USDA Official: BYOD Won't Work for Custom Apps

"Bring your own device" is a good solution for a lot of things federal employees do on a daily basis such as word processing, emailing, texting and instant messaging, the Agriculture Department's Associate Chief Information Officer Owen Unangst said Wednesday.

When it comes to a custom-built and mission-critical application that an agency plans to roll out across the agency or a division, though, it makes more sense to build for a particular operating system such as Google's Android or Apple's iOS system, Unangst said during a panel discussion at the FOSE 2012 government technology conference.

Part of Unangst's reasoning has to do with security. The larger issue, though, is cost. Developing the same system for three or more different platforms is likely too costly to begin with, he said. But by the time developers have worked all the bugs out of each system and ensured all of the different platforms can talk to each other, things will have got even pricier.

Smartphone and tablet operating systems may someday become uniform enough that developing for multiple systems isn't cost prohibitive, said Chris Schroeder, chief executive of App47, an application development and analysis company. But that point isn't here yet, he said.

A solution for some agencies might be Web-based apps that live online and that employees can access through any Web-connected phone, tablet or computer. That's not an option for USDA, Unangst said, because many of their field workers are actually out in fields, assessing cattle health among other activities, and can't rely on steady broadband access.

USDA is among a handful of agencies planning an internal "app store," with custom-built and commercial applications to help employees do their jobs on the go.

The Defense Department is about six weeks shy of launching an internal app store, according to a Federal News Radio report.