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The Mobile Opportunity

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel on the importance of seizing the mobile opportunity.

The mobile revolution is upon us. Not only do the American people go online to pay bills, buy tickets and stay connected to their friends, but they are also adopting smart mobile technology at an incredible rate. This is changing the way we interact, the way we consume and the way we work.

To fundamentally change the way we do things in government, we need to seize on this mobile opportunity both in how we serve the public and in how government employees work.

Many government services have gone mobile already. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a mobile application (My TSA) which provides passengers with 24/7 access to the most commonly requested TSA information on their mobile device. This includes functions such as Airport Status, ‘What Can I Bring?’ information, a guide on travel tips, and an ability to share information with other passengers on security wait times. Many government websites, such as and, have mobile-optimized versions. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has a mobile website that allows Veterans to access key links quickly, such as facility locations. We need more agencies to make their services available to an increasingly mobile nation.

In addition, we need to increase the mobility of the federal workforce. Doing this will allow the government to realize real estate savings from teleworking as well as increase productivity for those employees who are often not in an office. Some agencies have taken steps in this direction already. For example, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. Marshals Service have a joint program to give their agents rapid access to all mission-critical data in any location using commercial mobile technology. This not only dramatically increases overall productivity, but also increases officer safety during fieldwork. The Army’s mCare App allows healthcare teams to remotely monitor the healthcare status of wounded warriors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s emergency managers use mobile Twitter to find victims during an emergency, to share pleas for help that need to be translated, and to geo-target the location and extent of an emergency. Agencies must follow these examples, as increasing our productivity means that we are able to do more for the American people at a lower cost.

Going mobile doesn’t just increase productivity but it’s a huge cost saver too. For example, teleworking means we can decrease our real estate costs. And pooling our purchasing means that we can get the best deals possible on mobile devices. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just reduced its telecom expenses by 18 percent – $4 million annually – by streamlining acquisitions. USDA consolidated its wireless contracts from 843 different plans and 32,228 lines of service to three blanket purchase agreements and negotiated volume pricing. And that’s just the beginning – they forecast a 40 percent reduction in total telecom expenses once they restructure accounts, centralize billing, and make smart use of pooling.

But there is more we can do to seize the mobile opportunity, and we need to be bold in doing it. We need to address the massive variations in the way we pay for mobile services across the government and leverage our size to influence purchasing power. We need to reexamine how we build applications and services. We need to focus on the fundamentals, ensure security and privacy concerns are addressed, and incorporate Shared First and Future First principles into everything we do. This doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel. Models such as FedRAMPare already helping the government “build once, use many times,” and these innovations can be extended to mobile.

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I unveiled a roadmap for the Federal government to seize this mobile opportunity. Within a year, I expect the government to change the way we work – to start embracing mobility-enabling technology across the Federal workforce in a coordinated way, and to start working on plans to deliver mobile-accessible content and services to the American people.

Over the next week, I invite you to share your thoughts on how the Federal Government can take advantage of the mobile opportunity – the National Dialogue on the Federal Mobility Strategy launched yesterday and will run through Friday, January 20th. Tell us – what should the Federal Mobility Strategy include? Your voice will help inform the draft strategy we release.

Together, we can build a 21stCentury Government using the power of mobility.

Steven VanRoekel is the Federal Chief Information Officer – for more information visit