To BYOD, or not to BYOD? That is the question, to paraphrase Shakespeare in Hamlet. But for today’s humble Government worker, what is the answer?
In 2012, more employees of Uncle Sam are saying Y-E-S to B-Y-O-D, bring your own device. This is reportedly happening in Government workplaces across the country and around the world.
With the once coveted BlackBerry on the fast track to extinction, many Government agencies have been proactively experimenting with letting employees bring their own smart phones and tablets into the workplace for official business. Why? For several reasons, most notably:
1) IT departments want to keep pace with advances in smart mobile and digital technology, but this is often problematic — if not impossible — during super tight budget times (unless you’re with DoD or the VA — see below);
2) Senior executives and managers want to empower public servants to do their jobs more effectively, efficiently and expeditiously, thus boosting productivity and achieving better mission-driven results; and
3) Governement workers who own the latest smart mobile devices don’t leave home without them, as AMEX would say. Generally, employees want to use their smart phones, iPads, iPhones, etc., on-the-job rather than checking these nifty smart devices at the door. BYOD may breathe new life into the collective life of the sprawling Government workforce by making employees’ jobs and work-life more rewarding. Further, allowing smart mobile devices into the workplace will likely improve overall employee performance, satisfaction and boost morale (which the Government can sure use more of these days…sorry GSA and CIA).
So why not “BFF” BYOD? Who isn’t getting tired of the age-old BlackBerry, especially when so much better mobile and digital technology is so readily available and in full use everywhere but the Government at large (yes, the private sector deserves credit for beating us out yet again).
Moreover, if you’re still addicted to the so-called “CrackBerry” it may seem like you are behind the times — much less living in the high-tech Stone Age. BlackBerrys can leave Government workers feeling embarrassed in public and befuddled in private — especially considering today’s all engulfing high-tech culture. How do you feel when a private sector “suit” sits next to you on the subway proudly wielding a glistening new iPad when you’re still frustratingly waiting for your outdated BlackBerry to connect?!!!
EEOC Pilots BYOD
Like some other federal agencies, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides a good example of being quick to experiment with BYOD. As Federal Times reports, the EEOC recently launched a BYOD pilot program that several dozen employees are taking full advantage of (in a relatively small agency), including leaders at the SES level, in addition to program managers, supervisors and front-line workers.
EEOC IT Chief Kimberly Hancher says of the mandatory user agreements, “We tried to just put it in black and white” — plain and simple, how about that for Government-speak. The results appear promising. Participants who I have observed in the BYOD pilot appear to be doing better work with greater enthusiasm. In fact, BYOD may be the new B-12 shot for federal productivity. And with the White House announcement of a major new Government-wide smart mobile strategy, the BYOD train is leaving the station full steam ahead.
White House Weighs In
As you’ve most likely heard by now, the White House is on-board with a new Government-wide mobile/digital strategy. In the headline of the press release announcing the new strategy, the White House touts “a sweeping shift to mobile…”
The President also issued a memo to all Cabinet departments and federal agencies laying out the the new mobile/digital guidelines.
Finally, we now have a uniform strategy and standards that all federal agencies can use rather then designing BYOD programs piece-meal. NextGov.com reports that, among other strategic objectives, “The White House’s long-awaited Digital Strategy aims to ensure agencies manage mobile devices safely and affordably…”
Federal agencies “must issue a [BYOD] plan by September, with a focus on allowing federal employees to access their work and agency-built mobile applications from any device, according to the strategy,” notes NextGov.
Recruiting Young People
BYOD programs and the new White House strategy are welcome news for another significant reason that HR officials should appreciate: recruitment and retention. As OPM has warned, a tsunami of retirements is about to inundate the federal workforce. This will require recruiting more teens and 20-somethings to public service. As the private sector knows, incentives matter.
The problem is that Government may not be the main employer of choice for this new generation of workers. This young demographic was born and raised in the 1990s, when a new and evolving world of smart technology became all consuming. Babies back then were practically born with cell phones attached at the hip. Therefore, attracting a future federal workforce means not only speaking their language, but Skyping it , tweeting it, e-mailing it, instant messaging it, and texting it. On that note, adopting smart mobile advancements, and providing the latest devices to employees, should be a “no-brainer” to help attract the best and brightest young folks to Government. But any internal cultural transformation is more easily said than done in the reality that is our Government.
Other work-life enhancements and incentives would also help, such as more flexible hours, more telework, and “results only” work environments. Otherwise, today’s young talent may echo the words of Ronald Reagan when he said, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
Remember this guy, Steve Jobs? How could you not. Jobs (R.I.P.) has already provided us with the tools we need to do the job better, faster and smarter, but Government “powers-that-be” need to authorize the full utilization of today’s high-tech mobile devices. While Government as a whole continues to experiment with BYOD, some larger federal agencies, like DoD and VA, are forging ahead on their own. For example, these Cabinet level departments have made iPads available in mass for specific situations and positions. Thus, DoD, VA and other agencies with similar cutting-edge smart mobile programs deserve accolades for being role models for the rest of us. These pioneers are bringing Uncle Sam into the 21st century world of smart mobile/ digital technology — even as some “old-school” government vets are left kicking and screaming. Put simply, it’s high time for high-tech to be positively embraced by all Government leaders and agencies — state, local and federal, alike. Message to management: get with the program before the program gets to you!
While using iPads and smart mobile devices at work may be the holy grail for some of today’s Government IT enthusiasts, some agencies have taken the lead in designing and developing a plethora of apps to benefit all users, according to a Government Executive report, “10 Apps Changing Government” (www.govexec.com). The development of new apps to better engage citizens with their Government is also a major strategic objective of the President’s new plan to create a broad and accessible mobile/digital platform. To Government’s credit, as NextGov points out, “Agencies have built or collaborated on more than 200 public facing apps…” — good news. “But they have been slower to create internal agency apps.” — not so good news Well, as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Brave New World
As Government enters this brave new high-tech world of the future, Uncle Sam would be wise to embrace and foster the use of new smart mobile/digital technology sooner rather than later. However, we all know that saying the Government is infamous for: “Hurry up! And wait.” Yet it seems as if we’ve been waiting too long already. Unfortunately, despite the White House strategy and surrounding hype, it’s possible that the days of iPads for everyone in Government may take a while to arrive. Let’s not forget we’re talking about every corner of the mega-bureaucracy. Although some things never change, at least federal agencies are finally moving in the right direction — and with welcome White House leadership and support to boot.
Regardless of whether you like or dislike smart mobile devices, the revolution in mobile and digital technology is here to stay. The use of mobile devices will likely continue to proliferate well into the foreseeable future. Governments everywhere need to jump on the mobile/digital bandwagon before it’s too late to catch up with the light-speed pace of new and evolving technology. BYOD may only be a baby step and springboard, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. BYOD may be the only way to go if the Government wants its employees to enhance customer service by interactively communicating with the public via the same smart mobile devices that so many people can’t live without.
All of which brings us back to that Shakespearean dilemma at hand: To BYOD, or not to BYOD?
That is the question, what is YOUR answer?
*** NOTE: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.