Report urges government to wade into wireless

Secure wireless devices have plenty of potential federal users, but first agencies must weigh their willingness to embrace the technology, according to a pair of professors who have surveyed more than 200 federal workers.

'User technology readiness plays an important role in determining whether to go for immediate deployment of wireless/mobile technology and in determining the strategy for deployment,' noted Ai-Mei Chang, a systems management professor at the National Defense University, and P.K. Kannan, a marketing associate professor at the University of Maryland.

Agencies should launch wireless pilots, they said in a new report, Preparing for Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Government, sponsored by the IBM Endowment for The Business of Government. The first steps should include assessing employee readiness for wireless integration, training workers and budgeting for these products use as part of an agency's long-term strategy, the report recommended.

The report suggested using a technology readiness index, a metric that measures employees' optimism against their distrust of technology, and their tendency for innovation against their discomfort with new technology. Based on the authors' survey, the report said high levels of optimism and innovation paralleled high levels of discomfort.

Chang and Kannan recommended that agencies encourage employees to use wireless devices in their personal lives to become more comfortable with them. Agencies also should provide training classes and create peer support groups in which tech-savvy employees can walk their less-technical colleagues through wireless use.

Agencies should start with simple applications, such as mobile e-mail, before venturing into projects that demand interagency collaboration, the report said. Meanwhile, the authors called on wireless vendors to address the high-cost, interoperability, and inadequate security and privacy issues related to enterprisewide wireless use.

If agencies do not begin launching wireless technologies, they will lose out on significant data-sharing possibilities with one another, the public and industry, the report concluded.

'The coming decade is clearly the era of e-government,' it said. 'Societies in each city, state and country are increasingly interconnected, and citizens and customers who have experienced the improvements and efficiency that the Internet facilitates are demanding more from their governments.'

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