Mobility and the Government Enterprise

"We won't be able to attract these people with money. Security, pensions -- that will be part of it. But the other piece is going to be how they work and how they want to work"

by / May 12, 2005
Not only are today's constituents demanding a more up close and personal government, but increased efficiency is required by budget constraints and a disappearing work force due to the coming wave of retirements. Mobility has an important role to play in solving these problems, said Kevin Shabow, Gateway's senior director of government sales, speaking to a group of government employees at today's Government Technology Conference in Sacramento, Calif.

The coming retirement wave won't just increase productivity demands, but it will also diminish the number of talented employees available to both the public and private sector, he said. Mobile solutions offer benefits to employees that cannot be achieved when tethered to a desktop, including telecommuting and flexible hours -- as well as accommodating a lifestyle today's youngsters are accustomed to leading.

He predicted that government would have to fight the private sector for the best and brightest talent. "It's going to be very difficult," he said. "We won't be able to attract these people with money. Security, pensions -- that will be part of it. But the other piece is going to be how they work and how they want to work."

As an example, Shabow referred to his own kids who are accustomed to the convenience that mobility provides. "They grab a portable, sit on the couch in front of the TV and grab a phone. They IM, play around on the Web, play some games while they're talking to a friend, while they're digesting whatever they're getting on television," he said. "That's the generation we're going to be hiring in another 10 years."

He added that the productivity increases that come with allowing employees who routinely spend time in the field to maintain and manage their informational needs without returning to the office, would be increasingly necessary as large chunks of the government work force retire and budgets force agencies to squeeze more efficiency from its work force.

Changing the government enterprise into a mobile enterprise is not without challenges, however, said Cheryl McKinnon, government product manager for Hummingbird. Organizations that implement mobility devices will have to deal with issues of capturing and storing public records according to legislation as messages, photos and other data are passed across a distributed network of varying devices. Device functions must also be customized to end-user needs as the "always on" nature of mobility leaves the gates open for an unmanageable flood of information. Agencies and departments will also have to deal with business continuity issues that arise as information is stored on devices in the field for longer periods of time.

McKinnon recommended careful planning for efficient implementation. She said organizations should assess their need for the devices, establish goals and implement a pilot phase for the devices to ensure that what works on paper works in reality. She also said agencies and departments should ask themselves what types of employees will use the devices, what types of applications and systems will they need, and how will their being away from the office impact the organization.

Other issues such as security and infrastructure were also discussed, though time will tell what the future will bring.

Several attendees voiced concern about security issues related to wireless technology, one of which brought attention to the industry's failure to address them. One problem, Shabow said, is the lack of security standards in the industry -- a problem that has yet to be resolved.

McKinnon pointed out that mobile devices can have security benefits, comparing a lost device complete with security precautions to paper files with sensitive information lost in the field.

Shabow also addressed the issue of infrastructure. While use of wireless hotspots in mainstream public places, such as airports, coffee shops and municipal hotspots, is not skyrocketing yet, he said the infrastructure is growing. He noted several municipal wireless implementations geared toward government productivity in addition to public use, as well as the plethora of private enterprises that employ wireless networks and businesses that offer wireless access for a fee.

"The tidal wave is coming," he said.
Emily Montandon Staff Writer/Copy Editor