Mobile workers in Washington DC

USDA rolls out mobility management as a service

The Agriculture Department has rolled out a departmentwide mobility management service, providing its agencies with options for managing and securing smartphones and tablets in the workplace, whether government-issued or personally owned.

The service is being provided by DMI under the USDA’s $20 million indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity Next Generation Mobility (NGM) contract.

Launched in March, the service now has 9,000 devices under management and is designed to scale up to 100,000 devices. It supports iOS, Android and Windows operating systems. Agencies using the program can choose from four service level options depending on their needs.

NGM replaces a prior program from McAfee that supported only email in mobile devices and is a step toward more fully integrating mobility into department missions.

“The USDA’s needs matured past email-only type of mobile devices,” said a department spokesperson. “New features were required for secure access, mobile app management, offline capabilities, data protection and office productivity applications.”

The solution provides mobile device management and mobile application management through the MobileIron platform to enforce security policy and over-the-air administration, as well as managing applications through their lifecycle.

An enterprise mobile app store hosts custom and approved commercial applications for devices; and secure containers are offered to segregate USDA data within encrypted boundaries on personally owned devices. The services are accessed through a central Enterprise Mobile Management Center, a Web portal that provides s “single pane of glass” for management.

Devices supported include iOS phones and tablets running version 6.0 or higher, Android phones and tablets running version 3.0 and higher and Windows 8 smartphones.

DMI founder and CEO Jay Sunny Bajaj said USDA’s effort to more fully leverage available technology is part of an evolution toward the next level of mobility in the enterprise.

“We are now at mobility 1.0,” Bajaj said. “Email on the iPad is fantastic, but mobility is more than putting email on tablets or building an app.”

The next step is to make the devices, both government and personal, full-fledged business tools that can be used to replace paper-based processes, particularly in the field. Bajaj said the “vast preponderance” of the company’s mobile management business is in the government sector and that agencies have varying levels of maturity in their use of mobile technology. “But I think for the most part government has embraced mobility and is ready to move past 1.0.”

Agencies are moving cautiously in taking fuller advantage of mobility because of security, Bajaj said. Mobile security is improving, but it is not yet universal. Enabling enterprise management of devices and their applications is a big step in that direction.

“It’s a natural progression from managing a network,” Bajaj said. “But it becomes cumbersome for an internal IT staff to manage not only a network but all of the devices. It sometimes makes more sense to outsource that headache.”

This is what USDA has done with its Next Generation Mobility. “In this rapidly changing environment, USDA IT must create an environment that is secure, reliable, scalable, and enables users at the intersection of mobility and cloud services,” USDA said in its 2012 solicitation for the NGM contract.

The department’s CIO describes NGM as centralized services for mobile devices, offered as an infrastructure capability.  In addition to device and application management and security enforcement, it also offers Tier 3 technical support and a self-service portal for basic user support.

NGM is the sole mobile management option for the department’s 29 constituent agencies, and at 9,000 devices under management it already has grown significantly beyond the former McAfee solution, which supported just 5,000 email-only devices. Microsoft currently supports the remaining USDA Blackberry devices in the Office365 cloud.

All of the department’s agencies now have mobile application development plans, and with capability to scale up to 100,000 devices NGM has plenty of room for expansion. “New USDA mobile initiatives will use NGM as the building blocks for their solutions,” the spokesperson said.

Customer agencies are charged on a per-device basis, and NGM offers four options for service offerings: Mobile device management only, secure container only, mobile device management and application management, and a total package of all three services. The program also offers Touchdown email service for iOS and Android devices and wrappers for securing individual mobile applications.

“The results to date have been positive,” the spokesperson said. “Adoption by the agencies has been high and the performance and stability of the solution has been strong.”

With the number of mobile devices in use at USDA growing and their functionality expanding past simple email, the department has begun moving past “mobility 1.0,” but it is not there yet, said Bajaj. “It’s a step in the direction toward 2.0, but still only a step.”


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