For government, cost-cutting is mobile's real killer app

The demand for agencies to lower their operating costs is driving the government's acceleration toward mobile; user convenience is second.

By now most workers in and out of government are used to hearing talk about how mobile computing and social media will transform virtually all future business and personal communications. A day doesn’t seem to go by without the announcement of an app or device that promises to fulfill a need that wasn’t always entirely apparent the day before.

Recently I read about development of an app that would calculate the moods of employees based on their tweets and how they set their online status. This data could be used to map the emotional state of a company’s workforce, which could be then compared against sales and other performance metrics.This strikes me as a pretty upside-down business proposition, not to mention one that might in itself lead to a downward mood trend.

In the government arena, in contrast, the proposition for mobile is brutally simple. It could be boiled down to this: how to do a lot more with much less.


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At a recent conference, Greg Youst, the mobility lead in the Defense Information Systems Agency’s CTO office, put it this way: “The services want to be able to hand a soldier a tablet or a smart phone and take the PC and a wide percentage of the phones off the desk to try to save on cost.”

Youst cited up to “a trillion dollars” in potential budget cuts facing the Defense Department, a staggering number that speaks much louder about why the department is taking a lead on mobile than the appeal of any number of convenience or productivity apps.

In fact, throughout government it’s clear that mobile deployment has become essential to meeting severe budget cuts and to address the need to lower the cost of government.

Agencies are responding to the call with a burst of innovative approaches to infrastructure consolidation, services-sharing and cloud services, several examples of which we cover in this issue.

The defense IT community, for instance, is working to remove obstacles to opening up mobile networks for a wide range of devices and users, including advances in user authentication and operating system security. For its part, the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare lab is providing mobility as a service, bundling end-user support, including help desk, security enforcement and software management, to make it easy for remote users to connect regardless of location.

Meanwhile, state and local governments, facing balanced budgets mandates, are under possibly greater pressure to move to mobile on a mass scale. State IT shops are taking up the challenge: California, for instance, has developed a template for app development that has enabled the state to mount applications in a matter or days and sometimes hours.

But while the public’s demand for mobile is ferocious --  “Our citizens are saying, ‘I want all information, all the time from any device, so give it to me,’” says Utah CIO Steven Fletcher – for government agencies, it’s cost-cutting, not consumer convenience, that’s king.

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