What's next for mobile devices at DOD?

soldier using tablet pc

DOD now has an implementation plan for mobile devices, but the specific next steps are still up for discussion. (Stock photo)

With the Defense Department's commercial mobile device implementation plan, released Feb. 26, set to go into effect, officials are talking about the next steps as they determine the best way forward.

Questions about timing, specifics about devices and security, and the logistics behind how the new plan will play out in the coming months and years all are on the table for discussion, according to DOD CIO Teri Takai.

"These are all concerns for us – how to actually manage the devices, what's the right time to roll that device over to the new technology, and then from an asset-management standpoint, how do we know who has what device as we roll forward?" Takai said Feb. 28 at the FedScoop MobileGov event in Washington.

Individual mobile users usually upgrade phones when their contract is up for renewal. In some ways, DOD faces similar decision-making, but on a scale of 600,000 users who span a broad swath – from the devices troops use on the ground, to secure communications and all the way up to the president, Takai said.

"When we talk about technology innovation and wanting to more with technology, we have to realize that it has to be in a context that makes sense – when does it make sense to switch, and then how do we roll it out?" she said. "It isn't just about when the new technology is available – it's when, from a cost-benefit standpoint, does it make sense for us to take that step."

Behind the scenes, Pentagon leadership is taking other steps – namely, taking on the security concerns inherent to any discussion of mobile device use on DOD networks.

"When we think about mobile devices, we tend to either think of the device or think of the network, but we don’t think about bringing those two together," Takai said. "That's really what in fact allows us to move to the classified level and finally to the top secret level. That's what we're thinking about as we move forward."

The struggle to implement new technologies into older processes is not limited to DOD. On a broader, governmentwide scale, other agencies are figuring out how and where mobility fits into their networks and workplaces. The trend is as much a process of going through growing pains as it is widespread, according to some federal officials.

"One of dynamics we're going through right now in the federal government in that this is a huge transitional phase," said Rick Holgate, CIO at Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division at the Justice Department. "We're having to adjust the way we think about delivering our services to our users, and the near-term manifestation of that is the proliferation of consumer commercial mobile devices, and trying to figure out how we get comfortable with those devices in our environment."

Officials speaking at the event uniformly highlighted the need to be flexible in mobile implementation plans, and also called on industry to take the lead on developing new technologies that the government can use.

"Do we think this strategy is going to hold us for all time? Certainly not," Takai said. "Our plan is that as [private companies] begin to move forward from a technology perspective, we also plan to update the strategy and implementation plan on an annual basis. That's something we haven’t necessarily been the best at in the past, but we recognize that in order to keep up with the technology, that's extremely important."

Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence echoed the idea, noting that her preference would be to leave research and development to industry, investing federal funds in other areas that could be more effective. "We will never keep up with industry," Lawrence said. "I want to take R&D dollars and convert them into purchasing power as we work through this."

Lawrence also stressed the need to stay focused on the goals and on the enterprise amid the swirling financial uncertainty.

"We all know what the defense budget looks like today, so how do we move forward?" she said. "If we behave as an enterprise and we architect as an enterprise and we build security in from the start, we will get this right."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.


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