Department of Defense's Mobile Device Management (MDM) Plan

The Defense Department has rolled out a mobile device management (MDM) plan -- just a couple of weeks after the Office of Management and Budget published a federal digital strategy that contains elements of MDM.

What’s going on here? First the background. Mobility in most federal agencies for many years meant BlackBerrys and the associated BlackBerry Enterprise Server MDM technology. The technology, stable and secure, inspired a comfort level among agency managers. The government’s mobile efforts proceeded without controversy.

Then came the succession of iPhones, Android smartphones, iPads and other tablets. This new wave of mobility began hitting agencies around 2010. Pilots for iPads, for example, began to spring up among some agencies. While government policy makers issue guidelines for many aspects of IT, agencies have been left to their own devices -- sorry about that -- when it comes to managing mobility.

That lack of guidance hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In January, the government launched the National Dialogue On The Federal Mobility Strategy, which solicited ideas on making the most of mobility. Many of the suggestions boiled down to the need for governmentwide coordination of the mobile technologies. That dialogue helped set the stage for the recently published government strategies.

Two MDM Plans

The DoD Mobile Device Strategy covers a range of topics, from spectrum management to security architecture. On device management, the Pentagon identifies establishing an MDM service as one of the strategy’s objectives.

“DoD must establish a federated mobile device management service to optimize operation and maintenance, to enhance security while maintaining compliance, and to support device synchronization,” the strategy states.

The document notes that DoD must take into account mobile device access control, encryption, malware detection, and remote wipe technology among other factors.

The federal digital strategy, meanwhile, calls for the General Services Administration to set up a governmentwide MDM platform “to support enhanced monitoring, management, security, and device synchronization.”

Both strategies reference BYOD.  Under the federal plan, a Digital Services Advisory Group will work with the Federal CIO Council to devise a set of BYOD guidelines for all agencies.

The DoD strategy, meanwhile, states that the Pentagon “must continue to explore” the efficiencies of personally owned mobile devices and security risks. The DoD aims to define acceptable use of such devices.

Impact?

The two strategies suggest a government hoping to stay on top of the proliferation of mobile devices in the workplace. It’s not clear to what extent the two groups will share ideas and best practices, but having dual IT approaches for civilian and defense agencies is fairly typical. GSA generally guides the civilian side, while DoD sets its own policies.

Will MSPs and IT services companies play a role in the government’s MDM plans? Until deployment plans crystallize that will be hard to determine. Off hand, talk of a government MDM service or platform suggests a utility of sorts that agencies would plug into to manage their devices. If that’s how things turn out, IT providers wouldn’t have much of role in recommending or deploying MDM for their agency customers.

On the other hand, the government’s MDM efforts might take the form of approved MDM vendor lists or a set of specifications defining the functionality an MDM system must provide. In that case, MSPs would still be in the game although their vendor choices would be narrowed to the officially sanctioned vendors.
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