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DoD Strategy Document Highlights Mobile Adoption Challenges

Posted by Wyatt Kash on


The Defense Department’s release of a new mobile device strategy late last week provides a revealing snapshot of how much work lies ahead for Defense officials in rationalizing the rapid adoption of smartphones, tablets, and mobile devices across the Department. It also highlights the urgent challenge to secure the use of those devices on Defense networks – even if it fell short of describing how and when DoD planned to tackle ongoing security concerns.

The strategy document acknowledges that commercial smartphones and tablets that operate using a variety of commercial systems offer a more cost-effective solution than pursuing DoD’s traditional course of developing custom hardware and software applications.

“This strategy is not simply about embracing the newest technology – it is about keeping the DoD workforce relevant in an era when information and cyberspace play a critical role in mission success,” said Defense Chief Information Officer Teri Takai (pictured above) in a cover letter that accompanied the strategy.

The goals and objectives laid out in the public-release of the strategy, however, remain so broad and undefined that it would appear Takai may have succeeded in clarifying the Department’s focus when it comes to mobile technology, but made only limited headway in rationalizing it’s actual use.

Takai outlined three primary goals in the strategy, which are sound on the surface, but reflect many of the underlying challenges she faces at DoD:

1. Advance and evolve the DoD information enterprise infrastructure to support mobile devices. That will involve working with industry to manage spectrum and bandwidth and establish a mobile device security architecture. This effort – to improve wireless infrastructure and support secure video, voice and data access via mobile devices – has been an ongoing initiative for years.

The news last week that Lockheed Martin won a $4.6 billion 7-year contract to provide worldwide DoD telecommunications and network support and security might appear timely and promising. But with the inevitable protests and transition issues expected to distract attention, it’s hard to imagine much will actually happen anytime soon and why DoD’s move to a more enterprise-wide, mobile-enabled future will likely to take years to accomplish.

2. Institute mobile device policies and standards. There’s no question, DoD needs to streamline and standardize its approach to managing mobile devices and platforms and improve interoperability. And establishing those policies and standards can be accomplished.

But as Takai herself lamented at an industry forum last month, sponsored by TechAmerica, the impact of mobility is a major challenge. “We have more than 50 pilots…in you-name-the-environment,” she said. And those are the mobile device tests she knew of. Getting the services to agree on such standards is going to take more than a few well-honed policy memos.

3. Promote the development and use of DoD mobile and web-enabled applications. Here DoD needs to work hand in hand with the Defense Information Systems Agency and even GSA, as well as with industry, to identify and provide the tools and processes for developing, testing, certifying and distributing applications in much faster cycle times. It also means that DoD needs to focus greater attention on standardizing the architectures used on the back-end to enable DoD’s information and network systems to support mobile devices and the web-enabled content.

Takai has one several things going for her in issuing the strategy document, however.

One is the release of Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel’s Digital Government Strategy on May 23 which provides a more specific roadmap on how other federal agencies – facing many of the same issues – should plan to adopt mobile devices and the development tools for creating and certifying mobile applications.

While DoD serves a different set of stakeholders, the basic premises outlined in Takai’s strategy document “are the same as those for the Digital Government Strategy,” said Rick Holgate, who supported the Federal CIO’s office as co-chair of the Federal Mobility Strategy Task Force. Holgate is assistant director for science and technology, and CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives.

“Much of the DoD strategy focuses on the ‘shared platform’ elements of the Digital Government Strategy, but one could also do a direct crosswalk between the two documents,” he said, noting the similarity between the Digital Government Strategy’s action item 9.1 and DoD’s Goal 1, Objective 3.

“While the level of their focus is slightly different (the DoD document tends to be much more technical, and the Digital Government Strategy more philosophical), they share the same fundamental tenets of being smarter about the ways in which we buy, deliver, manage, secure, and support customer-facing services for a mobile, digital government,” he said.

Another factor in Takai’s favor is the maturing nature of FedRAMP, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which is making traction with the concept of certifying once, using often. While the program is aimed more at cloud computing, it is likely to be a model that will help accelerate the adoption of mobile applications across agencies as well.

Finally, Takai – or her successor – is likely to benefit from the budget pressures that are ransacking Defense domains, and forcing the services to share platforms and policies like never before.

In many regards the new policy is a direct response to those pressures in outlining a Defense mobile application development framework and certification process designed to foster a lower cost, faster delivery approach for bringing mobile technologies to the warfighter and support personnel.

What do you think?