RIM, Motorola execs see government at mobility forefront

Government users are soon to emerge at the cutting edge of adopting mobility applications, according to two keynote speakers at the FOSE conference and exposition this week in Washington, D.C.

Michael Lazaridis, president and co-chairman of Research in Motion, and Gregory Brown, president of networks and enterprise at Motorola Inc., in separate keynote speeches both predicted that local, state and federal government agencies will soon nearly rival the private sector in the scale and inventiveness of implementations of mobile computing applications.

The most visible drivers leading government IT decision makers to consider wireless applications are reduced costs, greater organizational efficiency and higher workforce productivity, much the same as the reasons that have led companies in the private sector to embrace mobile data technologies, according to Lazaridis and Brown.

Yet, many IT managers in the government, particularly those at security-conscious agencies involved in the fields of law enforcement, homeland defense and national intelligence, have been unwilling or unable to implement large wireless data applications out of concerns about whether available wireless products are as secure as conventional IT systems, both speakers said.

Those concerns, however, are dissipating as government users become more aware of the robust security features offered, respectively, by RIM and Motorola in their standard products for the commercial marketplace, as well as by enhanced security features offered in the companies' latest products geared specifically for the security-conscious government market.

As a case in point, RIM's Lazaridis highlighted his company's recently introduced top-of-the-line 8800 Blackberry personal communicator, which RIM purposefully designed without a built-in camera.

'This product has no camera; it's a professional-use product targeted at this market,' Lazaridis said. RIM designed the 8800 without a camera because the company envisioned it in use at sensitive government installations where acceptable use policies prohibit workers or visitors from carrying cameras, Lazaridis said.

The RIM executive also pointed to his company's just-launched Blackberry Smart Card Reader, a Bluetooth-based product that a user wears around his or her neck. The reader features a slot into which the user inserts a common access card (CAC) of the type now widely used for access control to secure facilities and equipment.

When the CAC is placed in the reader, the Blackberry device communicates over a short-range Bluetooth network to provide users with secure access to a variety of assets, including entrance to secure buildings, as well as individualized access to users' Blackberries and PCs, Lazaridis explained.

RIM spent several years perfecting the card reader's security features and it is the only Bluetooth-enabled device that the super-secret National Security Agency has approved, according to Lazaridis. The Blackberry Smart Card Reader has been available for several months from RIM's Web page, Lazaridis said.

For its part, Motorola at the show introduced the latest version of its MC70 Enterprise Digital Assistant communications device, which the company designed specifically to offer wireless capabilities to government users such as law enforcement agencies and first responders, according to Brown. Motorola at FOSE also launched several ruggedized mobile computing devices for the government marketplace, Brown said.

According to Brown, only 5 percent of all government workers in the world currently use a mobile data application more complex than a personal digital assistant. That percentage, however, is poised to grow exponentially as government users discover the inherent advantages of wireless technologies, Brown predicted.

For instance, the government is currently ranked as the second biggest spender on wireless technologies, outspent only by the communications and media industry, Brown said, citing estimates made by market research firm International Data Corp.

In addition, a Motorola-conducted survey of 6,000 chief intelligence officers found that 80 percent of the CIOs think that wireless is the third most important area requiring their attention, Brown said.

Further, those CIOs said their spending on wireless data is increasing at 3.6 percent annually, versus a 2.7 percent increase in annual spending on IT systems overall, Brown said.

If government IT managers embrace wireless data technologies with similar enthusiasm shown already in the private sector, 'I believe that you can use mobility to be a hero within your organization,' Brown said in conclusion.

John Rendleman is a freelance writer.

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