Woman stands by the windows holding a tablet and phone.

Why Government Needs a Mobile-First Strategy

6 Jun 2017 by Debbie Malone

It’s no secret that U.S. agencies, especially in the federal space, are behind the technology curve. And if they don’t catch up soon, it could jeopardize the integrity of our government systems, our national security and the personal data of millions of government workers and constituents. Mobilizing the workforce and applications could provide the best solution.

Government IT is on the verge of collapse.

According to the 2016 U.S. Government Cybersecurity Report by SecurityScorecard, government organizations ranked last in cybersecurity performance. That’s because many of them rely on outdated technology that can’t keep up with today’s cyberthreats and contributes to a growing number of security incidents, adding to the erosion of public trust, which Pew Research Center reports is already a problem. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows federal agencies spend more than 75% of their IT budgets on quick fixes for legacy systems, leaving little to no room for innovation and only resolving problems temporarily.

Results for healthcare, government, business, banking/financial and education.
Figure 1

As Figure 1 shows, the proportion of records exposed in the United States due to government data breaches grew from 7.8% in 2014 to 20.2% in 2015. In 2016, it rose to 37.9% — up 30.1% since 2014.

Legacy IT systems can’t adequately scale to modernize constituent services either. Consumers in the private sector are accustomed to intuitive, easy-to-use apps they can access from their mobile devices — anywhere, anytime — and they expect to interface with the public sector the same way.

But slow and inefficient computing infrastructures are a severe impediment to delivery of public services. And that extends to employee productivity as well — a problem that’s amplified for government field workers without a way to connect remotely to critical systems. What’s worse, this critical issue is deterring an emerging and highly skilled millennial workforce from a sector that can’t compete with private industry on pay. And the skills these digital natives bring to the market are desperately needed to support government innovation and critical data security efforts.

In an interview with FedScoop, Dave Shive, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the General Services Administration, emphasized the need to cultivate a tech-savvy worker base. “If you don’t modernize your workforce, you don’t modernize their skills and their capabilities, you create great risk for your organization because they can’t maintain the things that you’ve transformed to.”

Percentage of employees from 2005 to 2015.
Figure 2

As Figure 2 shows, the percentage of full-time federal employees between ages 20 and 29 has been in decline since 2011, according to federal employment reports from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Mobilizing the workforce — and its service delivery systems — as part of a larger digital transformation strategy, addresses all of these issues.

Benefits of a mobile-first strategy

The latest mobile phones, tablets and laptops are more stable, secure and energy-efficient than the technology of yesteryear. They’re easy to integrate because they’re interoperable with a wide range of apps and other devices. And because they’re still supported by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), they continue to receive the most up-to-date security patches and enhancements. This makes mobile devices a highly secure and cost-effective option for equipping the workforce.

Rich Nockels, a senior manager of product management at Insight, agrees. “Modern smartphones, tablets and laptops provide today’s government and public sector employees the ability to effectively perform their duties no matter where they are, with the performance they expect and the security that IT demands,” says Nockels.  

Mobility provides other benefits as well. The state of Hawaii went paperless in 2015. It equipped public employees with mobile devices and moved to using electronic signatures on digitized forms. Route Fifty reported that the initiative has simplified document processing across the eight main islands. It has also resulted in significant cost savings, productivity boosts, document tracking improvements and stronger security measures.

A woman signs her name on a tablet.

When Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C., kicked off the 8th Annual Potholepalooza, a six-week campaign to fix the city’s potholes, the district had a plan to engage citizens in a whole new way.

Typically, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) hires additional repair crews for the duration of the campaign to fill potholes within 48 hours of being reported. What was different about the 2016 event was the new technology DDOT implemented.

Work crews were able to use mobile devices with advanced mapping technology to confirm when jobs were completed and snap pictures of the repairs. The devices were connected to DDOT’s live service request database so citizens could then see the updated repair status within an hour by checking an interactive map on the department’s website.

The Executive Office of the Mayor reported that DDOT received and met over 2,000 requests and repaired more than 16,700 potholes in total during the 2016 event.

In another example, the U.S. Army gained greater agility in setting up and moving command posts and Tactical Operations Centers (TOCs) by broadening its use of wireless networks, eliminating the need for heavy cabling. Lt. Col. Mark Henderson spoke with Federal News Radio and shared an example of why the mobility we take for granted every day is mission-critical in the field.

“In this case, what I saw was a soldier that had a question about something that he was doing [and] actually picked up his laptop from where he was sitting, walked from one end of the TOC all the way to the other end of the TOC. He was still connected and he was still doing what it was he needed to do. … Now imagine a scenario where you had miles of dedicated cable that was cut and laid, and he was connected by virtue of that cable. And so by virtue of the fact that he was able to operate wirelessly versus connected to a wire, the amount of time that was lost to provide mission support was reduced to a much more negligible amount. … And that right there is truly disruptive and game-changing technology,” said Henderson.

Man in camouflage is sitting outside and using a laptop.

State and local government employees who serve in the field benefit from mobility as well. Route Fifty reported that social workers in Washington, D.C. were previously unable to access or update case information remotely. Instead, they had to update and review cases during their frequent trips to and from the office. After the development of a foster care app, the district’s social workers could securely access cases via their mobile devices, enabling them to work much more efficiently and receive data in real time.

A 3-in-1 solution

In recent years, 2-in-1 devices that function as a tablet and laptop have grown in popularity — and for good reason. While the power of a laptop is necessary for some tasks, others only require the more simplistic functionality of a tablet, letting you connect to the internet, data or communication apps with a touch or a swipe, no keyboard required. Two-in-one devices offer the best of both worlds.

While these kinds of laptops have the potential to redefine workforce mobility in the public sector, HP released a new hybrid device in 2016 that takes the concept a step further. The HP Elite x3 is a 3-in-1 device that’s a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone.

It comes with all the features you’d expect to see in a modern mobile device: lightweight design, long battery life, large touch screen, front- and rear-facing cameras, and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and LTE connectivity. The Elite x3 was designed with the workforce in mind, so it offers some game-changing workplace mobilization features as well.

The Elite x3 accommodates up to two SIM cards, enabling employees to keep work and personal calls and texts separate while also reducing the total number of endpoints that agencies have to manage. And it’s resistant to dust and water and has passed military standards testing, making it ideal for field workers in rugged environments. Public safety workers and first responders, in particular, can benefit from its durability.

HP video still

Most importantly, the Elite x3 offers premium security features, including integrated hardware and software encryption, as well as iris and fingerprint scanning. Biometric authentication and robust IT security solutions will be crucial in stemming the increasing number of government data breaches.

But the true value of the HP 3-in-1 lies in its versatility. The Elite x3 operates on Windows 10 Mobile, so it’s compatible with other Windows 10 apps and devices and enables employees to access Microsoft apps, such as Outlook and Excel, while in the field. And with HP Workspace, HP’s virtualization solution, users can access and use fully functional versions of business-critical applications wherever they are. And the device works with other virtualization solutions as well.

HP has also developed a suite of complementary accessories. The HP Elite x3 Lap Dock and Desk Dock allow users to enjoy a full laptop or desktop experience with an external display, keyboard and mouse. An integrated barcode scanner helps agencies simplify inventory management, speed data processing and reporting, and improve delivery of constituent services. And the Elite x3 wireless charging stand is lightweight enough to go wherever you go.

That’s the kind of innovation, flexibility and mobility that can attract millennial workers. It’s also technology capable of enabling better citizen engagement and public service delivery like the solutions implemented in Hawaii and Washington, D.C.

“More and more government and public sector employers are seeing the value in having their employees armed with secure, high-performance mobile solutions. This allows them to interact with constituents face to face, in real time, making them more efficient and effective,” says Nockels.

Combined with custom application development services, available from Insight, the Elite x3 will help government agencies not only manage today’s IT priorities, but also prepare for future needs.

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