Commentary: Mobility is key to transforming federal operations for a more austere future

This is the perfect time to seize on BYOD opportunities and make the most of tightened budgets.

Over the past 10 years, federal technology has evolved remarkably swiftly. We can attribute much of that change to The E-Government Act of 2002, which focused on making the government more transparent, accountable, accessible, and efficient through the use of technology, specifically the Internet.  

Agencies have made many important strides that have expanded information sharing and participation in government processes, and improved efficiency. As a sampling, citizens can conveniently file taxes online; review information and begin the process of filing for benefits online; and quickly access millions of federal documents. In addition, individuals, businesses and state and local governments can participate in federal regulatory rule making by providing online comments and conveniently research and file for grants via a centralized portal. Furthermore, the law has made it easier for businesses of all sizes to understand the requirements for operating outside the United States.

The law’s 10-year anniversary presents a good opportunity to consider the next 10 years. Looking forward, mobility will, without question, be center stage in helping agencies achieve their missions of providing high-value customer service and enhanced accessibility, while empowering federal employees to do more with less. We’ve seen some progress in teleworking initiatives, as formalized by The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, and a handful of pilot bring your own device programs, but these initiatives have yet to go mainstream. Recent statistics illuminate the challenges that remain: only 3 percent of federal employees use agency-issued tablets at work and only 13 percent of agencies say they’re implementing a device-agnostic, flexible work environment.

Telework stands to deliver a 200-to-1,500 percent return on the initial information technology investment after adopting a telework system -- factoring in increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, lower real estate costs, and reduced recruitment and retention needs, according to the General Services Administration. We are making progress. Yet, despite the mandate, we continue to encounter management fear, uncertainty and doubt, as well as significant cultural barriers to change as evidenced by the fact that only 32 percent of federal employees are eligible to telework. The government must support the movement to a more mobile working environment by showcasing telework success stories and sharing best practices to achieve success and address challenges. 

On the BYOD front, each holiday season brings a plethora of shiny new devices to the hands of consumers (including federal employees) and an expanded opportunity for agencies to seize the BYOD opportunity as a way to make the most of its increasingly precious IT dollars. The Obama administration acknowledged the benefits of BYOD programs earlier this year, launching a BYOD toolkit and issuing a memorandum on advancing mobility. The toolkit outlines key considerations, highlights successful case studies and includes examples of agency mobile device policies that others can use as a model. And we’ve seen some forward-thinking agencies implement BYOD pilot programs, but wide scale adoption remains elusive as agencies wait for others to take the plunge in earnest. Earlier this year, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dealt with a 15 percent budget cut in its IT spending base by implementing a BYOD pilot program.

While federal agencies have made great strides in the last decade in using IT to improve efficiency and transparency, their work on this front is far from complete. The focus is now moving to how mobility can drive the next generation of transformation. The good news is that we have the technology and many of the policies and models in place to set the stage for success. The time is right to capitalize on those technologies and policies.   

Tom Simmons is area vice president for the public sector at Citrix Systems, Inc.