Stop reinventing the mobility wheel

Rather than creating custom apps from scratch, agencies should take advantage of the opportunity to build on one another's valuable data and code.

 

Secure mobility was a key driver across the federal government in 2013, and it is proving to be a major priority for agencies in 2014. Last year, we witnessed significant progress and support for addressing bring-your-own-device demands. For instance, the White House released a BYOD tool kit to help agencies develop mobility plans, and the CIO Council released a baseline of mobile security standards to help address security and privacy concerns.

However, despite the efforts to standardize the government's approach to mobility, agencies continue to develop their own mobile applications. If every agency is going through the same process, shouldn't there be an opportunity to share best practices, reuse valuable data, and ultimately deploy industry-standard applications that enhance agencies' ability to achieve their goals and missions?

Some agencies are already looking for ways to take advantage of the efforts underway in the government landscape. For example, the Office of Management and Budget's plan to build a 21st-century digital government has helped set the stage for agencies' transition to mobile technology by introducing the key principles of a shared platform and an information-centric approach. The plan will allow agencies to reuse code and data and tap commercially available platforms to achieve a higher return on investment from mobility efforts.

Likewise, when officials at the Department of Homeland Security began to develop a mobility strategy, they recognized that they didn't need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they sought to crowdsource data and reuse commercial products to provide secure applications to its employees more quickly.

DHS was able to embed security and privacy into its applications by creating unique user profiles and only allowing certain profiles to access certain information.

DHS officials are taking information sharing a step further by developing what they call the Carwash, which is a way for agencies to build, test and deploy mobile applications that meet the government's strict security mandates and standards. Once an application has successfully made it through the Carwash, it can be published for use. That type of simple crowdsourcing and information sharing will reduce development time exponentially and bring a better return on investment for mobile efforts.

Similarly, the General Services Administration's Digital Services Innovation Center has released a mobile app development program through which agencies can plan their mobile strategies by seeing what other agencies have done and accessing top mobile developers. They can also create apps and sites based on user-experience guidelines and incorporate pre-existing code. Once apps are ready, agencies can test them to ensure that they meet security requirements and then make them available via the app store.

Although those platforms and apps are readily available, there are no set policies or guidelines to help agencies share apps and data. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's "Guidelines for Managing the Security of Mobile Devices in the Enterprise" advises organizations on how to keep mobile devices and data secure, but they are voluntary.

Mobility can no longer be ignored in government, and by using an information-centric approach, agencies can more quickly adopt secure mobile solutions. They should look for ways to share information and reuse existing data to achieve a higher return on investment and better support their missions, while also developing a set of guidelines to promote information sharing for future mobile projects.

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