Digital strategy sets stage for mobile explosion

The Office of Management and Budget finally released its long-awaited digital strategy on May 23, and the analysis began almost immediately.

Although the plan was primarily about mobility and specifically about getting government information to the public via mobile devices, it included a lot more. Formally titled “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People," the strategy focuses on three objectives:

  • Enable citizens and the growing mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.
  • Institute an information-centric model for interoperability and openness to deliver better digital government services at a lower cost.
  • Update and implement policies to buy and manage devices, applications and data in smart, secure and affordable ways.

Alex Howard, writing at O'Reilly Radar, traced the strategy’s development from former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and former chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra to their successors — Steven VanRoekel and Todd Park, respectively.

Although the plan is ambitious, its potential for being funded is uncertain, Howard wrote.

"Big visions matter, in terms of inspiring the country to action or a historic course, from building transcontinental railroads to sending men to the moon to starting up a new government agency," Howard wrote. "Implementing against that vision, however, in a time of great budget pressure, increased demands for government services online and falling trust in institutions is just as important."

The Telework Exchange, in an unbylined news update posted to its site, called attention to the fact that the plan highlights the importance of agencies being open and interoperable by asking them to develop IT infrastructures and adopt technologies that will empower the practice of access anywhere, anytime, on any device.

“Telework has a natural connection to achieving these goals and can easily be leveraged to support the provisions in the strategy that ask agencies to expand their mobile capabilities and establish secure mobile device management practices,” the Telework Exchange article states.

At NextGov, Aliya Sternstein noted the plan’s emphasis on security, saying it “attaches the word ‘secure’ to almost every activity description. A graphic visualizing the flow of digital services under the plan titles its foundational layer, ‘Security and Privacy.’”

At the same time, the strategy acknowledges that the goal of openness might compete with the need for security. “To address the conflict between transparency and security, the blueprint calls for partitioning sensitive information prior to transmission by, among other things, requiring strong identity verification,” Sternstein wrote.

The plan gives the departments of Defense and Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology responsibility for developing standards for expanding the secure use of mobile and wireless devices. Those agencies have a year to develop a set of requirements.

Although the plan clocks in at a streamlined 36 pages, it gives agencies a lot to do on several fronts in the coming months, and they will likely take a variety of routes to get there.

Milestones along the way

The strategy’s list of milestones includes directives for the General Services Administration to establish a Digital Services Innovation Center and for OMB to convene a Digital Services Advisory Group within a month of the strategy’s release. Those organizations will then take on roles of their own in moving the plan forward.

Here are some selected milestones from the strategy, along with the responsible entity and time frame.

  • All agencies: Ensure that new IT systems follow the strategy’s open-data, content and Web application programming interface policy; 12 months.
  • All agencies: Engage with customers to identify at least two existing major customer-facing services that contain high-value data or content as first-move candidates to make compliant with new open-data, content and Web API policy; three months.
  • GSA: Expand Data.gov to include a catalog that centrally aggregates Web APIs posted on agency/developer pages; 12 months.
  • Digital Services Advisory Group/CIO Council: Release governmentwide bring-your-own-device guidelines based on lessons learned from successful pilot programs at federal agencies; three months.
  • Digital Services Innovation Center/CIO Council: Launch a shared mobile application development program; 12 months.
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