Is the laptop about to be obsolete in agencies?

Cloud computing and mobility have gained momentum in the federal IT landscape, and the near future could see some interesting changes, experts say. You might want to rethink any planned laptop acquisitions, for one.

The federal government is shifting to a more mobile workforce, steadily making gains toward the mobility milestones laid out in the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy. Although a recent survey shows that many federal IT managers don’t feel entirely comfortable with making the cloud transition, those concerns are slowly evaporating as the technology evolves, said Bob Monahan, director of management information systems for Dynamics Research Corporation, a provider of management consulting, engineering and technology solutions to government agencies. 

That development could mean more use of software-as-a-service rather than platform needs. Human resources and management is yet another area that will see new cloud applications and services being adopted as a way to increase efficiency and save money. But to know the true benefits of the cloud, “each agency has to look hard at its specific needs,” he added.

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The Defense Department, for example, spends "huge amounts of money on HR,” and would benefit from migrating those management systems to the cloud to streamline processes, Monahan said. Other agencies use the cloud for enhanced computing power: NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Homeland Security Department filter through massive amounts of data on a daily basis, which makes them good cloud candidates, Monahan pointed out.

Similarly to cloud computing, mobility could soon see some interesting changes. Spurred by the Obama administration’s desire to capitalize on what federal CIO Steven VanRoekel called a missed opportunity, mobility has given federal employees a new way to do their work whenever and wherever they are. But the mobile revolution has yet to lead to any sophisticated interaction, said Luis Artiz, director of product management at Belkin. “Real word processing and presentations are really difficult to do on tablets,” he pointed out. “The trend is moving toward more sophisticated data input, not just to play ‘Angry Birds’.”

Laptops and desktops have traditionally served as go-to devices for more complex word processing because tablets are better suited for simple tasks -- such as updating data, reading websites and checking email. But that could soon change. Most email systems are now in the cloud, and more users are now researching more convenient ways to type on a tablet. It won’t be too long before the laptop becomes obsolete, Artiz predicted.

“The problem now is that people don’t know how to use their tablets,” he said. But as the technology matures and comfort levels increase, users will seek new ways to use their devices. Federal agencies will also slowly abandon the laptop and look to solutions that will help them become even more mobile and flexible, Artiz said.

The consumerization of IT has also led to more federal employees embracing the concept of BYOD -- bring your own device. But according to Artiz, BYOD could soon change into LYOD -- leave your own device.

"The government has traditionally wanted to control devices and with BYOD, they lose that control,” he said. “I have a feeling that BYOD is going to disappear, especially in the intelligence [field], where they want to lock systems down as much as possible. I can’t imagine a situation where they allow a wireless device without some control.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 Ron

I was in a meeting several weeks ago, the only conference room avaialable was in an old EMI shielded area (for the non techinical, that means no cell phone, wireless, blue tooth, wifi, etc from the outside). Most of our laptops were fine. The two folks with tablets and the cloud as a hard drive had to share a laptop screen, what Camille is writing about did not work.

Thu, Feb 2, 2012 TXFed TX

Right now, when I use my GFE laptop, I prefer to RDP into my desktop over using the programs in the cloud because when (not if) I lose connectivity briefly, the work I did via RDP is right where I left it when I reconnect. If I'm using the cloud, I lost everything after the last save point (save early, save often), PLUS I have to reopen any programs, documents, etc. all over again. That said, my agency has granted all employees the ability to access the network with our own devices, but MY office has not approved the agency policy yet so I can't (ability vs. authority).

Thu, Feb 2, 2012 Dave

If this were going to happen, then laptops would have already made desktops obsolete... and THAT ain't happened yet!

Thu, Feb 2, 2012 Chris Austin, TX

If tablets are set up and used as 'dumb terminals' to remotely access servers or desktops (or a cloud) that have the Office and other software needed, there is no reason for the software issue to delay the use of tablets.

Thu, Feb 2, 2012 RayW

Laptops have one advantage over a tablet as described in this writing, if you do not have connectivity, you can still do what you need unless you absolutely require another website (or "cloud" as the buzzword is today).

Software as a service (at least the versions I have seen) requires a very good internet/LAN/wireless/etc connection to be useful. With Open Office (yes, I know that the Gov is Microsoft Centric and tends to ban anything else) I can work anywhere for several (up to about 4.5 on mine) hours, longer if I can plug into power occasionally.

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