For Governments, Keeping Pace in a Mobile World Isn't Easy

IT departments examine security, Wi-Fi and app development to accommodate modern-day needs.

The mobile world is here. Citizens are using smartphones and tablets in all facets of their lives, and they expect to have access to the resources they need at any time and from anywhere. To provide better service to their customers, public-sector organizations have rolled out mobility programs with their employees, which are leading to greater efficiencies and cost savings.

Even though smartphones and tablets are small enough to tuck into pockets or portfolios, these devices are having a significant impact on IT operations. IT leaders need to be mindful of how significantly these devices can alter the way things are done, from mobile device procurement and network infrastructure management to application development.

In order to avoid disaster, mobility experts suggest:

  • Standardizing procurement
  • Creating security policies
  • Deploying mobile device management software
  • Thinking of mobile users first when developing government portals and apps

Device Dispersal

Because it's likely that workers will use their personal smartphones or tablets in the workplace, states and localities must craft bring-your-own-device policies to protect government data.

According to a 2012 GovLoop report, "Exploring Bring Your Own Device in the Public Sector," only 20 percent of organizations have a BYOD policy, yet more than half say such a policy would be desirable to their agencies. The perceived benefits include increased employee satisfaction, productivity and engagement.

Until recently, the Montgomery County (Md.) Housing Opportunities Commission had allowed senior executives and other supervisors to tote their iPhone and iPad devices to work. CIO Scott Ewart gave staff access to work email through the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync synchronization app, which he also used to remote-wipe lost devices.

Now, however, the commission has an acceptable-use policy spelling out what types of devices employees can bring from home (iOS, Android and Windows Mobile) and the limited support IT will provide (for example, staff won't fix broken devices but will troubleshoot network connectivity issues). The commission deployed MobileIron MDM software for security and administration. "Without a compliance product, it would be difficult to monitor BYOD," Ewart says.

Application Availability

Although existing Wi-Fi networks provide sufficient bandwidth for clusters of workers assembled in conference rooms or the cafeteria, the explosive proliferation of smartphones and tablets throughout the workplace often can strain the airwaves and degrade performance. That's why IT leaders are considering increasing the density of their wireless access points and looking to the emerging 802.11ac standard for high throughput.

A mobile-friendly world also calls for shifting mindsets when it comes to serving up content. Survey findings from the Pew Research Center show that 31 percent of smartphone owners have used those devices to visit a federal, state or local government website. Agencies must cater to this growing group of users and develop government portals and other websites with this audience in mind.

Finally, organizations should carefully consider what type of mobile development tools to implement. There are two dominant types: those that specialize in developing for a particular operating system, and those that use device-agnostic development platforms.

Successfully serving the growing base of mobile users has its challenges, but tackling the obstacles will yield greater flexibility, productivity gains and employee ­satisfaction.

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Apr 08 2013