Government Insights: Mobile Security, BYOD, Remote Workforce

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — October 09, 2012

Telework Exchange is a public-private partnership serving the emerging educational and communication requirements of the Federal telework/mobile community. At its Fall Town Hall Meeting, government officials shared best practices from their agencies’ mobile initiatives.

To start, Donna Dodson, Chief of the Computer Security Division with the National Institute of Standard and Technology talked about building a mobility plan.

She believes that mobility provides the opportunity to increase workforce productivity in the federal government by giving access almost anywhere, to anyone. She cautions, however, that in moving forward with mobility, there needs to be an appropriate set of standards for identity management.

Dodson says agencies should consider, “How are we going to have a linkage between the individual, the device, the information and the infrastructure in a way that supports security and privacy?”

Her recommendation is a virtual desktop. She says this provides a way to isolate an environment for individuals, constructing it to provide the tools they need without a lot of additional surface space for an attacker. “This will ensure a safer working environment and one that can be upgraded very quickly to address a threat of tomorrow that you were not expecting as you plan today,” she points out.

Organizations looking at IT investments need to think about a standardized platform as a way to ensure that the investments work in the future. She says, “These standards can provide a base for innovation and additional technologies to be added.”

Businesses need to understand their “missions” and figure out what it will take from a technology perspective to support them. Then, they can build the appropriate technologies, policies and controls.

Kimberly Hancher, CIO of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, shared her best practices for BYOD. Hers was one of the first government agencies to pilot a program.

Once they realized the possibility of BYOD, the next challenge was putting together a framework and policies. “We looked at other agencies and couldn’t find a BYOD program. We realized we could be a frontrunner.” They then turned to the private sector for lessons learned and best practices, and applied them where they could.

“One of the first challenges in developing a BYOD program is developing rules of behavior and the policy guidelines so people understand the difference between the privacy and security features that will be directed for a personal device when at work,” she noted.

When they first began talking about their mobility strategy, the centerpiece of it was laptop computers weighing six pounds that had to be docked and undocked. Hancher said, “Then came the tablet revolution and smartphones that become smarter and smarter each year.”

So, BYOD here focuses on smartphones and tablets, and it’s changed the type of services that Hancher’s IT organization must provide its “customers.” She is supporting government provided devices (BlackBerries) and BYODs, though interestingly, 77% of the BlackBerry users in her organization chose to stay on this platform.

Nonetheless, with the rise of BYOD, Hancher also sees that many of the knowledge workers using iPads, for example, have applied the technology in innovative and creative ways.

Also at the event, Jon William P. Milton Jr., Chief Human Capital Officer at the Office of Human Resources, Departmental Management, U.S. Department of Agriculture talked about the his approach for managing remote workers.

Of paramount importance, he said, to any individual who teleworks is training and ensuring that employees, managers and supervisors are properly prepared to oversee or be part of a virtual workforce.

His department has 95,000 employees dispersed throughout the country and globally, so they use webinars, conference calls and all the “latest technology” to stay in touch and keep employees engaged.

Milton said that trust is very important when dealing with a remote workforce. “We have to trust them and expect that, when they are mobile, they are performing their responsibilities, and judge them solely on results.”

He said that because of mobility, employee morale and production is up, and job satisfaction has increased. “Lesson learned - training and education are at the forefront for the optimized mobile workforce,” Milton noted.

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