Building a mobile strategy

Obama administration officials are at the beginning of a new, comprehensive digital strategy that they hope will help them avoid the costly mistakes of the past (think: PC management or website proliferation) by putting the government in front of an IT megatrend — this time, mobile computing — before too many investments are sunk and a whole new set of stovepipes are cast.

A key way to do that, at least according to the long-term plan, is not to focus solely on new gadgets but to also zero in on one of the least trendy and most staid of IT topics: data.

The assumption is that if the government can get the back-office data architecture and management right, it will become a lot easier and less expensive to support whatever device or platform government employees and the public prefer to use to conduct their business.

“Recognizing that mobile and online are just different channels to present information, data and our services, we really needed to take a step back and look at how we could bake that process in from the beginning,” said Haley Van Dyck, an e-government policy analyst at the Office of Management and Budget, as reported in a story by Camille Tuutti in Federal Computer Week.

The initial thrust of the administration’s digital strategy is a fairly straightforward cost avoidance and risk management plan as the government builds its emerging mobile capabilities. Pooling the purchase of mobile devices and wireless plans for federal workers has the potential to save millions of dollars annually and has been a priority of Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel since the strategy’s earliest planning stages.

By adopting some common technical and policy approaches to managing devices — whether agency-issued or employee-owned — agencies can also streamline operations, increase security and lower costs from the outset, administration officials say.

The new approach to data architecture and management is going to be a tougher nut to crack, however. Unlike smart phones or wireless cell plans that can be bought through a central government contract with the click of a mouse, developing new approaches to how agencies create, classify, secure and share data is a far more challenging undertaking that often involves multiple systems and stakeholders with different priorities and requirements.

But that effort is essential. White House officials have been telling anyone who will listen that data management and the application programming interfaces for interacting with that data must form the centerpiece of the digital plan.

In its final form, the strategy will be about more than trying to get ahead of the next big technology wave. Administration officials have decided to combine the strategy with the year-old initiative that aims to reel in the over-proliferation of agency websites. It turns out that a good way to do that is to focus first on data architecture and management and then pick the optimal distribution and service models. In other words, it’s the same approach officials are taking with mobile technology, hence the decision to combine the initiatives.

VanRoekel tweeted that APIs and the data portability they enable are indeed the “special sauce” of the administration’s digital strategy. He made the comment in response to an article by FierceGovernmentIT’s Molly Bernhart Walker in which she cited VanRoekel’s previous stint overseeing the Federal Communications Commission’s Web reform effort — an initiative that focused on APIs.

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

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