Telework Growth Spurt Drives Feds’ Hunger for Mobile Tech

The market for mobile information technology will grow sharply in the next few years as employers increasingly embrace both “at home” telework solutions and the use of other remote access capabilities, including smartphones and tablets. In a February forecast on mobile data traffic, Cisco Systems predicted that such traffic will grow at a compound annual rate of 74 percent in the U.S. between 2011 and 2016. The compound annual rate over that period for smartphone traffic will be 110 percent; for tablets, 91 percent; and for laptops, 34 percent.

One employer that is strongly encouraging the use of telework and mobile technologies is the U.S. government. While separate federal departments and agencies will acquire mobile capabilities as their requirements dictate, collectively the federal mobile technology market will be a major component in the overall growth of mobile IT in the U.S. Assuming that the private sector is more nimble than the federal government in acquiring new technologies, if government adoption of mobile technology is only a third of the pace projected by Cisco, the federal mobility market will still be formidable.

“We need more agencies to make their services available to an increasingly mobile nation. In addition, we need to increase the mobility of the federal workforce. Doing this will allow the government to realize real estate savings from teleworking as well as increase productivity for those employees who are often not in an office,” said Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, blogging earlier this year on federal mobile technology.

An Evolving Mobile Market

The shape of the federal telework-mobile market has yet to be determined — and will likely change over time as well. Not all agencies will run out and buy tablets for all workers by the end of 2012. But according to a survey of federal agencies conducted by MeriTalk, an online community for federal IT specialists, 35 percent of federal employees currently use smartphones in their work. By 2013, that will jump to 43 percent. Only 7 percent of federal workers now use tablets, but that will grow to 19 percent by 2013. Laptop use, now at 46 percent, will grow just a tad to 47 percent by 2013, according to the survey, which was sponsored by VMware and Carahsoft.

Using those trends, MeriTalk estimates that the federal government will need to acquire 44,430 more laptops, 355,440 more smartphones, and 533,160 more tablets by the end of 2013. In addition to the devices, federal investments in mobile infrastructure will be necessary.

“Mobility is the new normal for federal employees,” said Bob Kirby, vice president of federal government for CDW-G. “Employees increasingly expect to be able to work anywhere and at any time.”

In a February 2012 survey, CDW-G found that 99 percent of federal IT managers had deployed mobile devices within their agencies. About 77 percent of federal employees reported using a laptop for at least four hours per day for work-related activities, while 63 percent said they used a smartphone for at least one hour per day for work purposes, the CDW-G report said.

While the potential in the federal mobile market is huge, both vendors and government IT managers face challenges in actual deployments — including operational and procurement issues.

Security Is a Top Priority

For example, 78 percent of federal IT professionals in the MeriTalk survey cited security risks as a significant impediment to implementing a mobile device policy.

“Security is a top concern for federal agencies looking to protect sensitive data in an increasingly mobile environment. In fact, CDW-G’s federal mobility report found that end-user compliance and the sophistication of threats are the two top barriers to secure mobile computing,” Crystal Montvid, mobile solutions architect at CDW-G, told CRM Buyer.

Over the past year or so, the federal government has been developing a security protocol for shared services like the cloud, called “FedRAMP.” The mobile environment could benefit from a similar effort.

“I don’t think the use of third-party authentication and some of the compliance aspects of FedRAMP are necessarily appropriate to mobile,” Dan Kent, federal chief technology officer, Cisco Systems, told CRM Buyer.

“But it would be helpful to have a well-understood policy for wireless describing what minimum standards are acceptable at various security levels,” he said. Issues ranging from identity to encryption would need to be addressed.

According to MeriTalk, other deployment challenges include lack of IT personnel to support a multi-device environment, managing the diversity of personal mobile devices and platforms, budget constraints and technical support.

“Every agency has different infrastructure capabilities, and some are better able than others to handle increases in mobility. Some could benefit from infrastructure improvements in those areas, especially with the expectation that the trend toward Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies will continue,” Montvid said. “Desktop virtualization, for example, can lessen the IT management burden and improve security, because data resides on back-end servers instead of mobile devices,” she said.

The emergence of mobile at a fast pace may account for the fact that agencies have not developed mature management programs. The CDW-G survey reported that only 26 percent of agencies had a fully functioning mobile device management (MDM) structure, while only 29 percent had partially deployed an MDM program.

“MDM allows for management of many different types of mobile devices from a centralized console, including security tool deployment and application updates. Because MDM tools streamline basic device management tasks, IT can focus on other strategic activities, rather than management of hundreds or thousands of individual devices,” Montvid said. Several vendors, including AirWatch, BoxTone, McAfee, MobileIron, Sophos, Symantec and Trend Micro, offer MDM tools, CDW-G reported.

Vendor Diligence Required for Success

Another possible difference regarding mobile deployment is the manner the government uses to acquire systems. The universal application of telework and mobile capabilities across the government provides an opportunity for enterprise wide procurement practices.

“Going mobile doesn’t just increase productivity, but it’s a huge cost-saver too. For example, teleworking means we can decrease our real estate costs. And pooling our purchasing means that we can get the best deals possible on mobile devices,” VanRoekel said.

He noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reduced its telecom expenses by 18 percent — $4 million annually — by streamlining acquisitions. USDA consolidated its wireless contracts from 843 different plans and 32,228 lines of service to three blanket purchase agreements and negotiated volume pricing, VanRoekel noted. He is encouraging agencies to implement similar consolidated acquisition practices.

For vendors, the unsettled federal landscape related to telework and mobile deployment calls for especially diligent communication with potential federal customers.

“We spend a lot of time in educating people on the mobile environment — and vendors need to pay attention not only to the end user, but also to the mission people in an agency and the IT operations people,” said Kent. “We also include the information assurance people because that’s where the rub comes in most of the time with innovative technologies, and the need to ensure data security,” he said.

Despite the ups and downs related to mobile and telework efforts at the federal level, both agencies and vendors can take heart in having the support of Congress, especially through implementation of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, cosponsored by Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.).

To keep the mobile deployment momentum going, “we need to give positive reinforcement to agency leaders and make it clear that failure to implement the Telework Act is unacceptable,” Connolly told CRM Buyer.

John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

More by John K. Higgins
More in Government

Technewsworld Channels