By Barbara DePompa
, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media
Smartphones and PDAs are gaining traction among a
range of federal audiences as agencies and departments seek to enable
greater mobility, to boost responsiveness for COOP, improve
information-sharing, enhance productivity and track as well as manage
Wireless mobility is changing almost everything related to the way
people work. Smartphones and PDAs are being used not only for voice
calls, text messages and managing personal information, but also for
tasks typically completed on a computer, including sending and
receiving e-mail, browsing the web, storing and modifying documents,
delivering presentations and remotely accessing data.
The relatively recent shift in favor toward smartphones and PDAs owes
at least some of its strength to the new presidential administration.
Not long ago, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, Inc.,
Jenkintown, Pa., such devices were only available for high-ranking
federal officials who had to go way out of their way to justify the use
of these devices. “Now, the perception is that smartphones and PDAs are productivity tools and a good investment,” he
Increasingly, law enforcement, emergency management and a range of
other government functions are being upgraded with wireless
capabilities to increase productivity, accuracy and effectiveness. Even
more exciting are the applications that promise to expand smartphone
use and help agencies better serve their constituents. Handheld devices
today feature many of the functions of a PC, including e-mail, web browsing, document viewing, music and video,
along with mobile communication features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth,
multiple forms of cellular service and Global Positioning System (GPS)
receivers. According to market research giant, IDC, 157 million
smartphones were sold worldwide last year, up 26.9 percent from 2007.
And IDC further expects smartphone shipments to nearly double to 301
million by 2012.
As developers increasingly team with network providers and device
manufacturers to design software tools, public sector organizations are
expected to gain an ever-expanding array of capabilities to justify
their investments in wireless technologies. “We know that the
federal government is a mobile workforce, with 91% of federal employees
having worked away from the headquarters office at one point or
another,” Rick Zambrano, executive director, AT&T
Telework, for example, has been a buzzword that’s been in the
federal government for many years, “but from a wireless
perspective it’s becoming more of a reality,” he
For instance, AT&T has sold more than 5,500 BlackBerry devices
to the U.S. Postal Service, which is using the handheld devices for
enterprise applications that enable more efficient operations,
including e-mail and even fleet management, Zambrano explained.
Field force automation is also considered a critical issue for federal
agencies that are trying to do more with less, and for everything from
inspections to census-taking to audits, smartphones and PDAs are being
picked up by federal field services officers as a strong productivity
aid. “The ability to fill out forms, while in the field, and
update the database back at the home office in real time is enabling greater efficiency, productivity and the ability
to make faster, better decisions,” Zambrano said.
According to Suss, for national security and emergency preparedness,
the handheld devices would be of enormous benefit to federal first
responders in the aftermath of hurricanes or even a terrorist attack.
The caveat, however, is that the more dependent an agency becomes on
this technology, the more vulnerable it becomes in a disaster scenario.
This is why Suss sees a bright future for satellite based broadband
services to provide that critical second channel for communications in
the aftermath of any emergency that might impact mobile wireless
networks, especially for first responders.
Ultimately, these devices address key challenges when it comes to
enhancing the productivity of agency personnel, as well as recruiting
and retaining top talent. In Zambrano’s opinion, wireless
technology is a hot button for young, talented workers. But most
importantly, federal organizations must figure out how to effectively
manage these devices. “We use the term ‘enterprise
management.’ Federal agencies must understand and involve the
carriers early in the process of acquisition, to help these
organizations support wireless technologies using a lifecycle
management model,” he explained.
Undoubtedly, 2008 saw an upswing in the acceptance of new applications
for wireless handheld devices. The USPS, for example, has evolved its
use of wireless handheld devices from running a home-grown application
and a single help desk solution to now using the devices to track
vehicles using AT&T’s 3G network. “We call
this mobile resource management, and USPS is gaining enormous enonomies
of scale for its tens of thousands of postal vehicles using PDAs to
track locations and even fuel usage, to help lower its carbon
footprint,” Zambrano explained.
By embracing new applications on the smartphones and PDAs
they’ve already invested in, federal agencies can create
enormous efficiencies by deploying advanced, formerly traditional
desktop computer applications. There are a growing number of examples
cropping up on the civilian side, as these agencies build on their
existing infrastructures and centralize the administration and management of handheld devices, either agency or department-wide.
The same doesn’t hold true for the defense side of
government, which is still largely decentralized in its approach to
adopting wireless or handheld device technologies. The
Department of Defense lags a bit, in Zambrano’s opinion, due
to more extensive security concerns, federal security compliance
requirements and its own highly secured VPNs and stringent
certification processes. “The adoption of wireless handheld
devices is slower, as the military branches are still siloed. While the
DoD has many devoted RIM BlackBerry users, it has taken a long time to
gain their trust in the security features available,” he
While Zambrano admits part of the problem lies with industry suppliers,
who haven’t always done enough to gain the trust of officials
in these classified environments, “we’re working
hard to get the word out now that federal defense organizations really
don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to
security,” he explained.
Within defense organizations, Suss sees the DoD’s adoption
of Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device
(SME-PED) technology as a step forward in the development of secure
wireless devices for classified communications in rugged