Federal workplace to rely more on mobile, panelists say

GSA to launch crowdsourcing discussion on ideal federal mobile workplace uses

The future federal workplace is likely to rely much more on tablets and mobile devices and less on desktop computers, federal officials involved in mobile communications said in a panel discussion.

“If you use a tablet, you could give up your desktop,” Gwynne Kostin, director of mobile for the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, said at an AFCEA-Bethesda panel June 23.

Tablets “are the ultimate thin clients,” Kostin said. She was referring to thin clients as computers that rely heavily on other computers and servers, and on the cloud.


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At the same time, panelists said they are confronting security, privacy and data integrity problems as employees ask to use more mobile devices.

Consequently, desktops may be around for quite a while longer. “People are saying that desktops will not go away,” Kostin added. In the future, desktops may serve more like vacuum cleaners, she suggested. “They will be used, like [vacuums] in my house, once in a while," she said.

The GSA will be hosting an online crowdsourcing discussion on the future of mobile technology and the ideal federal mobile workplace as part of its Making Mobile Gov initiative, Kostin added.

The three-part program was launched June 22 and the mobile future discussions are part of the third and final phase, she said. The initial phases involve increasing awareness and sharing best practices.

Meanwhile, agencies are incorporating mobile devices into the workplace and planning for the future. For example, the Transportation Security Administration is testing iPads and other tablets for some of its managers and employees. The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting a project with pilots and airlines to test if iPads can replace paper in the cockpits, the agency recently announced.

At the Defense Department, employees have access to Blackberrys and Windows Mobile devices, but many are requesting iPhones and iPads and that is not possible yet because those devices have not been certified yet as compliant with federal data security requirements, said Lt. Col. Anmy Torres, director of Defense Knowledge Online and Secure Go Mobile for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

“We need industry help to get mobile devices certified to handle data,” Torres said.

DISA needs to be able to disable phone cameras that might photograph sensitive facilities as well as location-tracking capabilities in employee cell phones and devices. “Allowing locations to be available is not so good,” Torres said.

In the event of a security breach, the department needs to be able to “wipe clean” employee mobile devices to ensure that sensitive data is not released, she added. However, she anticipates problems with wiping clean service members’ or employees’ personal iPhones or iPads that contain treasured personal photographs.

Personnel “may have an issue with that, and we do not want that.” Torres said. The bottom line is “we are not ready for that.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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