A mobile workforce is coming, but governments say they’re not ready.

survey of 150 state and local IT managers by Mobile Work Exchange, an organization that advocates for working remotely, found that 58 percent of those surveyed said their organizations didn’t have the plans, tools or support needed to manage a mobile workforce. The survey, published on July 28, also found that despite a lack of preparedness, 65 percent of respondents said they believe the number of mobile government workers will increase in the next five years.

The survey, underwritten by Citrix, cites top barriers to mobile adoption as security (56 percent), lack of funding (52 percent), resistance from management (29 percent), and cultural barriers (23 percent). David Smith, director of state and local government at Citrix, said he expected mobile adoption among state and local governments to be a little higher, but the barriers cited by the survey match his experience.

“The more mobile information is, the more risk obviously there may be,” Smith said, adding that IT managers might look at all the concerns of new technology and drag their feet on adopting a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy or mobile technology in general.

Government offices also tend to be behind the curve culturally, Smith said. “A lot of it comes out of having an old IT infrastructure that’s built on an old set of assumptions,” he said. “So you have infrastructures that were built at a time when people were always in an office and they were wired to a desk.”

When the federal government began adopting a mobile workforce, he said, it saw benefits. It changed the technology, and it changed the model of benchmarking performance from one where employers are content to have their employees present to one in which employee performance is the main concern.

Mobile-ready agencies gain three hours of productivity per employee, per week, according to Mobile Work Exchange, and likewise, increased productivity was the most commonly cited benefit among survey respondents who led mobile-ready agencies.

For Gartner Analyst Bryan Pagliano, the survey results were not surprising. He noted that while cost of adoption is listed by the survey as a main barrier to adoption, the real issue is that “the cost/benefit analysis of mobile in government is not always neatly quantifiable.”

Promises of increased productivity like those purported by Mobile Work Exchange are enticing, Pagliano said, but the challenge is whether such gains can be made without exposing an organization to an unnecessarily high level of risk. 

The solution, he said, is to map a “value chain” designed with mobile devices and applications in mind. Just as many organizations are rooted in old processes and technologies, Pagliano added, many more organizations are today embracing a mobile-first strategy, and the “anytime anywhere access” model is getting a lot of attention.

“Less attention has been given to where mobile can create new digital business scenarios that will transform government operating models,” he said. “By working with program offices, CIOs and IT leaders will be able to create scenarios that support where the benefits will clearly outweigh the cost and risks in using mobile.”

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com and on Google+.