In January 2011, the FAA began a mobile device pilot program to their employees.  However, rather than IT identifying who would get a mobile device and who would not, they issued a challenge to employees to submit use cases for how they could use—and would find it valuable to use—these devices.

Since then, FAA employees have submitted 72 business cases for using alternative devices for their missions.  They then started to test the validity of these use cases and issuing devices. There have been many lessons learned from this pilot program:

  • They are trying not to limit or contain the scope of what people do with alternative devices.  IT cannot possibly conceive of all possible use-cases.  It’s critical to open up new technology options to everyone in your organizations so that others can consider its value for THEIR mission. 
  • Creating a culture of ongoing learning is crucial to the success of new devices.  As new applications are released, the FAA users and IT team get together weekly to go through the applications, share what tricks and quirks they’ve learned. As of today 40-50 people attend the sessions.  They’ve found the more hands-on training, the more innovative people will be.  Information-sharing spurs creativity and new ideas, consistent with federal CIO Steven VanRoekel’s vision for a more innovative government.
  • For users of information, alternative devices seem to be good options, but for creators of information, using alternative devices can often be more challenging.  They’ve also started to look at human factors of using alternative devices:  what makes it easy or difficult for people to use these devices.  Learn as you go.  It’s evolutionary.
  • They are seeing cost-savings from the use of these devices.  Alternative devices have helped people who telework.  In fact, some people have actually turned in their laptops in favor of the alternative devices as their primary device.   
  • FAA IT is controlling the security around the devices, but is trying to limit their control of which apps are downloaded onto the devices.  (At this point, however, they’re not allowing users to download video or music, but these restrictions are constantly being reevaluated based upon users’ needs.).
  • They are encouraging discovery and app downloads based on users’ own, unique business cases.  It’s not IT’s responsibility to ensure that users are using the devices productively.  That’s a management issue, just like using the phone and surfing the web on a PC.
  • The alternative devices are not connected to FAA’s network.  Rather, users access the network, as they do when they work remotely on a PC.  It’s important to know that the architecture of these devices is different than that of a PC: it does not allow the transfer an executable file from one device to another.  These attributes reduce security risks.

This alternative device pilot is one way the FAA is moving towards a transparent, open-reporting culture that’s accountable AND encourages innovation. This improves productivity for the organization as a whole.  Agencies have to be willing to accept a certain amount of risk to spur creativity.  

Maxine is a business and digital strategy consultant. She helps public and private sector clients embrace social media and other collaborative technologies and principles to improve organizational efficiency and effectiveness. She helped to launch the U.S. Department of Defense’s Emerging Media Directorate, co-authored DoD’s Web 2.0/social media policy, and founded Government 2.0 Camp.

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