How Utah stays on top of the mobile adoption curve

The state of Utah has learned that in mobile technology, it pays to track where the adoption curve is trending rather than to wait for users to arrive first, says state chief technology officer David Fletcher.


Utah has been a technology bellwether in the state information technology community for years, from becoming the first state to build a public key infrastructure in the 1990s to taking a lead among states in the promotion of  shared IT service,  data center consolidation and server virtualization.

Recently the state received an ‘A’ grade the 2014 Digital States Survey, a review by the Center for Digital Government of best practices by states in the use of IT. Utah was also the first state to develop an iPhone app, and earlier this year, it launched OnTime for Glass, a transit tracking app for the wearable tech.

Given its track record in diving into IT innovations first, we asked David Fletcher, the state’s chief technology officer, to share his insights into the state’s progress using mobile technology to help integrate the state enterprise.  

GCN:  Where is Utah on the bring-your-own-device management continuum? What have you learned from being an early adopter?

Fletcher: Utah established a BYOD policy in 2009 for mobile devices, but already had policies in place prior to that for devices such as laptops that required specific security measures for accessing state data. Utah now has an MDM solution in place that is required for any device accessing the secure state network. Typically, employees prefer to have a state-provided device when that is an option due to concerns about the state’s policy to wipe devices when they are stolen.

GCN: Analysts are now saying ‘mobile is the new desktop.’ And while that’s probably  true for consumers, what about for Utah employees? Where is Utah in making its content mobile-friendly for staff?

Fletcher: Utah implemented a virtual desktop solution several years ago when employees first began using tablets. It was an important feature that enabled managers to approve timesheets, travel and other services when away from the office.

Virtual desktop enabled us to provide a variety of services to mobile devices through a single interface. The Utah Department of Technology Services has been implementing VDI independent of the mobile initiative, but there is certainly some synergy between the two initiatives.

GCN: How has mobile expansion affected your cloud investment?

Fletcher: Utah first developed its cloud strategy in 2009, based on a hybrid model. It is continuing to progress in that direction and the ability to provision mobile services through the cloud confirms that commitment.

GCN:  How has the state handled mobile security?

Fletcher: Utah has a mobile device management system in place at the enterprise level and any mobile device that accesses the secure network is required to have MDM installed.

GCN: What level of unified or shared services does the state manage?

All IT services are consolidated in the Utah Department of Technology Services, and MDM is provided at the enterprise level. All network services, mobile and wired are provisioned by DTS, which operates a private cloud. Services to all executive branch agencies are provided through this shared model.

GCN: What have you learned from app development, such as your Google Glass project?

Fletcher: In mobile application development we have learned that it is better to watch where the trend is headed, rather than wait for the majority of users to be there. If you wait for users, you will be behind the curve. We were the first state government to build an iPhone application. It was not because we thought a large majority of the population would utilize it, it was because we knew that eventually all of our services would need to be mobile and this was a perfect opportunity to learn.

Since that time, Utah has focused on making all new online services mobile responsive, and citizens have come to expect a high level of service from Utah government on their mobile devices. The same has been true with Google Glass. We launched a first-of-its-kind public transportation application for wearable devices. We have had more users than expected, but that was not the goal.

The goal was to learn more about how to better incorporate wearable technology into our application development thought process. We can learn about the interface and the unique capabilities before it becomes mainstream.

GCN: What do you make of citizen-created hackathons? Is it better to build your own apps or contract for an app  – 311 for example – from a software-as-a-service vendor?

Fletcher: Utah provides open data for multiple purposes, including the ability for private citizens to develop applications using that data. We have many examples where people have created applications using state data and information. The state still builds apps in specific cases, but has also purchased services from a SaaS provider (such as SeeClickFix) and uses many SaaS apps and services to support employee productivity.

I would say that we look at all options when designing a project. If an existing SaaS product already delivers what we need, it may not make sense for the state to build it.

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