Mobile Device Plan Balances Security, User Needs
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2013 On the heels of this week's release of the Defense Department's Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan, the DOD chief information officer spoke today with government and trade representatives about the plan's implications for industry and troops.
The department is seeking to supplement the existing land mobile radio environment with the ability to use commercial mobile devices, Teri Takai said at the third annual MobileGov summit.
"We are not talking about replacing or throwing away any of our current capability," Takai said.
More than 50 mobile pilot programs have revealed the needs of device users and the capabilities of industry, and that information is being used to shape the implementation plan -- even as the pilot programs continue, she noted.
"I want to be really clear about that. They are the basis for the strategy, [and] they are the basis for the implementation plan," she said. "We would not have been able to get to where we are today without the benefit of those pilots."
While the demand for mobile devices is coming from throughout the military services and combatant commands, Takai said, their needs and obstacles aren't uniform.
"One of the challenges for us is that for our warfighter, they really expect and deserve secure access to information any time, any place," she said. "The challenge for us is to be able to look at a strategy that meets everyone's needs, and yet does it in a consistent, secure way. When we put out a mobile strategy, it isn't just about what works in the U.S.; it's about what will work for our warfighter, regardless of where they are."
The burgeoning partnership between DOD and developers of commercial mobile devices and applications creates an opportunity to leverage the industry perspective and allows DOD to move much more quickly in adopting new mobile technologies, Takai said.
The Pentagon’s CIO acknowledged skepticism that DOD can move quickly. "It is a challenge," she added. "Clearly, it isn't something that's easy to do, but I think the thing that … is so important is that we recognize the need to be able to move more quickly.
"We recognize the need to be able to bring technology and the benefits of technology to us," she continued, "but we also have to think about many of the things DOD has to do in order to make that happen."
When department officials talk about mobility, she said, they must always also talk about security and cost-effectiveness, so several goals were in mind during the implementation plan’s development.
First, the DOD infrastructure must be prepared for mobile devices, Takai said. That includes everything from the development of the joint information environment to looking at how data is secured, where it's stored and how it's accessed, she said. Additionally, mobile access to classified and unclassified information has to be further developed.
"We're looking at these devices as not only being available for our warfighters, but available for senior leader communications," she said. This means the department has to be able to protect classified information, and to do it globally, Takai noted.
The department also must ensure that mobile devices can be issued and managed, Takai said. This requires the development of mobile device policies and standards, and then mobile and Web-enabled applications can be developed for use by DOD personnel, Takai said.
"What we did not want to do is have 50 different solutions," she said. If the department failed to take a unified approach, it could not ensure the same level of security for all users, she explained.
"The other piece of this is, obviously, in these times of sequester, cost savings," she said. From a fiscal perspective it doesn't make sense to implement multiple strategies, Takai said, but it doesn't make technological sense, either. Multiple strategies would make it difficult to rapidly adopt new devices or applications, she said.
DOD's mobile device strategy isn't being developed in a vacuum, Takai said. The department is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the General Services Administration and other federal agencies. In the case of GSA, the department is hoping to leverage its buying power to continue to drive device prices down, Takai said.
There are 600,000 mobile devices in use throughout DOD, she said, and as the pool of acceptable devices and uses expands, the number of devices in use will rise as well. To prevent a rush, the Defense Information Systems Agency and DOD are executing the expansion in at least six phases split between the unclassified and classified networks, Takai said.
Security and technical implementation guidelines have been developed for four mobile platforms, she said: Android, iOS, Windows and BlackBerry. The goal is to put in place a process that allows for faster upgrades to those guidelines as technology changes, Takai said.
More responsibility for ensuring the process moves quickly will now fall on industry, she said, to supply more thorough documentation than in the past. Previously, DOD officials would construct that documentation themselves when the documents failed to meet DOD standards, she said.
"That was a process that just slowed everything down," she added.
"Getting it to go faster is a joint effort," Takai noted, pledging that DOD will help its industry partners supply the required information.
"What we have to do is improve our processes so that you can go faster,” she said, “and what [industry] will need to do is be prepared to actually participate in that [certification process] going forward."