Can Industry Use Mobility to Build a Smarter Federal Workforce of the Future?

by Thomas O’Keefe, Senior Analyst

In five years, government won’t even be thinking about mobility, according to some of the speakers at AFCEA Bethesda’s Mobility Technology Symposium earlier this month. No, it’s not that mobility is going away – what the speakers meant was mobility’s strong forward momentum will mean it will become ubiquitous and simply the way of doing everyday business for federal workers in the coming years. Budgetary pressures are forcing agencies to make tough choices and federal decision-makers are beginning to envision the workplace of the future, one that is likely to involve a smaller installation footprint. However, different agencies face different challenges in executing on mobility, and while agencies are laying the groundwork for the future, they are recognizing the significant amount of work that is still to come.

On a panel at the Mobility Technology Symposium, Sanjay Sardar, the Chief Information Officer of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the small agency representative to the Federal CIO Council, talked about the challenges of mobility facing smaller agencies. Smaller agencies lack the budget of their larger components and find the costs of mobile innovation to be prohibitive. These smaller agencies are looking for larger agencies to develop and field solutions that they can tap into to cut down on excessive development costs. Small agencies are often forgotten in the hunt for opportunities, and at least in the realm of mobility they won’t represent prime areas to seek contracts. However, planting the seeds of mobile strategies and technologies may be beneficial for contractors as it may lead to these agencies calling on their trusted advisors when they finally have the budget for full-on mobility. Additionally, they may wait to see the types of solutions larger agencies adopt and try to take advantage of those solutions and contracts.

At the same panel, Brian Teeple, the Principal Director for the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Command, Control, Communications and Computers (C4) and Information Infrastructure Capabilities (IIC) in the Defense Department’s OCIO, talked about a different set of challenges for DoD. Teeple stressed that although DoD is pursuing some unified frameworks, the different service branches have different needs when it comes to mobility. As a result, there won’t be a one-size fits all approach to mobility across the DoD, but expect that the service branches each develop their own unique mobility strategies. One lesson DoD has learned, however, is to avoid a siloed approach as much as possible to temper costs. A key angle of approach, Teeple stated, will be to stress how you can meet the strict security requirements mandated by DoD systems without harming the user experience.

The panel concluded with some interesting remarks on the technology they wanted to see in the future. With mobility came the rise of mobile applications, and the panel mentioned several neat apps like translation for soldiers deployed in the field and apps that can assist in visual inspections when inspectors are out at a job site. Hoteling and telecommuting will become the norm, so vendors with technologies that enable remote workers to better collaborate on projections will find increasing areas of opportunity amidst this sea of change. But mostly, the panelists all echoed the similar sentiment that technologies upon which the mobile workplace of the future will be based may be at this time unknown to them, and that industry needs to show them how to build the smarter workforce of the future.

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