In our local government IT environment, the request for tablets (specifically, the iPad) is increasing daily and only getting louder as the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement begins to gain momentum. Once the iPad 3 hits the market, we cringe at the thought that more staff will come forward and request the use of these devices to supplement their ability to do their jobs more efficiently.

Right now, our local government does support the iPad, but we don’t have a large security group, mobile IT support resources and skills, mobile device management (MDM) capabilities, or risk management policies for managing this new wave of technology. Currently, there’s one person who is responsible for the enterprise security of approximately 5,000 users.

Since the arrival of the iPad in 2009, the challenges on how to manage tablets has increased at a steady pace, and IT pros are left to figure out which security model is most appropriate for local government. Each department’s IT group is doing the best they can in their silo or looking to an understaffed central IT department for guidance. It’s becoming very clear that all of us in IT and management must come together to figure out a clear mobile strategy that can meet our local government needs and also the needs of our constituents who we work for.

Local government IT doesn’t want to hold back customers from using technology to be more productive, whether they’re in the field, at remote sites, helping citizens, or working in offices. We are technologists who are excited and willing to work with new devices — like tablets — and to discover how they can enhance an employee’s ability to do his or her job.

Honestly, the popularity of tablets caught us a bit off guard, because we were busy just keeping things running, especially with the economy and fiscal constraints that we faced over the last few years. Also, as the shepherds of public money that’s funded to us on an annual basis, we have to make smart technology choices. Unfortunately, we still have a traditional mindset of tight controls for how staff can use mobile technology.

The tablet requests originally came from executive management — the few who needed to move about, attend meetings, and always be connected to the business. These executives had their Palm/Treo and then BlackBerry devices, but once the iPad was released, some executives immediately saw the advantages of the tablet form factor. They could more easily read and create emails, plus they could quickly access and even bring their meeting agendas and other documents with them. Soon, middle management began to request tablets as well.

Until now, our limited strategy has been to provide access to messaging (email/calendar/contacts) for these devices. Fortunately, our messaging system can support the Microsoft Exchange Active-sync (EAS) protocol, but we are curious to know what other applications will be requested by users in the future.

In the local government, we try to follow what others are doing in the private sector with the mounting issues that tablets have introduced. We do our best to attend conferences and trainings to seek out the evolving policies and advice to support and manage tablets. We’ve discovered that many enterprises are going through the same wave of transition.

We also recognize that it’s not really just tablets — a massive change is taking place regarding mobile computing in general, and it’s impacting IT across all enterprises. More smartphones and tablets are now sold than computers. Ours is a legacy patchwork environment of older, medium, and new technologies spread broadly around multiple departments in many locations.

The new wave of mobile computing is going to require a rethinking of how IT services will be provided. It challenges the status quo and the traditional mindset that local government IT currently has toward technology. For tablets to be successful in our enterprise environment, we need to grow our skill sets and discover solutions to new issues, including:

  • Leveraging touch to interact with information
  • Developing an enterprise mobility strategy regarding tablets
  • Application roadmap/top priority applications
  • Preferred software architectures
  • Policies
  • Hardware ownership and support
  • Deployment, provisioning, and management
  • User enablement and experience
  • Security standards
  • Business drivers

It’s my hope that we can share and learn together from what we discover over time, supporting the challenges and solutions as tablets enter the enterprise technology fabric. What experience do you have with tablets in an enterprise environment?