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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