Is your state or local government agency debating a jump from BlackBerry to another smartphone brand? If so, experts agree success is tied to the amount of attention given to the behind-the-scenes aspects of the project.

While smartphones in general are thought to be fairly intuitive to learn and operate, administrating their use and security can be fairly complex. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began moving to iPhones in 2012. Zachary Goldstein, NOAA’s deputy CIO, believes you’re likelier to have a smoother changeover if you treat the task as a full computer system overhaul.

Goldstein stressed the importance of remembering that mobile devices are small computers, not just phones. So all the things associated with a computer transition should be applied when moving mobile platforms.

“Like any IT project, you need to plan it, you need milestones and to manage it, and you need to hold people accountable,” Goldstein said. “Don’t think about it as just buying a different phone — it’s not. It’s a computer conversation, and you need to give it the respect that’s due and handle it accordingly.”

Technology analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group agrees. Applied to business and government, the BlackBerry solution isn’t just a set of phones. The back-end ecosystem that comes with it — providing security, tracking and compliance functionality — doesn’t exist in any other smartphone system, Enderle said.

Third-party offerings are available for iPhones and Androids to provide those crucial functions, but agencies can’t simply remove a BlackBerry system for another platform and consider the project finished.

“In most cases, when companies or government entities yank out BlackBerrys, employees are often allowed to pick their own phone or device and use that instead,” Enderle said. “But if the tracking mechanisms aren’t in place, immediately the agency may be in noncompliance [with policies or law]. So thinking through that aspect of it becomes critical.”

Although NOAA isn’t yet operating a bring-your-own-device policy, Goldstein has three recommendations he believes federal, state and local government agencies should follow prior to ditching their BlackBerrys:

  • Procurement — Determine how the devices and associated data plans can be secured and do the proper cost comparison between platforms.

  • Support — Does your agency’s help desk have the ability to support other smartphones, and do staff understand the technology?

  • Data migration — Make sure a proper plan is in place to move sensitive information from one device to another.

Although NOAA is still in the midst of transferring employees to the iPhone, officials said everything has gone fairly smooth so far, with no real challenges or complaints. Darone Jones, unified messaging service operations manager for NOAA, said agency employees are looking to the future and are excited to see how the devices will improve productivity, particularly out in the field.

Brian Heaton  | 

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.