Recently, two of Canada’s major political parties launched mobile election apps, allowing door-to-door campaign staff to use their smartphones and tablets for canvassing. Not only did this make the canvassing process significantly more efficient, it also provided each party with an unprecedented degree of insight into campaign operations and voter sentiment. No more relying on campaign managers to report their progress, no more time spent on needless data entry, no more missed houses, and no more uninformed employees.
The apps are indicative of the impact mobile has had on public sector organizations – of the change they bring to the public sector. Officials are at long last realizing the value of the technology, which has the potential to effect change at every level of an establishment. Consider, for example, the following use cases:
- A government agency whose employees are rarely at their desks, and far more frequently on the road. Mobile technology allows them to instantaneously connect with their peers, keep themselves apprised of key issues through press coverage, and ensure faster response times in crisis scenarios.
- A public sector organization with a global operations base and tens of thousands of mobile employees for whom data accuracy can be the difference between life and death. Mobile allows the process by which change is affected in the organization to be significantly streamlined, while at the same time allowing for the implementation of applications that significantly enhance logistics.
- A global public sector department whose staff typically travel abroad to help citizens during periods of unrest. A mobile-first approach allowed it to modernize its legacy infrastructure, allowing employees to immediately gain access to whatever information they require to do their jobs.
As you can see, many have already made use of mobile within their organization – the above use cases are all drawn from actual BlackBerry clients. Unfortunately, for every government agency that uses a mobile application or platform, there are several more playing catch up. For every organization that’s revolutionized itself through mobile, there are several more for which change of any sort is an agonizingly slow process.
This has led to a public sector that’s somewhat divided. On one end, you’ve agencies that have successfully utilized mobile technology to make themselves akin to well-oiled machines. On the other, you’ve organizations that still struggle with the basics of mobile device management.
“Although mobility is one of the fastest-growing technology environments in government, there is no government-wide policy overseeing its use and management,” explains Defense Information Systems Agency chief engineer Greg Youst. “[And] although federal agencies have made progress, they need to find more ways to provide mobile access and service to both the public and federal employees.”
There are a few reasons for this divide. First and foremost, many agencies – particularly at the state and local level – simply lack the necessary finances. In a recent study by Application Performance Management firm Solarwinds, 78% of IT decision-makers cited lack of funds as the main barrier preventing the adoption of new technology. Other barriers included the need to support legacy technology (53%) and IT staff shortages (51%) – though security stood as the largest secondary challenge.
Unlike private industry, the public sector is highly regulated. Agencies thus have to balance usability and accessibility with compliance. They need to ensure all data is adequately protected and all devices are adequately secured without hindering the end user in the process – and they need to do it while sticking to a budget. This is a challenging task even for a well-equipped IT department, and 55% of respondents to the Solarwinds survey indicated regulatory compliance as an issue.
There are other obstacles, as well. Outdated legacy technology makes it difficult to support mobile in any meaningful fashion. Shortage of IT personnel leads to departments that are understaffed, overworked, and often un-empowered. And finally, many decision makers simply have yet to acknowledge the importance of mobile technology.
That doesn’t mean employees in these public sector organizations aren’t using mobile – it just means that their particular agency doesn’t support it.
It’s not unreasonable to expect that employees will use whatever tools best enable them to do their jobs, regardless of what their employer mandates. That includes applications, cloud services, and devices. If no organizationally-mandated option is available, they’ll use a third-party solution – a non-compliant one.
According to a report by cloud vendor SkyHigh Networks, the average company uses 923 cloud services, more than 10 times what the company’s IT department expects. The first step in addressing this, says SkyHigh, is understanding what your employees need and provide them with it. In the case of mobile – where you need to control and manage distributed applications, systems, and users – you need a cloud-enabled Enterprise Mobile Management platform.
Pierce County, Washington, for example, employs a fleet of 300 tablets and 650 smartphones, all managed through a cloud-based SaaS solution. This platform allows it to quickly and easily manage, deploy, and secure its mobile infrastructure, while also remaining compliant. All devices can be remotely configured, and any data that ends up compromised can be remotely wiped.
And all of this was purchased on a small IT budget, to boot.
“IT was able to greatly limit our costs in the early pilot stages by only paying monthly charges for the [devices] we were managing, instead of purchasing an on-premise MDM system,” explained Linda Gerull, Pierce County CIO.
Pierce County would not have been able to manage its mobile infrastructure without SaaS. The size of its mobile fleet was too overwhelming to manage traditionally, and standard MDM software would not have provided the application or device security necessary for regulatory compliance. Further, budget constraints greatly limited the choices available to Pierce County’s IT department – something which SaaS made a non-issue.
These three challenges – budgeting, usability, and security – are precisely why for public sector organizations, BES12 Cloud is an ideal choice of EMM platform. Its low TCO and single-screen interface makes it ideal for organizations with a small IT department, while the cloud makes it both highly scalable and easy to deploy. Secure Work Space allows employees to keep work and private lives separate, and regulatory compliance is ensured through BlackBerry’s own powerful network, which protects data both in-transit and at rest. Additionally, BES12 supports deployment models ranging from BYOD to Corporate Owned, Business Enabled (COPE), to Corporate-Owned, Business Only(COBO).
The public sector is undergoing a period of transition – albeit a slow one. Moving forward, more organizations can overcome the roadblocks that have prevented them from broad adoption of mobile technology through investments in multi-OS EMM solutions such as BES12. As they do, more workers in government agencies are going to become more efficient and more effective at doing their jobs through access to tools that enable everything from better field logistics to better communication to enhanced public safety.