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DOD says enterprise mobility effort 'will pay for itself'

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DOD employees may soon be able to take their pick of mobile devices. (File photo)

At the Defense Department the most commonly used mobile device traditionally has been the Blackberry, but Pentagon personnel could soon have their pick of smart phones and tablets.

Now poised to approve Apple devices as well as those from Samsung and other manufacturers, DOD officials will expand on the department's  test-run efforts and years of discussion. The green light comes even as defense agencies are struggling to make budget cuts mandated under sequestration.

The move forward  comes due to a confluence of factors: increased focus under implementation of DOD's enterprise mobility plan, the moving around of funds amid competing priorities and a growing understanding of the savings reaped from the technology investments.

"All the front-end investment, all the networking, all the mobile device management – within about a year and a quarter, it will pay for itself," Maj. Gen. Robert Wheeler, DOD deputy CIO for command, control, communications and computers, said at an industry event in Washington April 30. "We're talking about purely cutting down on the costs that we have today with our fragmented methodology. From a taxpayer perspective, it's a good approach. But from the perspective of jumping the productivity curve, it's an even better approach."

The progress toward enterprise mobility is rooted in more than 50 pilot programs at DOD that have laid the groundwork for defense officials to determine the best policies, techniques and plans.

Some of the higher-profile pilot programs include those under way within the Army, where iPads, Androids, Windows phones and Blackberrys have undergone rigorous testing,  and continue to do so as the Army deploys even more devices, albeit at a slower pace than planned because of steep budget cuts.

"We're in the process of issuing 530 devices, with the option to put out up to 2,500 as funding comes available," said Michael McCarthy, director of operations and program manager at Army Brigade Modernization Command. "The original plan was 2,500, but we had to cut back due to sequestration limitations – that was all we could fund [for now] out of the pilot programs."

The 530 devices consist of a mix of products from Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers. Most of the devices are tablets, for which there is a higher demand for use in the field, but some phones are included as well, McCarthy said.

"We're seeing great results. We use the devices as regular tablet, but when you want to get to [capabilities intended for official use only], for example enterprise e-mail, it also allows you to open it with an encryption algorithm that is a soft certification – no common access card necessary," McCarthy said. However, the CAC is still necessary for secure information and a CAC reader is outfitted on the device.

 "We've validated it works; the security protocols work, and now we're expanding to see what other capabilities we can add and still stay in the secure operating environment we need." he said.

Security certifications are one of the biggest hurdles for manufacturers, but that is changing as decision-makers at the Defense Information Systems Agency reportedly are preparing to grant security approvals in the coming weeks for Samsung Galaxy devices running hardened Knox security software, as well as for the new operating systems of Apple and Blackberry.

"DOD is establishing policies through DISA, which is why pilot programs have been so important – it allows DISA to look at policies being put in place to secure the environment and implement that across DOD," McCarthy said.

New policies, as well as new guidelines, are helping to accelerate mobile device approval and deployment – something that has long been an issue at the Pentagon, where such processes can take as long as a year. The goal is to reduce that lead time to 30 days, particularly the department remains on track to issue 100,000 unclassified devices by the end of fiscal 2014, according to Wheeler.

Much of DOD's work in mobility also hinges on a forthcoming mobile device management (MDM) contract that is yet to be awarded, he said.

"Security is not the device; it's the network and device, one together. That's what makes the security, that's how we judge and that's why the MDM [request for proposals] is so important. Once we know the MDM, then we can provision...the specific phones," Wheeler said.

While acknowledging sequestration's burden on progress, Wheeler was enthusiastic about the coming weeks and months as DOD pushes forward with enterprise mobility.

"We don't even know how far we can go with this, and I think that's the exciting part of it," he said. "I don't look at this as environment where the glass is half empty; I look at it as an opportunity. When you start talking about mobility, that's an opportunity in this environment to do more with less."

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