The new computing generation has burst on the federal scene in a big way. The latest manifestation is solicitations coming from two cabinet agencies.
But they remind me of a scene many years ago. I spoke at the retirement party of a federal executive who had briefly worked on a program called seat management. I joked that more people were attending the party than had signed up for seat management, and got a roar of laughter. “Seat”, as people called it, meant a contractor would supply to federal agencies a PC and all of the required software and services, charging a per-user, per-month fee.
Seat management, touted as the biggest thing since computers, went over like a lead balloon. But it turns out, the concept might have simply been ahead of its time. Today, agencies one by one are putting their productivity applications in the cloud. Separately, they are providing mobile devices or letting employees bring their own under BYOD plans. Marry cloud and BYOD and you have the 21st century version of seat management. The difference today is the seat can be in someone’s car or kitchen, at the beach or in an airplane.
About those two new request proposals demonstrating what is going on:
The Agriculture Department issued a solicitation for what it’s calling the USDA Next Generation Mobility Solution. Mobile devices aren’t new to USDA. For a couple of years, field enumerators for the National Agricultural Statistics Service have been collecting information using iPads and mobile broadband connectivity. Now USDA is going department-wide with mobility.
This sentence from its final statement of work summarizes what USDA is up to:
“To best use the opportunities provided through mobile computing, USDA needs to build a solid foundation for executing a mobile strategy, combining device management, application delivery, and Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) concepts to empower mobile users while improving IT insight, gaining control, and cutting costs.”
And get this, the USDA shop handling the solicitation, the Office of Procurement and Property Management (OPPM) in Fort Collins, Colo., says Agriculture expects to deploy more than 100,000 mobile devices in the next few years. The eventual contract is less about devices than it is about getting the capabilities of managing them all. OPPM is looking for the three main components needed to institute BYOD and mass quantities of mobile devices, mainly mobile device management (MDM), mobile applications management (MAM), a “container solution” to logically separate government applications and data from what else might be on an employee’s own device, and an enterprise app store from which users can self-provision their devices.
This is a potentially major civilian mobility effort. A substantial number of enterprise MDM vendors are likely to compete for this effort, and a subset of those have the capability such that they don’t need a Beltway Bandit systems integrator as their channel. Thus the mobility movement potentially changes the federal marketplace itself.
The other big “seat” development is the Commerce Department’s solicitation to move first NIST and later everyone else to the cloud for email, messaging, archiving, e-discovery and collaboration tools.
From a business standpoint, Commerce wants to increase productivity with unified communications and collaboration all in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. From a technology standpoint, it wants the eventual contractor to host it all in a federal-dedicated data center; in fact, two geographically distant data centers, together with 99.9 percent uptime. NIST adds some federal-specific requirements such as Trusted Internet Connection hook-up and use of IPv6 for public-facing services.
Who better than NIST to write these requirements? After all, this is the agency that wrote the very definition of cloud computing for the Federal government.
Significantly, among the technical requirements is this: “The solution is capable of delivering email and calendar services to mobile devices…” including Android, BlackBerry and iOS (Apple).
It doesn’t say so explicitly, but this arrangement will let Commerce expand its mobility options once user accounts are cloud-ified. It doesn’t matter to the cloud, or shouldn’t if architected properly, to what device the cloud delivers service - smartphone, thin client or full PC.
This is all what seat management looks like in 2012 - mobile, cloud-based, light and flexible.