Government technology officials are working urgently to enable federal employees to work using their own mobile devices. That’s in spite of a thicket of management issues and security concerns that continue to hamper their efforts.

Though the path to adoption is proving cumbersome, the rationale is simple: Bring your own device (BYOD) programs are seen as a unique opportunity to reduce agency information technology costs.

Managing the move to a mobile work environment and finding the right combination of devices and policies to meet their agencies’ needs, however, continues to be a challenge for a cross section of government IT leaders speaking at a forum Aug. 22.

NASA is among a number of agencies embracing BYOD mobility as a way to reduce costs, according to Sasi Pillay, the agency’s chief technology officer (pictured above).

As head of the team creating NASA’s mobility strategy, he said that part of this effort involved in setting up an internal applications store to allow agency employees to access non-NASA apps.

The ultimate vision for the agency is to eliminate all front-end devices, but achieving this goal will require additional software as a service mechanisms and systems in the back office to successfully manage any device an employee would bring into work, he said.

An underlying challenge in setting up a BYOD program has less to do with technical solutions and more to do with legal and human resources issues, Pillay said.

For example, more work needs to be done on understanding the consequences of an employee losing their personal device. Security for mobile devices must also be approached differently than traditional IT methods because defending end user devices at the perimeter is a losing fight, he said.

One of the biggest advantages to moving to a BYOD system is the ability to replace the agency’s old infrastructure such as desktop telephones. This process provides government with an opportunity to invest wisely to replace its old equipment with mobile devices.

Pillay said that NASA is well on the way to fully embracing mobile devices. He added that his vision for the future is to move all call management and voice messaging capabilities into the cloud and to only purchase the systems and hardware that is absolutely needed, which will save the government money.

The General Services Administration is developing a government-wide program for supporting mobile devices, said David Peters, program manager of federal strategic sourcing and telecommunications expense management services at GSA. The goal of this effort is to develop a comprehensive methodology for deploying and supporting mobile systems. “It’s not just about devices,” he said.

The program is necessary because the government is moving away from a BlackBerry environment to one where a variety of media such as data, voice, video and imagery can be accessed anywhere, anytime, Peters said. The mobility team, which is made up of personnel from across the government, is driving this process by helping to define user guidelines, he said.

For risk reduction, the GSA is looking at mobility as a policy, Peters said. As needs change, policies must be modified regularly while devices and applications are refreshed with new technology. But the underlying architecture must be scalable to meet organizational changes. One of the advantages to moving the back office support for mobile devices to the cloud is that resources can be pooled at the agency level, he said.

Like other agencies, the Census Bureau is looking for ways to use mobility to allow its staff to conduct surveys “better, faster, cheaper,” said chief technology officer Avi Bender. The bureau discovered that using mobile platforms led to an increase in responses, which can save the government millions of dollars, he said.

Moving to a mobile program is also about business pressures, Bender said. The Census Bureau’s mission is collecting important socio-economic data. Mobile devices with Internet access are vital to collecting and releasing this data, he said.

There are also a variety of users with different needs across the bureau such as in-house staff and field personnel. But the nature of the work is changing quickly, so keeping up with user needs is tricky, Bender said. The Census Bureau must build a service oriented architecture to meet service delivery goals to its different customer groups, he said.

The bureau plans to implement a shared services policy via a private/hybrid cloud architecture. But to achieve this, it must do a better job “connecting the dots,” Bender said.

For example there are Office of Management and Budget directives in place to drive efficiencies. Organizations need smart strategies to support personnel in a variety of environments such as teleworking and in a private cloud, he said.