are not in the DHS database.
- Feedback: This feature allows users to email or call TSA to provide feedback.
- Guide: The guide feature provides information and resources on traveling with children, traveling with disabilities, and tips to quickly move through security.
- Security wait times: With the app, citizens can share and view wait times passengers have posted for U.S. airports.
- Videos: Citizens can watch informational videos to be prepare their travels.
One of the lessons learned for Bonner was to focus on how content is delivered. He advises to separate content from application code. “What this means is you want the ability to update content and information in our enterprise app without having to launch or change the app.” Additionally, Bonner advises to use web services as much as possible. A great analogy provided by Bonner is to think of a web service like a fast food drive-through. Bonner provides the following analogy:
“If you were to drive to a McDonalds, park and walk in, and then go right to the counter and order, that's like connecting into your organization’s network within the physical space. As opposed to the drive-through window, where you’d say ‘I want a hamburger, fries and coke,’ and you’re never really in the store, but you have given your request. The employees go and fulfill your request and they deliver it to you -- so that’s what a web service and API is, it’s a drive-through window."
The key for government organizations is to focus on constructing a web service and API. “That’s the other big lesson learned, you really need to think about constructing a web service and define an API and if you can harden that, then you don’t really need to worry about the client app or native app because they are all coming from the API service,” states Bonner.
To read more about TSA and their mobile initiatives, please view the GovLoop report, Making Mobile Matter. More GovLoop mobile resources can be found:
- GovLoop Resources Mobile Hub
- New GovLoop Report: Making Mobile Matter
- A Mobile & Modernized Mississippi
- New GovLoop Guide: Making Mobile Matter
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Thank you to our industry partners for sponsoring the GovLoop Report, Making Mobile Matter. With any questions about this report, please reach out to Pat Fiorenza, Senior Research Analyst, at [email protected]