Pentagon Struggles to Integrate Smartphones, Create Mobile Workforce

Dan Parsons has an interesting post in National Defense Magazine on Pentagon Struggles to Integrate Smartphones, Create Mobile Workforce.

The Defense Department in 2005 took up development of a smartphone that could access both classified and unclassified networks anywhere in the world.  The resultant Sectera Edge, made by General Dynamics, would have revolutionized the way military personnel — down to individual troops — access and share information.  Instead, Pentagon officials got a lesson in what happens when their sluggish acquisition practices go up against the commercial market’s swift innovation.

“It would have been a phenomenal device had the iPhone not been introduced before it,” said Debora Plunkett, information assurance director at the National Security Agency. “It had been overtaken by technology by the time it was actually delivered. The government can no longer develop and build products in time to make a difference.”  Plunkett is among other officials who are seeking to make the Defense Department’s workforce more mobile.

The Sectera, which took five years and millions of dollars to develop, has become an oft-mentioned example of the commercial market’s consistent ability to outpace government research-and-development programs.  At more than $3,000 a copy, the outsized Blackberry-like device with a physical keyboard and external antenna was overshadowed by Apple’s sleek, $300 iPhone and other increasingly capable and less expensive commercial devices it inspired.

By 2012, half of all U.S. mobile consumers owned smartphones, with that figure projected to grow to 70 percent by 2013, according to a recent Nielsen survey. The trend toward mobile computing and a reliance on real-time data has been no less dramatic within the military, said Robert Carey, the Defense Department’s principal deputy chief information officer.  “The only thing not influenced by information are dumb bullets coming out of handguns and rifles,”

The proliferation of smart devices caused “cataclysmic confusion” within the Defense Department, with a legion of personnel carrying mobile computers abutting outdated policies that disallow their use inside some military facilities, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, commander of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Most Defense Department higher-ups are what Hawkins termed “digital immigrants” — they grew up without smart devices and have had to adapt to the digital age as it progresses. But 70 percent of current military personnel were in middle school on 9/11, making them “digital natives,” said Hawkins.

Continue reading at National Defense Magazine.

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