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The consumerization of government IT

  • Scott Solomon By

2014 may finally be the year that the White House goes multi-OS. President Obama, who relied heavily on a BlackBerry device during his 2008 campaign, may be ready to move on, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal. “We can confirm that the White House Communications Agency, consistent with the rest of the Department of Defense, is piloting and using a variety of mobile devices,” a Whitehouse Spokesman told the Journal.

The federal government has a long history with BlackBerry, which until recently was widely accepted as the most secure way to mobilize. But the fed’s mobile journey began long before BlackBerry. Before the security-oriented smartphones hit the market, the government researched, engineered, manufactured and deployed its own government-only mobile devices. These devices, known as government off-the-shelf devices or GOTS were costly to build, and took years to test and deploy. By the time the government had developed and tested them in the field, consumer technology was years ahead.

BlackBerry provided the first alternative to the time-consuming process, because it allowed government employees to send and receive email securely. Most GOTS devices were eventually replaced with BlackBerries, the first consumer off-the-shelf or COTS device to be made available for government use.

BlackBerry became nearly synonymous with enterprise and government use. The phone provided users with access to email on the go, and BlackBerry’s Enterprise Servers (BES) provided IT a secure way to manage all users, devices and configurations. However, that enterprise stronghold has now faded. Today, a multitude of smartphones are capable of providing secure email access, and other management platforms have equipped IT departments with more advanced capabilities.

Just as they did in the consumer market, other smartphones with extensive app catalogs began to appeal to many federal employees. As early as 2011, the federal government began to feel the demand for other mobile device options, according to The Washington Post.

Fast-forward to 2014 and BlackBerry sales have fallen 41 percent, according to IDC Research. iOS and Android devices have been eating away at BlackBerry’s consumer market share for years. BlackBerry now holds just 3.1 percent of the U.S. market share for operating systems, a negative 77 percent year-over-year change, according to the report.

BlackBerry has led the government space for years. However, projects such as the NSA’s Project Fishbowl have been initiated to update the devices used by the NSA, reports The Wall Street Journal.

In February 2012, the NSA drafted a Mobility Capabilities Package for its employees, allowing them to use alternative consumer devices. Known as the NSA Mobility Program, the main reason for its inception was “in response to the substantial and justified urgency for delivering Mobility solutions that securely provide the rich user experience of commercial technology.”

The White House Communications Agency and other federal organizations have been testing alternatives to BlackBerry, a switch that will help keep pace with consumer trends and worker demand. However, government mobile devices must meet certain criteria. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) created a set of Security Technical Implementation Guidelines (STIGs), which nearly every aspect of technology that is used by the Department of Defense must meet – from server to operating system to individual policies placed on devices. STIGs provide stringent rules for how software, IT systems and mobile devices must be secured, among other technologies.

But the STIGs for more consumer mobile devices are under review, and a new set may soon enable the digital revolution of government IT.

photo credit: wbeem via photopin cc

Scott Solomon

Scott Solomon

Scott Solomon is an Atlanta native and University of Georgia graduate who has spent the past six years studying technology, though his passion for the subject has been lifelong.

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