Managing the mobile workforce
- By Colby Hochmuth
- Jun 17, 2014
Several agencies have surpassed their peers in managing mobile technology, yielding cost savings and increased productivity while fostering a culture that values the opportunity for employees to work away from their desktops.
But experts from government and industry agree that although the desire to build a more mobile workforce is spreading rapidly, crafting a strategy that serves agencies' missions and meets their security requirements still presents a serious challenge.
The Agriculture Department has emerged as a leader in demonstrating the benefits of a successful program. USDA's Enterprise Mobility Management solution has resulted in savings on transit subsidies and utilities, increased satisfaction on the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the promise of additional savings in the future through an initiative to reduce the amount of leased office space.
"Agencies across government are looking at mobility as a way to achieve budget reductions," said Mika Cross, a workplace transformation strategist working as a presidential management fellow at the Office of Personnel Management. "We're moving away from thinking about mobility as just something nice to have and [viewing it] more as a business imperative."
USDA's solution includes device management, isolated containers for securing mobile applications and the hosting of internal agency applications through a mobile app store, agency officials said. The agency currently manages more than 9,000 devices that span the Android, iOS and Windows platforms for smartphones and tablets. USDA is also in the initial stages of migrating an additional 11,000 BlackBerry devices onto those platforms and the centralized management solution.
Mobility solutions are not one-size-fits-all, which can be a challenge for agency leaders and an opportunity for industry to take on a more involved role. Those requirements give companies like Digital Management Inc., the lead contractor for USDA's program, an opportunity to provide end-to-end services tailored to agencies' needs.
"Initially, the focus had been [on] getting everyone comfortable with BlackBerry and having end users getting secure access to email on smartphones," DMI CEO Jay Sunny Bajaj said. "Now that we've evolved to tablets and cell phones have expanded, clients are struggling. They felt comfortable with BlackBerry, but BlackBerry is no longer a viable option."
The challenge of authentication
Phil Rendina, director of infrastructure operations in USDA's Office of the CIO, said his department's biggest challenge has been finding a solution for two-factor authentication, which involves using two steps to verify a user's authorization to access a network or service.
"We have found this on mobile devices to be a new area, and many other federal agencies are having the same challenges and are working collectively to address this," he added. "It is firmly our goal to facilitate two-factor authentication that can be easily adapted to mobile devices."
For the Defense Information Systems Agency, meanwhile, a clear understanding of mission requirements was a leading factor in the success of a mobility initiative for the entire Defense Department. DMI is providing mobile device management for the service.
After three stages of testing and piloting, the program is now fully operational, said Kathleen Urbine, senior vice president of the Enterprise Solutions Division at DMI. To date, more than 1,600 unclassified and 170 classified devices have been deployed. Eventually, the system will be able to accommodate as many as 350,000 users.
"It's not one of these top-down, 'build it and they will come' approaches," Urbine said. "You have to understand what the requirements are."
Although security poses the biggest challenge for many agencies, Bajaj said he's not aware of an incident in the past 12 to 18 months in which a federal worker's device was compromised.
A matter of trust
For many agencies, an even bigger obstacle is internal: culture.
Cross said trust has been a key challenge for managers as they seek to overcome cultural assumptions that employees who are out of sight are not working.
"Mobility simply offers flexibility in where the work gets done, not necessarily in changing what work is required," she added. "Managers need to foster better ways of communicating expectations, tracking performance and holding employees accountable."
Increased mobility in government might also help with the dilemma of recruiting and retaining top talent. "A lot of this falls on the shoulders of management in government, teaching leaders how to manage the next generation of federal workers," Cross said. "This will position our leaders with the skills necessary to attract and retain the next generation of federal workers while holding them accountable for the work they perform."
Colby Hochmuth is a staff writer covering big data, cloud computing and the federal workforce. Connect with her on Twitter: @ColbyAnn.