Ride, mobile, ride
More applications and more bandwidth answer an ever-growing demand for mobility
- By Doug Beizer
- May 27, 2008
USPS recently deployed about 10,000
BlackBerry handhelds running commercial and
homegrown applications. Operations emloyees
and information technology staff are using most
of them, said Rick Zambrano, sales center vice
president at AT&T Government Solutions.
"The reason they started to deploy with their
operations and IT teams is because it's all about
trying to get more productivity and to be quicker
to respond," Zambrano said.
USPS' situation might be unique among federal
agencies, but its move to mobile applications is
not. Developing mobile applications, deploying
mobile devices, and creating and maintaining the
infrastructures to support them promises to be
one of the biggest growth areas for systems integrators
and technology companies for years to
come, said John Slye, principal analyst at the
market research firm Input.
"The whole mobility market, if you include
wireless communications, messaging and mobile
computing, is just huge," Slye said. "Enterprise
mobility ? the ability to communicate with
mobile devices and use installed applications ?
could be about $70 million to $75 million a year
just in the federal market."
That doesn't include mobile, tactical radios that
are becoming more like small computers with the
ability to send and receive voice communications
and data. Mobile radio programs for the Defense
Department ? in addition to first responders and
disaster management agencies ? show up in several
places in the current federal budget, Slye said.
A request for proposals for the Land Mobile
Radio program administered by the General
Services Administration, for example, is expected
to be released in June and have a value of
$5 billion. The radios will be designed for public
safety officials and homeland security missions.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency
RFP for wireless telecommunications worth
$75 million is also expected to be released in June.
Those contracts demonstrate federal agencies'
desire to make mobile workers as connected and
productive as possible, Slye said.SERVICES RULE
As FEMA's telecommunications contract shows,
much of the new mobility business will be for
"There [are these] installed wireless networks,
so why construct a network for your first responders
when you can buy that service?" Slye asked.
"Agencies do not want to deal with the infrastructure
costs if they don't have to."
Once agencies have access to wireless networks,
their employees will need devices to
access those networks. That could be
BlackBerrys, Windows mobile devices or other
"You're going to see more wireless devices used
for more applications, and you're also going to
see the devices themselves grow in complexity
and ability," Slye said.
At first, most contract activity will focus on
first responders and combat operations. But
soon, that will expand to areas such as logistics
Back-end systems will also need to keep pace
with the ever-growing mobile workforce. Serviceoriented
architecture projects that consolidate
older systems and connect them to new mobilityenabled
systems will be a growing area of business.
"Keeping infrastructures operating and
refreshed will be key," Slye said. "You have to have
a backbone that's going to support the jazzy
handset you put out in the field because, ultimately,
it has to operate as one network."
At USPS, for example, IT staff members have
BMC Software Inc.'s Remedy Service
Management application running on their
BlackBerrys. It lets them respond to and track IT
With Remedy, IT employees can respond to
help requests, approve trouble tickets and
process them through the system more quickly.
"Another thing they're using is homegrown,
and it ties into their procurement system,"
Zambrano said. "It allows managers to quickly
process purchase orders that come through the
system. It's all about being more responsive and
turning things around faster."
Most of USPS' workforce is mobile, with many
employees working in huge plants nationwide.
The service has more than 800,000 employees,
so the market potential for mobile applications, devices and networks is huge.
"They started out with these two applications,
but they're also thinking bigger now," Zambrano
said. "They are looking at other mobile applications
that they could potentially utilize with these
handheld devices."ON-THE-GO VIDEO
One possibility is using the devices for videobased
training. Applications are available to send
video training sessions to employees' handhelds.
They can watch the video and respond to a questionnaire,
with the system tracking all the activity.
"We are in the very early stages of really what
the full potential of these handhelds will be,"
One factor leading to the acceptance of mobile
devices and applications in the federal government
is IT managers' growing confidence in the
security aspects, said Tyler Lessard, director of
the alliances partner program at Research in
"The core product is still e-mail and [personal
information manager] applications, and more
and more we see the addition of Web browsing
for access to internal networks and internal
applications that are Web-based," Lessard said.
The ability of mobile devices and wireless networks
to run Web-based applications will be a
significant factor in their proliferation. Most commercially
available applications have
a Web-based version. The ability to
access those applications remotely
and from a variety of devices is
attractive to government customers.
Their use in continuity of operations
is one area that has already
been successful in the mobile market.
RIM has several partners that
focus exclusively on solutions that
enable government customers to
send emergency alerts and documents
to users. During an emergency,
the system would send alerts
instructing first responders what to
do. Documents similar to an e-mail
message could also be sent to
describe emergency procedures.
For devices with Global Positioning System
capability, the custom alert could also be based
on where first responders are at the time of the
incident. Those close to the scene might be told
to go there, while others might report to a command
center. Based on the GPS data, applications
could also send directions and maps to
show where the user should go.PUBLIC SAFETY DRIVES GROWTH
Lessard expects to see continued growth in the
areas of first response and public safety.
"In the area of law enforcement and public
safety, we've seen a lot of rollouts of BlackBerry
handhelds that in some cases replace officers'
laptops," he said. "In some cases, we see it complementing
a laptop [PC] within the car
and ... pushing down dispatch information."
"It's something they can take with them so as
they leave their vehicle, they still have access to
that information," Lessard said. "And it also has
the embedded GPS capabilities so it can be
reporting back coordinates to a main office."
Applications are available to let police officers
query motor vehicle records when they are away
from their cars' equipment. They can fill out custom
forms using handhelds that connect to command
Although handhelds are growing in popularity
for law enforcement, vehicle-mounted laptop
PCs with access to a mobile network are still the
norm, said Girish Rishi, corporate vice president
at Motorola Data Solutions.
Much of the growth in that area centers on
computer-aided dispatch (CAD) applications.
"With CAD, there is literally a work ticket that
is created and it is passed on to police, fire" and
emergency medical services, he said. "Mobilizing
those computer-aided dispatch applications has
been going on for a while and continues to be an
area that governments are very interested in and
want to deploy."
The systems are being used in other areas such
as public works, public health and sanitation.
More-capable wireless networks increase the
number of data fields that can be sent to vehiclemounted
computers. Other features, such as
streaming video, are being added to the systems.
With mobility technology's popularity growing
in the consumer market, demand in the federal
market is only going to get stronger, Slye said.
"People are used to having continuous mobile
connections to communications through things
like BlackBerrys and home wireless networks,
and they don't understand why first responders
don't have the same thing when a disaster hits,"
Slye said. "So there will be that continued pressure
towards making that a reality."Doug Beizer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff
writer at Washington Technology.