Army moves to the front in supporting mobile workers

The military’s communications commands are taking a lot of heat these days for their apparent inability to deliver the kind of mobile technologies to personnel that the public now takes for granted.

The top critic might be the Army’s own vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli. Why, he asks, can’t the Army deliver the kind of downloadable applications — for delivering videos, photos, maps and messages — that are routinely available for iPhones, BlackBerrys and other handheld devices?

There are many reasons, of course, and the most prominent are the military’s relentless security policies and an acquisition process better designed to buy tanks than new technologies.

That’s why many people might be surprised to learn that one of the nation’s most advanced networks for supporting mobile workers is emerging from the Army.

In the past few weeks, the Army Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems received final approval for an initial set of commercially available smart phones that, along with a suite of pocket-sized devices, can turn soldiers into a true wireless workforce — at a surprisingly affordable price.

To be clear, the Army’s Go Mobile program won’t immediately — and probably never will — meet the requirements for reliable communications on the battlefield.

However, what Go Mobile is about to do is enable 2.5 million users of the Army Knowledge Online Web portal to store and remotely access a rich assortment of information, training and collaboration tools from nearly anywhere a common carrier wireless signal is available.

Registered AKO users will be able to wirelessly search for, call or e-mail military personnel from a universal list. That might sound routine for civilians. But for service personnel moving from one base to another, that still isn’t possible through more traditional, secured e-mail exchanges.

And because the AKO portal offers the ability to store and access an unlimited amount of unclassified documents, photos and other files, users are no longer constrained by military regulations that prohibit the use of thumb drives.

The most liberating feature might be the availability of several relatively inexpensive devices, including an eight-inch netbook, video goggles and a miniature projector. The devices enable AKO users to work with their information via a secured smart phone and software developed by Good Technology.

The Defense Department still has much to do in speeding mobile technology deployments in the battlefield. But domestic road warriors and government employees might actually be envious of what the Army PEO-EIS is about to offer AKO users.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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