Army mobile transition slowed by culture

Shutterstock image: mobile enterprise. 

Mobility isn't about an individual device, or a network or an application, but rather an entire ecosystem needed to free a worker from the office, said one Army official.

Rick Walsh, the mobile innovations lead for the U.S. Army, told the audience at the ATARC Federal Mobile Computing Summit in Washington that his goal is to empower workers to do their jobs anywhere at anytime -- to work at the "speed of decision."

That requires a harmony of the user, data, network, applications and security, he said. "If you're going to do mobile right, you need to look at all of those things."

Walsh pointed to a variety of obstacles to creating a "single device architecture" that will allow workers to use any device they chose to connect to Army systems.

One is the Army's, and Department of Defense's, focus on security and its tendency to "secure everything as if they were diamonds." Walsh said the Army needs to take a more risk-based approach to mobile and application security to allow for more flexibility and usability.

Walsh said that service also needs to shift to a bring-your-own-device model so workers can use devices they know and the Army can push more of its device cost onto workers.

While acknowledging budget as a significant limiting factor in the transition to a mobile environment, Walsh said the single biggest obstacle may be "blue hairs and grey beards [who] only know what they know."

In many cases, he said, that means a culture and work ethic that is more focused on "butts in seats" than on productivity.

"I need to get to a point in the Army where I can have people work from home, do their job from home and be productive," said Walsh. He said that goal requires more work in the short run to train workers and managers in new approaches to telecommuting and working remotely.

Walsh said the Army is currently running small pilot programs aimed at moving towards a telecommuting approach. He said that might mean staff working for a few hours in the morning, taking a few hours to attend to child care or other family matters, and then resuming work later in the day.

Walsh asked the audience members who work in industry to compete for his business for devices, applications and shared services that will get the Army to its mobile goals. "But I have to enable that to happen," he added.

"We're looking at standards based," he said. "We're looking at establishing new requirements and enforcing standards, not tools, but standards the tools can operate against."

About the Author

Sean Carberry is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence. Prior to joining FCW, he was Kabul Correspondent for NPR, and also served as an international producer for NPR covering the war in Libya and the Arab Spring. He has reported from more than two-dozen countries including Iraq, Yemen, DRC, and South Sudan. In addition to numerous public radio programs, he has reported for Reuters, PBS NewsHour, The Diplomat, and The Atlantic.

Carberry earned a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and has a B.A. in Urban Studies from Lehigh University.

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Reader comments

Thu, Mar 30, 2017

Mr. Carberry noted that focus will be placed on standards for mobility. This is clearly critical but it is not clear what standards body will set or define those standards. Additional insight on this topic will be very useful.

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