Mobility management: The bigger the better

Agencies that are serious about leveraging mobile IT need to develop an enterprisewide strategy for fielding, managing and securing their devices

Federal agencies are beginning to think big about the deployment of mobile technology.

It’s not as if they have much choice, especially if they have adopted a bring-your-own-device policy. BYOD, which allows employees to use their personal mobile devices with agency networks, is leading to the rapid emergence of a mobile workforce.

In the past, federal agencies have been able to control the adoption of new technology because they controlled the procurement process. And federal acquisition has always been sufficiently slow to give agencies an opportunity to manage the pace of change.

But not in this case. Once agencies allow employees to use their own devices, the race is on to put in place the policies, technologies and management strategies needed to get the full benefit of mobile technology — and avoid any potential pitfalls.

Officials at the Agriculture Department were thinking along those lines when they put together a statement of work for their Next Generation Mobility Solution. Although the agency is only managing approximately 3,000 devices now, that is expected to grow to more than 100,000 in the next couple of years.

“The consumerization of technology and in particular mobile devices is forcing the use of personal devices into the corporate world, significantly increasing the speed, flexibility and agility with which the workforce can react to change,” the document states. “As mobility moves beyond wireless access to e-mail, contacts and calendars, USDA must create a unified strategy for managing its mobile computing environment.”

USDA’s solicitation covers three primary management technologies:

  • Mobile device management, which provides many basic administrative functions, such as device provisioning, software installation and asset management. MDM also makes it possible to enforce security requirements and other IT policies.
  • Mobile application management. MAM, which is often integrated with MDM, automates the process for installing, deploying, updating and removing software from devices, whether custom-developed or off-the-shelf packages.
  • Container solution. If an employee is using his or her personal device for work purposes, the agency wants the ability to create a partition to protect government-related data and applications. Also, the partitioned data must be encrypted with a solution based on the FIPS 140-2 standard.
  • The General Services Administration spelled out a similar approach in the request for information for its Managed Mobility initiative, which eventually could result in a governmentwide program.

    But GSA’s approach also emphasizes another centerpiece of many enterprise mobile initiatives: telecommunications expense management services. The goal of TEMS is to manage the costs associated with mobile deployments by tracking all mobile-related expenses — whether hardware, software or connectivity services — through the life cycle of the mobile devices.

    By providing an enterprise perspective on how money is being spent on mobile deployments, agencies can identify areas for potential savings, whether by changing service plans to better reflect usage or by getting a better deal on enterprise software licenses.

    But an enterprise approach to mobility needs more than just technology. It also needs leadership.

    Although mobile initiatives often begin at the grassroots level, organizations looking to make mobility a central part of their operations need to take an enterprise approach, said Stacy Crook, a senior analyst for mobile enterprise research programs at IDC, an IT consulting firm based in Framingham, Mass.

    “You need a unifying force at the top that makes it a priority for the [organization],” Crook said.

    Different divisions might have different needs when it comes to mobility, but some concerns cut across the organization, including management, security and compliance policies.

    Organizations also should look into developing best practices that can be shared across multiple divisions and articulating the benefits of the technology, she said.


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