BYOD Arrives for the Federal Government

Mobile Devices

The new federal bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, strategy is a surprise not so much for what it says as much as for how quickly the government got up to speed on a phenomenon that is sweeping industry. In the last FedInsider issue, I described how the federal government is moving towards a latter-day seat management approach with mobility. Now the official BYOD strategy has come out from the Office of Management and Budget as a component in the federal digital strategy.

BYOD is not policy. OMB calls its BYOD document a toolkit for agencies who elect to institute a BYOD plan. For all its verbiage, the first section of the BYOD toolkit is mostly boilerplate summary of current industry best practice. And why not? The government should not waste time reinventing what already exists.

Where the toolkit is more interesting is the case histories of agencies that have stepped into BYOD. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is one example. It had its IT budget cut from $17.6 million to $15 million. It used BYOD as way of reducing both device (in this case, BlackBerry) and carrier costs. It got modest, but real, savings on both fronts. The EEOC story is also worth reading for the options it presents. For example, employees can bring their own device for e-mail and other enterprise applications, but get an agency non-smartphone for voice calls.

The EEOC case history, by CIO Kimberly Hancher, took on the big question mark for most employees, namely, who pays for the device and the voice/data plan that goes with it? She states it’s a generational issue, with older workers wondering why they should pay for work-related devices.

“However, for EEOC’s younger employees, their personal devices appear to be an extension of their personalities, so to speak. For seasoned workers, their personal device allows them to do administrative work from home,” Hancher writes.

More developed technically, the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) virtualized all client accounts in its data center, skipped replacing desktop and notebook PCs, and implemented a Linux interface that renders thin clients simply as terminals to display data manipulation taking place remotely. Now, CIO Robert Hughes says, “70 percent of TTB personnel use thin client devices to access all TTP applications and data.”

People use home computers, iPads, Kindle Fires and a myriad of other devices to work remotely or mobile. For TTB, Hughes writes, the main lesson learned about BYOD is that by preventing data from actually loading onto end point devices, the agency could avoid many of the security problems cited for BYOD. Therefore, the real story here is how virtualization enables mobility when mobile devices are purely displays and not data processing devices.

In its third section, the toolkit presents worksheets or sample fill-in-the-blank policies for several BYOD options, ranging from government-supplied devices and plans to user-provided devices and plans. Agencies can also consider hybrid plans where employees bring their own devices and the agency covers the voice and data costs.

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About the author

Tom Temin has written 486 posts for Fedinsider.com

Thomas R. Temin - Editor in chief of FedInsider and brings 30 years of publishing experience in media and information technology. Tom is also co-host of The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris, a weekday morning news and talk program on WFED AM 1500 in Washington D.C.

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