Mobile's role in the big federal picture

The changes wrought by mobility are symptoms of broad economic and technical shifts worldwide that shouldn't go unnoticed by federal agencies, argue a pair of top General Services Administration IT managers.

Mobility is part of a move toward a knowledge-based "creative economy" that has been roiling the private sector for some time, outgoing GSA CIO Sonny Hashmi said in a presentation at FedScoop's 5th Annual MobileGov Summit.

The Internet boom and subsequent pivot to cloud applications in the larger economy have driven companies such as Blockbuster, Circuit City and Radio Shack onto the financial rocks in the past few years as those technologies winnowed out the middlemen between the producers of the goods they sold and their customers.

"Those companies have been completely disrupted," he said. "The old model wasn't working."

Hashmi is set to leave GSA next week to join personal cloud content management provider Box as managing director for government.

He told the audience that the creative economy displacing the manufacturing economy worldwide fundamentally depends on cloud and mobility to function. There will be no let-up in the uptake of cloud-based tools, he said, and they are one of the new economy's greatest engines.

To be successful in future IT and even generally in the creative, knowledge-based economy, he said, takes listening to experts, building a technically capable "geek army" to support IT and resolve problems, learning to take effective risks and developing open-source, interlocking "Lego architecture" that can be used and reused more effectively.

Gwynne Kostin, director of the Digital Services Innovation Center at GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies/18F, said those reusable "accelerators" are crucial not only for federal IT operations but for government in general, especially with technological capabilities such as computing power and data storage growing exponentially.

"We don't have to go back to the beginning anymore" in creating requests for proposals and other complex documentation because the basics can be shared among government agencies, she said. "We should embrace what makes us government. We share things well."

Kostin added that creating successful, reusable mobile apps hinges on starting with open-source tools and building from there. "It's all about the base," she said.

Hashmi and Kostin advised federal agencies to get out of their bunkers and look at what's happening in other agencies and the wider world. That approach can lead to breakthroughs, they said.

For instance, Google uses 10 percent of its budget to investigate "crazy stuff," Kostin said. "Don't just focus on saving money."

At OCSIT/18F, she has asked some of the people coming into the federal workforce from Silicon Valley why they chose to do so in the last two years of President Barack Obama's second term, traditionally a time when top people leave rather than join an administration.

"They tell me, 'Do you know what I got done in two years at my company?'" she said. They argue that rapidly developing technology has made two years a wide window of opportunity, and other government employees should think in those terms, too, Kostin said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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