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Government IT strains under BYOD challenge

DOD, NASA, Agriculture wrestling with mobile strategies; Mississippi calls in Gartner

By , Network World
April 05, 2012 02:31 PM ET
Craig Orgeron

Network World - WASHINGTON, D.C. -- IT executives with federal and state governments are struggling to sort out mobile strategies for smartphones and tablets that would be used by employees at work.

The "bring your own device" conundrum was evident in the energetic discussions in sessions at the combined Fose/GovSec Conference here, where information technology professionals from the U.S. Department of Defense, General Services Administration, Department of Agriculture, NASA and the state of Mississippi spoke about the frustrations they have encountered with BYOD.

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While the adoption of Apple iOS and Google Android devices, among other mobile platforms, is high, there's the sense that creating custom apps is expensive and that the talent to do it largely lies outside of government. There's also the perception that, given the slow pace of government contracting, Apple's quick device release cycle and Google's ecosphere of Android device manufacturers make decisions on procurement and app investment brutally hard.

"We're at the beginning of a mobile apps store," said Craig Orgeron, chief information officer for the state of Mississippi, who spoke on how employees for the state, with their unbounded enthusiasm for smartphones and tablets, are propelling the BYOD approach forward.

Mississippi tried writing its own apps in-house, but the staff newly hired to do this kept leaving for the private sector, where the talent is in high demand and pays more, said Orgeron. So the state took the step of setting up a public-private partnership under an entity called Mississippi Interactive LLC. The idea is to gain access to a large library of mobile apps that might be developed by others, which could be shared with other states as well.

Orgeron acknowledged that due to the autonomy granted state agencies, trying to devise a mobile-device strategy is "like herding cats." But BYOD is sweeping through Mississippi government as employees get their way in using their own smartphones and tablets for work. "It's happening. It's overwhelming," said Orgeron. The state took up the topic regarding purchasing in the legislature but "people begged to buy their own," he says.

"It was easier. To be candid, I did the same thing. I could easily have gotten a state-issued device." But Orgeron said he'd rather use his own smartphone because he wants to speak to his family, and state restrictions require phone calls to be strictly for business purposes. Orgeron says Mississippi has now called in the Gartner consultancy to help it sort out security and management issues.

Mississippi isn't the only government entity feeling the tidal pull of BYOD.

Chris Hamm, deputy director of the General Services Administration's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, which provides services to the government, said GSA is piloting tablets and setting up an apps store in the hopes this could be a resource for the civilian agencies.

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