Column: With foundation for federal mobility in place, time to take on next set of challenges

Thursday - 12/6/2012, 12:43pm EST

Federal Drive panel discussion

Rick Holgate also took part in a special panel discussion on mobile lessons learned.

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By Rick Holgate
Assistant Director & CIO
Office of Science and Technology
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

The federal government just marked the six-month milestone following the release of "Building a 21st Century Digital Government," and it's an appropriate time to reflect on the progress we've made in mobility and the challenges and opportunities that still remain in front of us.

The much-anticipated strategy, released in May, established some aggressive milestones and expectations for the federal government, recognizing the need to move quickly and achieve progress in the way the government thinks about and delivers digital services in general, and specifically supports the increasingly pervasive mobility of citizens and federal employees.

Rick Holgate, assistant director and chief information officer, Office of Science and Technology, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

The strategy milestones focused on near-term, tangible deliverables in furtherance of a longer-term, transformational vision. The milestones were designed to lay the necessary foundations for the long-term vision, while providing a means to measure progress. They were also developed in response to feedback from the nascent federal mobility community, which came together to help inform the federal chief information officer of the critical strategy elements related to mobility.

Most importantly, the strategy embraced and institutionalized mechanisms for improving cross-agency collaboration and sharing of information and solutions. Through the establishment of the Digital Services Advisory Group, supporting the federal CIO on the implementation of the strategy, and the Digital Services Innovation Center, as a focal point for knowledge, assistance and common services, the strategy provided both the spirit and the mechanisms for better collaboration within and across agencies. In addition, the PortfolioStat memorandum, released just ahead of the strategy, also forced a more collaborative and holistic examination of agency IT portfolios, with a view toward driving greater standardization, commonality and efficiency, and an overall leaner IT portfolio that affords flexibility to invest in new transformational opportunities like mobility.

Mobile summit

At the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and within the Department of Justice (DOJ), we have been actively engaged in discussions about adopting common mobility-related platforms and services, such as a standard mobile device management (MDM) service for the department. In addition, this month we are holding a DOJ mobile application summit to provide greater visibility of the mobility efforts under way within the DOJ components, and to identify opportunities for collaborative development of new applications and solutions to common application-related challenges we're facing.

More broadly, the spirit of collaboration is evident in the Technical Exchange Meetings (TEMs) hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to foster governmentwide sharing of mobile security-related information, experiences and expertise. We also see progress on the acquisition of common mobile platforms and services through recent efforts to acquire MDM and mobile application store (MAS) services at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the General Services Administration (GSA), among others.

The strategy included some aggressive early deliverables due at the one- and three-month milestones. With the complexity of some of the mobility issues, and the compressed timeline for producing deliverables, the resulting products could not be comprehensive. For example, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) "guidance" was necessarily limited to a toolkit featuring existing case studies and practices.

Recognizing that there is more work to be done and harder questions to be answered, the federal CIO has encouraged more collaboration between government and the private sector, with a goal of fostering dialogue and drawing out lessons and practices that can be applied in the federal sector. The American Council for Technology (ACT) Industry Advisory Council (IAC) and its Advanced Mobility Working Group have launched an online collaboration to identify and address some of the key issues in BYOD.

New defaults being set

The six-month deliverables for the strategy were even more ambitious. They focused on the mechanics and enablers of moving beyond the traditional desktop environment, of using new platforms to change how we deliver services to users, both citizens and employees. They also included an examination of mobile security and a survey of the federal mobility landscape to understand impediments or obstacles and the opportunities to overcome them. These deliverables inherently involve complex and thorny cross-agency policies and responsibilities, and their release has been delayed to ensure those issues are adequately addressed.

As we move past the halfway point in the strategy's timeline, much work remains to be done: agencies will be working hard on the 12-month deliverables, and the federal CIO undoubtedly will be focused on institutionalizing the "new defaults" represented by the strategy and on ensuring that its core tenets guide federal efforts well beyond May 2013.

Within ATF, we will be building on the possibilities of the mobile platform for our investigative and regulatory personnel. We're already working on smartly — affordably and sustainably — delivering more functionality, with guidance from our users, to drive improved productivity, and we're making key investments to overcome limitations in our legacy system environment. It's an incredibly dynamic, exciting and rewarding time to be in the federal government as we work on delivering better digital services.

Rick Holgate is the assistant director and chief information officer for Office of Science and Technology in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives within the Justice Department. He also is the government chairman of the ACT-IAC's Advanced Mobility Working Group.

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