Mobility

Mobile: It's not just IT, it's an adventure

Victor Gavin the Navy's Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems

Victor S. Gavin, Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems for the Department of Navy.

The Navy is trying to bring its IT practices more in line with commercial standards, and one area the service is focusing on initially is the realm of mobile devices. Like other parts of the Pentagon, the Navy is moving from the once-ubiquitous Blackberry to devices such as the Apple iPhone and Google Android-based cell phones.

"We're trying our best to not only adopt the technology which is associated with mobility, but more the business philosophies and the effect that mobility brings," Victor Gavin, the Navy's program executive officer for enterprise information systems, told an audience at a National Defense Industrial Association breakfast April 9.

Gavin said that for as long as he can remember, the Navy -- like most large government organizations -- has been relying on Blackberry devices. But over the years, Blackberries have fallen out of favor with the public, with a market penetration that has dwindled to about 3 percent.

Looking to the future, the Navy needed to do business differently, Gavin said. Consultation with industry showed a clear march toward smartphones and tablets, which is why the Navy has decided to adopt that model.

"It's not specifically the device I want to talk about, but it's more the philosophy of following what industry is doing," Gavin said. "I think in this space that's a very important part of the sustainment of our capability."

The Navy has recently started allowing its sailors to use multiple devices as part of this initiative. But the more important part of the equation is not the hardware, but the applications that will operate on those devices. Small businesses will play a big role in developing those applications, Gavin told the crowd gathered at the Key Bridge Hyatt in Arlington, Va. "We're building an environment that allows small businesses like some of you here to provide applications to work in this environment."

If the Navy's vision comes to fruition, sailors will be able to download software on their own mobile devices from an app store using existing commercial systems -- just like any civilian app, Gavin said. "It's creating an interesting debate within the department -- how much of this do we use?" he said. "I think this is going to be a huge debate moving forward."

Important questions that still need to be answered include just how much information can be shared, and what the nature of a government-industry partnership will look like. Also to be decided: Does the Navy provide sailors with a device like an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, or does the service assume every sailor has his or her own device? "Are we at a point with cellular technology that it's a commodity?" Gavin asked. "Can we assume now that every sailor has one of these or do we need to provide them?"

In general, Gavin said, some sensitive data will have to be compartmentalized and segregated for the sake of security. But the overwhelming majority of the Navy's data is not particularly sensitive. Right now, the Navy is working to figure out what data it is willing to share on commercial products. Many functions, like email or personal music software, could be freely downloaded. "We're using Good Technology to protect Navy sensitive data," Gavin said. "Let's protect what we care about and let industry do the rest."

The program is already starting to yield results, Gavin said. Last month, the Navy delivered the eDIVO app to fleet operators. This new app, which stores instructions for a duty officer on a smartphone, is extremely simple, Gavin admitted, but it is a starting point. "It allows him to use his mobile device for his daily work," he said. "Prior to that, it was pen and paper."

About the Author

Dave Majumdar is a freelance writer based in Virginia.

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