Mobile assimilation picks up speed

Mobile assimilation picks up speed

Mobile technology has had a mixed track record in government, with device management and security concerns causing a drag on actual usage. However, there’s no argument that mobile will eventually have a big play, and there are signs that the tipping point is near.

Good Technology, a mobile security solutions provider, tracks the quarterly mobile activity of its global enterprise customers and saw increased activations of both mobile devices and apps across the board in the second quarter of this year. Device activations in government and public sector organizations improved by 7 percent compared to the first quarter.

It’s still “relatively early days” yet, said Chris Roberts, Good’s public sector vice president, and there’s probably at least a year left to go before mobile solutions start to really proliferate throughout the enterprise.

“But, from an evolutionary point of view, the conversation has already moved away from how to deal with all of the mobile stuff coming into organizations,” he said. “It’s now more about what needs to be mobilized to help those organizations perform their missions better, and that leads to more difficult conversations and into more complicated territory, which is where it frankly needs to be.”

Mobile momentum

There’s a dividing line in government when it comes to the maturity of outlook for mobile. The federal side has clearer guidance about what technology to buy and how to manage it, following the May 2012 release of the Digital Government Strategy, whose goal is to help agency IT managers provide the best solutions for workers to access government data and services “anywhere, anytime, on any device.”

State and local governments have been slower to follow that path, and much of it, Roberts believes, is because of the more uncertain budget situation at that level and uncertainty over the return-on-investment of bring your own device.

However, momentum is clearly shifting to a more aggressive push on mobile. A survey at the end of last year by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers placed the development of mobile services in the top 10 priorities for state CIOs. The acquisition of technologies and solutions to help a growing mobile workforce was their highest priority behind only cloud computing and security tools.

IDC Government Insights, in a study published early this year, projected a combined annual growth rate in spending on mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablet computers of 3.4 percent from 2012 to 2017 at both the state and the local level, driven by demand from emergency services and the need for point-of-service solutions.

“Basically, anything where people have to go out to do inspections, case management requirements such as Social Services, investigating complaints and so on is where the growth will be,” said Shawn McCarthy, IDC Government Insights’ research director.

A clearer picture of state and local mobile might develop after this year, Roberts said, given the fact that there are over 30 elections pending at the gubernatorial level. There’ll be a better idea of what will be happening around workflows and mobility once new executive teams are in place, he said.

When it comes to the kinds of mobile devices that are in demand in government, there’s a clear preference right now for tablets. IDC saw that in its study of the market, with a 12 percent compound annual growth rate from 2012 to 2017 in the federal government, and close to 15 percent yearly increase for the same period in state and local.

That’s due to the greater screen real estate that tablets provide, Roberts said, compared to other devices such as smartphones. Users need to handle the workflow they are used to at the desktop when out in the field, he said, and something that can accommodate forms and other electronic paperwork. Organizations are also finding they can improve on that workflow in many cases with tablets.

Security perceptions

So far, according to Good Technology, the platform of choice for most government enterprises is Apple’s iOS and the iPhone and iPad tablet that work with that operating system. IT and information security folks have become familiar with iOS, which has been a stable platform for years, and they understand how to secure data on those devices. Also, Roberts pointed out, there are a lot of iOS developers who can help with developing custom applications, and there are a lot of iOS apps that users can simply download and use.

That kind of ecosystem is not yet as mature for the Android operating system, which also suffers from a perception of being less secure than iOS. Given the open source origins of Android, there are also a number of different variations of Android that are used by each manufacturer.

“Android is a wonderful platform,” McCarthy said, “but there’s no way that an organization can test every variation and make sure they are compatible with all of the government security requirements.”

However, it’s more or a less a myth that Android is less secure than iOS, Roberts said, because statistically there are no more bad things happening on Android than on Apple’s operating system, but the perception persists. That could eventually disappear as broader Android security is developed, particularly the solution Samsung has developed with its Knox containerization technology.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of chatter from our government customers around that,” Roberts said.

Samsung Knox has already been accredited for use in military mobile devices, and is certified under NIST Federal Information Processing Standards. It provides a method for agency IT administrators to make sure that the applications and data used and stored on an Android device are authorized for use only by the device owner. A next generation version of Android, called Android L, will use various elements of the Knox security system.

Samsung has been tracking the evolution of the government mobile space since the publication of the administration’s digital strategy, said Johnny Overcast, director of government sales for Samsung Mobile.

“Knox is designed to take any commercial off-the-shelf product that anyone can buy and enable that to be used in the government environment,” he said. “It can be deployed on any of our products from the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone all the way to our current products.”

Even without Samsung Knox, Android seems to be picking up speed in terms of adoption. According to Good’s customer survey, total Android device activations were up 5 percent in the second quarter, to 32 percent of all activations. That was at the expense of iOS, which dropped the same amount to 67 percent of total activations.

Government, particularly federal agencies, may be close to moving away from discussions of security and how to manage various mobile devices, Overcast said, and more into considering what the right devices are to help further government’s mission at less cost to the taxpayer. As technologies such as Knox becomes ubiquitous, conversations about mobile will evolve into what those solutions are and not so much about security.

That fits with the future Good Technology also envisions. The drivers for mobility in the government have already switched, Roberts said, and issues such as mobile device management, which were high on the list when BYOD was a top concern, are not something most IT people are now looking at. They are really trying to figure out how will they migrate email and the Microsoft SharePoint experience to mobile.

“Security is a part of that, but it’s also about what mix of their own apps and third-party apps they’ll need,” he said. “They want a rich ecosystem of apps they can use almost like Lego pieces to build workflow capabilities, and then how they can construct that ‘one pane of glass’ they can use to manage their entire IT estate.”

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above