The Agriculture Department is developing a mobile application it believes will cut in half the travel required of its Natural Resources Conservation Service employees working on projects to reduce chemical runoff at farms, an Agriculture official said Wednesday.
The department also is working on a mobile app for veterinarians reporting the results of cow inspections from lots near the U.S.-Mexico border, making the flow of livestock between the nations more efficient, Owen Unangst, the department's associate chief information officer for enterprise network services, said.
USDA plans to launch a departmentwide app store sometime in 2012, with both internally developed apps and other publically available apps that have been approved for agency use, Unangst said. He was speaking on the sidelines of a conference on government mobile computing sponsored by Government Computer News and TechAmerica, an industry group.
"As far as application management -- we're just starting to tiptoe into that," Unangst said. "Today, most of the work we're doing with these mobile devices is communication, emailing and so forth, but we're starting to utilize more of the commercial things like Google Maps. We're just starting to experiment with commercial and in-house [developed] apps."
USDA's departmentwide mobile strategy is aimed at making work outside USDA offices more effective and efficient and also at creating a common experience for employees, regardless of where they're working or what device they're using, Unangst said.
More than half of USDA employees regularly work outside agency facilities, Unangst said.
That effort includes determining which mobile devices the department can support, which applications it will allow on those devices and how those applications will be protected from external hackers and internal carelessness, he said.
Innocent Lau, a group manager in the USDA's Office of the Chief Information Officer, said that process has been complicated because different USDA divisions need different mobile devices and have different security concerns.
USDA has developed a two-way approval system that allows the central CIO's office to hand down a list of approved devices and applications to agencies while allowing agencies to request approval for particular devices, apps or workarounds that are important to their missions, said Lau, who also spoke at Wednesday's conference.
In addition, the department has divvied up help-desk work so that day-to-day requests, such as password resets, can be managed by the individual agencies, he said, while larger problems are sent up to the CIO's office.