10 mobile features workers want... and agencies need

As agencies seek to increase productivity in the field they are increasingly looking to get mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and 2-in-1 devices into the hands of their employees.

While the federal government is still trying to hammer out specifics of its mobile device strategy, federal agencies are moving ahead with mobile device implementations. And we’re not just talking about bring-your-own-device practices.

As agencies seek to increase productivity in the field they are increasingly looking to get mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and 2-in-1 devices into the hands of their employees.

From the Coast Guard to the Food and Drug Administration, many agencies have requirements to conduct inspections of everything from ports to ships to farms – and mobile devices are playing a key role. Branches of the U.S. military are also looking at how tablets can be used to improve recruiting. And one branch is even exploring the potential of giving new recruits tablets to provide essential information to them.  

But finding the right tablet or mobile device requires more than simply purchasing the latest and greatest gadget. While consumer-oriented devices are often sleek, easy to use and great for basic functions like checking email, taking pictures, and playing games, they often lack the robustness and security features needed by federal workers.

Luckily, there are many mobile options available to meet federal agencies’ missions. Dozens of tablets, Ultrabooks and convertible laptop and tablet hybrids provide agencies with security, manageability, long battery life, sleek form factors and cost savings.

Still, agency CIOs have to consider a variety of factors when selecting devices that meet the wants of employees, including usability, flexibility and more:

Power. Employees want devices that deliver positive experiences as well as increased productivity and connectivity. Extended battery life is a must, as running out of power during the business day is simply not an option.

Compatibility. Federal employees can only be as productive as their devices allow them to be. Mobile devices should be compatible with the millions of existing software applications used by federal agencies, many of which are touch-specific and built explicitly to meet the agency’s specific needs.

Memory.  Devices need to be powerful and flexible, with enough memory to meet the needs of multitasking federal employees. It’s not unusual for an employee in the field to have office applications, a web browser, VoIP and unified communications tabs all open and being used at once.

Keyboard and ports. While consumers are typically fine with using an onscreen keyboard, workers in the field, who are typically entering vast amounts of data, often require access to a tactile hardware keyboard. In addition, flexibility and options on the number of available ports – including  USB, HDMI, VGA, etc. – are also important.

Synchronization. Employees require a flexible compute architecture that enables offline mission applications to be used without connectivity (or when coverage is spotty) and then synchronized with back-end databases when a wireless or cellular connection is established.

Simultaneously, CIOs must consider the needs of IT, which means focusing on security, compliance and cost-effectiveness:

Remote access. Like it or not, humans are prone to making mistakes and bouts of forgetfulness. In order to prevent data from falling into the wrong hands, agency IT departments need mobile devices that are capable of being accessed, locked and wiped remotely.

Authentication. The need for encryption and multifactor authentication can’t be stressed enough. Government employees need access to sensitive data, regardless of where they may be. Multifactor authentication, specifically as it relates to the VPN, derived credentials and integrated Common Access Card readers are all features that should be included in a mobile device.

Biometrics. For some federal employees, the need for security requires devices that are capable of supporting alternative authentication options, such as fingerprint readers or facial recognition software.

Mobile device management. IT departments also require remote access to monitor, maintain and manage mobile devices. The ability to remotely provide security patches to mobile devices allows for protection from malware and other attacks that happen below the operating system level.

Convertibles. Federal IT departments are also often under significant budget restraints, which can directly affect mobile device strategies. As such, IT departments may find convertible devices appealing, since they combine products into a single device. Investing in convertibles means not having to pay extra for separate tablets or laptops, but still providing users with the tools they need and want.

When looking at these points, one might see a laundry list of things that need to be considered. While that’s true, it should also be noted that each of these points offers great benefits for all federal employees.

By looking for business-class options that preserve confidentiality and integrity, federal agencies can safely, securely – and, above all, successfully – create a mobile workforce. 

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