Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

Mobile matters, but it needs thought

Mobile technology could play a central role in collaboration in years to come, but only if agencies take care in how they approach it.

The first question organizations need to ask themselves is what they intend to allow people to do when they are mobile, according to TJ Keitt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, Inc.

“Is that just a technology discussion about devices, or is it more about mobility as a part of a business continuity plan, in which case they need a policy for managing these devices,” he said. “When it comes to collaboration, they also need to think about ways of expanding access to devices outside of the firewall, and that involves such things as desktop virtualization, employee portals, etc.”

After that, they will need to figure out if employees’ various devices can support the kinds of applications the organization uses. For example, he said, until recently both Apple iOS and Android devices only “spottily supported” Microsoft’s portfolio of collaboration tools.

Agencies also need to think about the kinds of tools that are deployed. It won’t be enough to simply take the tools that people use at their desktop and extend them to the mobile environment. That’s because when it comes to mobile devices, size rules what people can do with them. Smartphones are great for communicating in real-time with audio and, increasingly, with video. But they’re not so good for sharing and viewing documents, which works better on tablets.

“The form factor, screen and connectivity options make a big difference in how and where mobile devices are used for collaboration,” said Philipp Karcher, also a senior analyst at Forrester.

Another thing agencies need to do is manage expectations. With mobile technology, those expectations are being set by consumer experiences. Outside of government, people are already used to the ease of use of such applications as Dropbox for sharing files and documents. Government collaboration tools should be just as simple to use.

That doesn’t mean adopting consumer tools wholesale, since many of them don’t have the kinds of security features needed for government work. But whatever tools are chosen, they should deliver the same utility when it comes to user experience.

Infrastructure also must be considered.

When people are out of their offices, they will expect to be able to collaborate without disruption. That will require, at the least, reliable access to fast WiFi networks.

To that extent, if agencies make sure they take care of their mobile needs as part of their overall IT strategy, then the infrastructure needs for collaboration should be met.

“Mobile devices are simply another endpoint for a user,” said Vanessa Thompson, research manager for enterprise social networks and collaborative technologies at International Data Corp. “Personal identity verification and data encryption are the most challenging components to solve for agencies. But if they are able to provide that at the [mobile] application level, rather than securing and containing every device, challenges will be minor.”

In a recent survey conducted by the 1105 Public Sector Media, 40 percent of respondents said their agencies were considering the purchase of mobile collaboration tools, or already had such tools and were thinking of upgrading them.

That trend is only likely to increase in the future. So, one way or another, mobile for collaboration is coming to government and agencies need to be looking at their needs for that now.