No BYOD for Census workers

Shutterstock image: mobile enterprise.

The Census Bureau has opted not to pursue a bring-your-own-device strategy for gathering information during the 2020 census. Instead, officials will essentially rent off-the-shelf smartphones.

The agency had long toyed with BYOD, especially after it had to cancel its plans for using custom mobile devices for the 2010 decennial count.

Lisa Blumerman, associate director for decennial census programs, has praised the device-as-a-service model in the past, and at a quarterly program review on Jan. 29, she officially committed the bureau to that strategy.

However they're procured, the devices will run the bureau's custom application Compass, which guides enumerators through the response-gathering process. It currently runs in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese, though more languages might be added before 2020.

The app can also log enumerators' travel expenses and takes geolocation data each time an enumerator starts a housing unit response, helping to ensure that enumerators are at the right places.

Compass was designed to be device-agnostic and has been tested on both Android and iOS devices. That agnosticism will continue, Blumerman told FCW.

But it's possible that all enumerators could be using the same type of device, now that BYOD is off the table. "It does simplify the device choices for us," Blumerman told FCW. "That was one of the reasons we chose" the device-as-a-service approach.

Census will follow a multipronged procurement path for the mobile devices. For 2017 tests, the bureau will issue one request for proposals this year, she said. For 2018 tests and the final 2020 count, Census will issue a request for information this spring, with an RFP to follow in 2017.

Blumerman said the contracts will emphasize flexibility in vendors' choice of cell carriers because officials hope to get the best possible coverage across the U.S. That could mean different carriers in different regions -- particularly in rural areas that are often served by local, independent telecommunication companies.

The 2018-2020 mobile RFP will be substantial. Census has estimated it will put some 300,000 enumerators in the field for 2020, and they will all need devices and wireless service to get the job done.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.


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