Mobile is Changing the Nature of Public Service

Dr. David Bray, Chief Information Officer of the FCC, speaking to Wednesday’s crowd.

Mobile technology is filled with potential. It has the capacity to radically increase organizational response time, interconnectedness, and access to information. But there’s a flip side: it also has the capability to severely undermine privacy and security measures.

The impulse, then, may be to shut the whole thing down. Unfortunately, this would eliminate all of the positive impact that mobile can make on your organization. To help public sector organizations maximize the benefits while minimizing attendant threats, GovLoop and Brocade hosted an in-person training Wednesday in Washington, D.C. on the topic of mobile management and security in public agencies.

Federal Communications Commission Chief Information Officer, Dr. David Bray, a thought leader in the federal technology space, provided the opening keynote address. Bray’s keynote offered context to our rapidly-mobile economy, as well as a few words of guidance on the opportunities and challenges it presents to the concept of public service.

The Current and Future Landscape: Exponential Growth

“We are in an era of rapid change,” began Bray. “It’s not just a linear change – it is rapid, exponential change.” To illustrate this point, Bray provided a couple of eye-opening statistics:

  • In 2013 there were 7 billion network devices in existence. By the end of 2015, the number will reach 14 billion. By 2020, the number is estimated to reach 50-70 billion.
  • In 2012, the world’s digital content was 2.7 zettabytes (a zettabyte is 1 billion gigabytes). In 2014, that number will reach 5.6 ZBs, with the expectation that the figure will continue to double every couple of years.

This poses serious challenges for both the security of our mobile devices and the security of our data. Because when we discuss mobile, we aren’t simply talking about smartphones, tablets, or even the ability to connect anywhere at any time. “Mobile is also tied to the notion that your data can be freed and used across applications and agencies as well,” said Bray. He believes this dormant opportunity presently rests in our ability to deploy application programing interfaces (APIs).

The Mobile Data Opportunity

An API is a tool that, at its core, allows two pieces of software to interact with each other. In the context of data mobility, more and more agencies are making their data open and discoverable through open APIs. In this way, outside groups – citizens, other agencies, start-ups, or non-profits – can write applications that call these APIs and tell them to provide any relevant data that matches their needs.

“That means we can mix data across the board and have it be mobile across agencies,” said Bray. He asked the audience to imagine the possibilities if we could mix data from Census Bureau, the Weather Service, and Health and Human Services. What interesting questions could we ask?

“This allows us to be very open and transparent,” said Bray. “Open and transparent in a way that public service hasn’t been able to be in the past.”

The Challenge: Security and Privacy

At the same time, we have to think very carefully about how to secure this new open environment. We want to give people the information they need while protecting information that is sensitive or private.

The solution, Bray said, is to think very early on in our development cycle about where we’d need to have security. “We need to be very intentional about baking in security and privacy at the code level,” he said. This includes dealing with anonymous users, setting access levels, and creating gaps between open and secure data.

A Game-Changing Example: The FCC Speed Test App

To illustrate these points, Bray discussed the FCC Speed Test app, which is available now on both Android an iOS mobile platforms. It is open source, so enterprising developers can dive into the code and remix it.

The app tests your connection speed three times a day and shares this information anonymously with a third party, which then shares the aggregated information with the FCC, which turns around and shares it back to the public. The app has a very clear privacy policy. “We are not going to collect your personal information,” said Bray. “We don’t know your IP address, or where you are within a certain radius.”

Bray noted that the FCC Speed Test app is the first crowd-sourced map of connection speed by citizens and for citizens. This was all accomplished through the work of consenting citizens choosing to participate in a program that will ultimately help them achieve a better understanding of the various wireless services to which they subscribe. It also helps save their taxpayer dollars, since it precludes the FCC from having to pay for the same information, either through paying people to drive around and test information or installing devices in homes and commercial buildings.

The future looks very bright for mobile’s role in changing the nature of public service. But it requires careful planning, leadership and courage – courage to try new things like the speed test app, which had no precedent or any guarantee of success. “We can’t do what we did last year,” said Bray. “What we did last year is not going to work today.”

For more information, make sure to download our newest guide on mobile management here.

Event sponsored by:

Achieving agency missions becomes harder and more complex every minute. But with less money in the budget, many agencies are stuck between the need to deliver new services and the cost of supporting old infrastructure. To break the cycle of dependence on proprietary systems and endless service contracts, agencies need simpler, widely compatible network infrastructure that empowers IT and accelerates mission performance.

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