VA awards contract for mobile device management, apps store

Wednesday - 10/3/2012, 5:00am EDT

The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a long-awaited contract to build a system that will manage a stable of mobile devices officials hope will eventually grow to 100,000 handhelds and tablets.

The award, issued as a task order under VA's Transformation Twenty one Total Technology (T4) multiple award contract, calls for the development of not just a mobile device management (MDM) system, but also a secure development environment for building and testing mobile apps, plus "internal" and "external" app stores, along with a new cloud computing system to house the whole mobility effort.

The initial $4.2 million task order to begin work on the project went to Longview International Technology Solutions of Rockville, Md. The service-disabled, veteran-owned small business will partner with Agilex Technologies to build the mobile device system, an industry source said. Over the three-year life of the deal, Longview could receive about $9.3 million.

A senior Longview official confirmed the award but declined to provide specific details on plans for the mobile project, saying VA had asked the company to delay public comment. A VA spokeswoman also said she was not able to provide further information on the contract.

But contracting documents obtained by Federal News Radio lay out VA's mobility plans in a fair amount of detail.

Support up to 100,000 devices

Longview will build a cloud environment certified as meeting the Federal Information Security Management Act's requirements for a "high" level of security.

Inside that cloud, the vendor will implement a mobile device manager (MDM) that will apply and oversee security policies on the first big wave of mobile devices to be deployed on VA's networks: the contract calls for an MDM that can handle at least 5,000 smartphones and tablets by the time the task order runs its course in September 2013.

Roger Baker, chief information officer, Veterans Affairs

That's the first step on a roadmap VA originally articulated in an October 2011 query to industry that imagined 100,000 centrally-managed devices throughout the department's nationwide healthcare and benefits system.

Roger Baker, VA's chief information officer, told reporters last week that the goalpost of 100,000 devices remains in place.

"And my expectation is that we will grow in excess of that," Baker said.

The new cloud platform also will serve as a clearinghouse for mobile apps to be used within VA so that internal organizations that want to use existing health IT apps and VA developers building new ones to suit local needs aren't duplicating one another's work.

"Without some specific controls to orchestrate internal application development, the volume of VA-directed applications could result in duplication and failure to thoroughly address VA standards," VA officials wrote in a performance of work statement for the project. "For mobile applications to provide the expected benefit supporting veteran services, the applications must be acceptable by the end users, enable improvement in workflow and provide value. They must also meet VA operations and security standards."

Two cloud environments

VA's new cloud for mobile also will include two new app stores: one for internal VA staff use and another that's open to the outside world.

The internal store will host apps intended solely for devices that VA controls through the new mobile device management program. But both stores, under the terms of the agreement with Longview, will support applications for Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Mobile and RIM's BlackBerry.

The agreement does not appear to contemplate VA employees using personally-owned devices on the forthcoming app cloud.

Baker told reporters in his Sept. 26 conference call that the department is taking a cautious path toward bring-your-own-device (BYOD) plans as the Office of Management and Budget mulls over governmentwide approaches to the vexing questions that surround accessing sensitive government data on personal devices.

"Once we have the MDM stood-up, I think we'll be able to deal with the BYOD topic," Baker said prior to the award. "But contrary to where we were a year ago at this time, there are a lot of organizations that have had to wrestle with this. We gained a lot by having thought about it early, but now we're taking advantage of a lot of the work that other folks are doing. We hope to nail that down in the relatively near future."

"But remember, we're the government," Baker cautioned. 'Relatively near future' could mean almost anything."

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