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GCN : March 2015
[BrieFing] Federal agencies still have work to do more than two years after the White House issued its mobile-focused Digital Government Strategy, according to a December report from the Government Accountability Office. All 24 agencies required to comply with the strategy have made efforts to improve their digital services for those who use mobile devices, but so far much of it has been in planning rather than execution. “Strategy is always a challenge when you’re dealing with digital technology,” said Jacob Parcell, manager of mobile programs within the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Ser- vices and Innovative Technologies. The Digital Government Strategy, released in 2012, aims to let citizens access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, any- time on any device; manage devices, ap- plications and data securely and afford- ably; and open more government data. “I think that what the digital strat- egy did is it got the ball rolling on this conversation,” said Chris Roberts, vice president of public sector at Good Technology, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mobile security solutions provider. “It got the government to focus on ways that it might be able to create more efficiencies, save costs and essentially execute its mission a little better.” Some agencies are leading the way in this effort, mainly through the devel- opment of mobile websites and native apps, Parcell said. For example, the Census Bureau created two apps out of its open data. One called dwellr lets users enter preferences and then sug- gests the top 25 U.S . cities best suited to them. The other, Census Pop Quiz – a play on the word “population” – uses gamification elements, giving badges for every correct answer people can give about the 50 states. Despite agencies’ best efforts to meet the strategy’s 2013 deadlines for mobile accomplishments, legitimate challenges have hindered them, Roberts said, including sequestration, continuing resolutions and midterm elections. But the No. 1 challenge – and one that President Obama referenced in his State of the Union address Jan. 20 – is cybersecurity, he said. “Even just a few years back, I don’t think we took security nearly as seri- ously,” Roberts said. “We assigned that to the Department of Defense, the FBI, Homeland Security, folks like that, but it’s become clearer and clearer that whether you’re at any department – whether it’s the [Veterans Affairs] or Labor or Com- merce or housing [departments] that may not have been in a direct line with regard to national infrastructure – that every agency has got to have security.” Going hand in hand with security nowadays is privacy, Parcell added. For example, the Internal Revenue Service’s IRS2go mobile app lets users check their tax returns, so the agency needs to ensure the system is not only secure, but able to maintain privacy of the data. “It’s sort of like yin and yang with privacy and security. They’re like peas in a pod,” he said. Policy is another obstacle that started with the bring-your-own-device debate, Roberts said. The policy issue went in three waves, he said. Initially, senior-level employees were given or had their own iPads and wanted to use them at work. The IT or- ganizations tried to find ways to accom- modate that. The second wave involved the Black- Berry, once the device of choice among feds, and whether it would remain intact or be sold. “The question marks around BlackBerry forced many in government tolookataPlanBwhenitcametomo- bile,” he said. “The third wave is where we are cur- rently with government, and that is how do I take a so-called front foot with this?” Roberts said. “How do we decrease costs, increase efficiencies and better execute our missions knowing that bud- gets are likely going to be shrinking and that we’re going to be asked to do more with less, and that is the real question or the right question that government should be asking right now.” Technical challenges emerged, too. Responsive W eb design, or making sites that adjust to the screen size of the viewing device, gave some feds pause, Parcell said. For example, agencies had BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ Agencies struggle to move beyond digital strategy “Strategy is always a challenge when you’re dealing with digital technology.” – JACOB PARCELL, GSA 6 GCN MARCH 2015 • GCN.COM 0315gcn_006-015.indd 6 3/5/15 12:40 PM