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VA CIO forecasts in-house mobile apps store

Veterans Affairs Department Chief Information Officer Roger Baker envisions development of an in-house application store for mobile computing, he said Wednesday at a press briefing, where he also announced that VA is on course to open up its network to smartphones and tablet computers by Monday.

Baker said he plans initially to hook up about 1,000 tablet and smartphone users, who will trade in their laptops or BlackBerry phones. He declined to specify the hardware VA will issue, except to say that both types of devices would run on the same operating system. In July, Baker said VA initially would field Apple iPhones and iPads, which use the same operating system.

Baker said he would like to develop a mobile application store "to aid the entire VA enterprise." He hoped some of those applications would come from the open source electronic health record software project launched last month.

Initial applications for the VA smartphones and tablets include encrypted email and a viewer for a mobile version of the department's Computerized Patient Record System, Baker said in July.

Though clinicians in the Veterans Health Administration pushed the use of mobile devices, Baker said he would like to see the app store also serve the needs of the Veterans Benefits Administration, including providing benefits specialists access to information on specific case files while in the field.

Reversing an earlier statement, Baker on Wednesday said VA tablets and smartphones would be required to use encryption software that complies with the Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2. Third-party vendors already supply FIPS-140-2 software for iPhones and iPads, and Apple has a native cryptographic module in the certification process at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.

Baker said that while everyone at VA probably would like a tablet or a smartphone, wants do not translate into needs, and needs must be supported by a business case. VA has not developed a departmentwide smartphone or tablet acquisition strategy, though last month it did add the devices to its departmentwide Commodity Enterprise License procurement. Bids on that contract were due Aug. 26.

Baker said in the future VA clinicians could use phones or tablets operating over a Wi-Fi network to help identify patients through a Real-Time Location System the department plans to install in all its hospitals. VA awarded HP Enterprise Services a $10.4 million contract for its first Real-Time Location System installation at the Ann Arbor, Mich., hospital to locate and identify computers and people, for example, within a three-meter range using Wi-Fi signals.

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