Data the key factor in mobile device management


The world is home to more mobile devices than people, and those devices are being used by consumers – more than 4 million of whom are federal employees – at ever increasing rates.

The influx of mobile options coupled with the inherent efficiencies both in the workplace and on the battlefield has forced nearly every federal agency to devise mobile device management plans that cover everything from security to device lifecycles.

These plans are important – no agency wants purchased mobile devices to go unused or to cause chaos when it’s time for replacement – but Nicko van Someren, chief technology officer at Good Technology, said data, not devices, should always be the most important factor in any data management plan.

“In many cases, you don’t really care what happens to a device, but you do care what happens to the data on it. The real problem-solving is in data management problems, not device management,” van Someren said.

Van Someren offered up a few basic tips for agencies either in the early stages of incorporating data management plans or those that want to improve what could be disorganized approaches to it.

The first, he said, is to “understand your data.”

Is it worth spending extra for high-end security and low usability devices for an agency that’s employees deal in public-facing, non-sensitive data? Probably not, although van Someren said feds at the management level tend to be extremely conservative taking on new technologies.

The second tip piggybacks on the first. After truly understanding what data you have, you can devise a list of pros and cons to increased mobility.

“Understand the risks and rewards to going mobile,” van Someren said. “If I’m going to be carrying around classified stuff, certainly I need to take every step possible. But if I’m carrying around a draft of [an agency’s] next set of recommendations, there’s probably not going to be too much damage incurred by that leaking out early.”

In a threat model where information is low-risk, an agency could save money seeking a lower-cost security option but realize savings through the increased efficiency and collaboration that mobile offers.

“It’s common for security people to say, ‘There is a risk here, we’re not going to let you do it,’” van Someren said. “Yes, there may be a risk, but what is the reward of letting me do it. How do you go about mitigating risk and maximizing award?”

Van Someren cited the financial services industry as an innovator in mobility. Banks and credit unions didn’t let security risks stop them from devising online and mobile banking solutions, he said, because the reward – satisfied customers, shorter lines and the like – far outweighed the risks.

Lastly, van Someren said, agencies need to be careful in how they approach procurement for mobile solutions, and whether and to what extent users can use their own devices for work. No agencies are alike in this regard, so guidelines will differ. But agencies can give themselves an advantage by asking more of industry and less of themselves in how mobile data will be secured.

“When it comes to procurement, you should probably be asking for proposals in the form of the sorts of protections you want to achieve rather than the means by which protection is achieved,” he said.

Van Someren also said it is helpful when agencies can focus procurements on specific problems rather than posing a blanket request for mobile options. This approach can speed up a process  that tends to be the tortoise to technology’s hare. 

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image: looking for code.

    How DOD embraced bug bounties -- and how your agency can, too

    Hack the Pentagon proved to Defense Department officials that outside hackers can be assets, not adversaries.

  • Shutterstock image: cyber defense.

    Why PPD-41 is evolutionary, not revolutionary

    Government cybersecurity officials say the presidential policy directive codifies cyber incident response protocols but doesn't radically change what's been in practice in recent years.

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group