VanRoekel puts mobile strategy on fast track

Monday - 1/16/2012, 5:08am EST

Executive Editor Jason Miller talks to Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel

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The creation of a government-wide mobile computing strategy is not going to be a protracted effort. Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said a final document should be finished by early April. Within six months, agencies will have a host of new contracts to choose from for mobile devices, services and data and voice plans.

"In six months, we really want to streamline our cross-government acquisition of services, devices and technologies," VanRoekel said Friday during a luncheon in Washington sponsored by AFFIRM. "We have a good starting point there, GSA has been working very hard on strategic sourcing and other things. And within 12 months, really be hitting stride on our applications strategy and how we create a platform. There are a lot of great agencies out there and our hope is we learn from them, the ones that are ahead and those best practices get folded in."

VanRoekel announced and posted online the broad concepts of the government's thoughts around mobile computing earlier this week. He wants public comment by Jan. 20.

The Office of Management and Budget wants the strategy to focus on six core areas:

  • Incorporating the power and possibilities of mobility into federal government efforts.

  • Building mobile technologies/services for reuse and sharing common services among agencies and public developers.

  • Efficiently managing mobile and wireless acquisition, inventory and expenses.

  • Creating a government-wide foundation to provide mobility services and functionality needed in all agencies.

  • Fostering collaboration to accelerate mobility across government.

  • Establishing governance structure for federal mobility.

He said one of the most important aspects of the plan is it must be device agnostic and allow for the diversity of how services are implemented.

"We are at a point where on many fronts we haven't as a federal government kept pace with the private sector, and this is one where we haven't kept pace with the consumerization technology, where computers in your pocket are now a reality," VanRoekel said. "We aren't seizing on that in the federal government to really up the way we do business, the productivity, the effectiveness of our employees as well as the way we connect to Americans who are seizing on this technology every day. We need to rethink the way we acquire mobile technology and mobile devices, but the way we deliver important information inside and outside the halls of government."

Questions need to be answered

The strategy must address several questions, and VanRoekel is counting on agencies and industry for answers.

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel

He said OMB wants comments on whether there are other devices beyond smartphones and tablets, and how should new security technologies such as fingerprint readers or smartcard readers be applied.

VanRoekel doesn't expect the strategy to be a one-size fits all policy for all mobile devices. He said he could foresee varying sub-strategies for different parts of the mobile environment. The strategy also will include best practices from agencies currently ahead of the curve in using mobile computing.

And a big part of this will be a strategy around bring-your-own-device, where government information is secured in a sandbox to keep it safe from access to outside Internet.

VanRoekel said an interagency working group led by GSA, agency CIOs and acquisition experts already developed a draft strategy. The public comments on the mobile computing concepts will influence the further development of the rough draft.

"When we get the plan out, it's my intention to really kick off industry activities that we start to build around the plan, get feedback on it and focus on continuous improvement," he said. "We did this last summer with the cloud commission. There were lots of industry players involved in coming together through a lot of groups like AFFIRM to give input on that. We will formally call on groups to come help us think through implementation."

He added industry also will play a big role in developing standards, around issues such as security and privacy, for mobile computing.

Government as a platform

VanRoekel said the strategy also will help move agencies out of application development and in to being platform providers.

"We all have great aspirations but our aspirations outweigh the resources to deliver against those," he said. "And so it's striking that balance on prioritization and other things and where industry can really help is lowering that friction, taking some of that and running with it."

VanRoekel pointed to the government's use of challenges and contests as examples of providing a platform and relying on industry to offer the solutions.

"I think we should largely be as a government out of the business of creating applications and things like that, and we should rely on both expertise and resources from outside the walls of government to deliver on those things," he said. "If we start doing platform activities and building open interfaces to things from a mobile standpoint, location based applications and all that, I'd love to see fostered off the work we do from a platform standpoint, so encouraging companies to start building those."

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