Government Going Mobile: Balancing Flexibility and Security

By: Jacqueline Lee| - Leave a comment

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Federal, state and local government agencies are beginning to face serious staffing challenges, and to draw younger workers into their ranks, they must adapt to the way they work. This includes programs involving the government going mobile.

According to Government Executive, local governments employed 500,000 fewer people in 2014 than they did in 2008. By 2017, 40 percent of all state government workers will be eligible for retirement. With more than 8,000 baby boomers retiring every day in the U.S., agencies need younger workers to fill open positions. Yet only about 6 percent of college graduates express interest in federal, state or local public service.

Millennial employees tend to prefer flexibility, including telecommuting options and bring-your-own-device policies in the workplace, and government employers need to offer these options if they want to attract younger workers. However, as Prince Anand, director of federal at Insight Public Sector, explained on Federal News Radio, agencies have to balance the possibilities of mobile with an increasingly challenging cybersecurity landscape.

“More and more, there is a demand for wireless, but that in itself becomes a challenge,” Anand said in his panel interview. “How do you secure communication on those wireless networks?”

Younger Workers Want Mobile

Within the Department of Defense (DoD), today’s new recruits prefer different work styles than older captains and colonels. Federal News Radio panel member Randall Conway, DoD’s principal director to the deputy CIO for Information Enterprise, suggests DoD has adjusted by segmenting mobile services based on whether devices are classified or unclassified. For unclassified mobile devices, Conway says DoD had to acknowledge employee demand for open options.

“They wanted more mobile platforms on which to do their business,” Conway told Federal News Radio. “They wanted more choices in which type of mobile or handheld device to use. They wanted apps to choose from, and they wanted to be able to plug in wherever they went.”

More Bandwidth

Videos from a wide range of devices — in Conway’s words — are also “sucking down lots of bandwidth.” Many training scenarios for today’s soldiers use video games, which require devices with robust graphics cards and significant transmission capacity.

Across all government agencies, as well as within the DoD, applications are developed mobile-first for improved performance and security. Although this evolution boosts user experience and productivity, richer mobile applications mean networks have to evolve to incorporate more bandwidth.

“Applications are becoming richer, so the bandwidth requirement is 10, 15 or 20 times what it used to be,” Anand said. “Now, you have to change your applications … to consume them on mobility means more graphics — pizzazz, if you will — that will increase the need for bandwidth.”

More Vigilance

Between application vulnerabilities and potential for hijacked wireless signals, mobile has expanded the attack surface for all federal agencies. For panel member Harrell Watkins, chief operating officer and director of the Office of Technology Operations and Planning at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it’s vital to avoid placing security within a silo.

“When you’re talking about being agile, you’re also looking at weaving in cybersecurity and providing that as a service to our customers,” Watkins said. “So they don’t have to look at that as a separate activity, but it’s intertwined as you go about developing these modern applications.”

In the DoD, for obvious reasons, defending the network is a top priority. It’s vital, however, to balance security with making work easy for the user.

“Think about the endpoint guy,” Conway insisted. “Anyone ever use continuous monitoring on their network? You’re entering in your PIN 80 times a day just to make sure that’s you on the end of the terminal. So it gets to the point where you have to [ask] how much security can you really afford, and how much security is enough?”

Government Going Mobile Is Inevitable

For his 2017 budget, President Obama proposed a $3.1-billion fund for federal IT modernization. Agencies like DoD and EPA plan to tap this fund if it comes to fruition in order to fund more mobility modernization projects.

Despite the security challenges that accompany mobility, government going mobile is the key to recruiting and empowering younger workers.

“It’s the mobility,” Conway said. “It’s the new technology and the devices and what they bring to the table that’s caused us to change, and it’s that new, younger workforce that drives that.”

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About The Author

Jacqueline Lee

Freelance Writer

Jacqueline Lee specializes in business and technology writing, drawing on over 10 years of experience in business, management and entrepreneurship. Currently, she blogs for HireVue and IBM, and her work on behalf of client brands has appeared in Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine. In addition to writing, Jackie works as a social media manager and freelance editor. She's a member of the American Copy Editors Society and is completing a certificate in editing from the Poynter Institute.

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