The federal government is open for business here in the national capital area, after four and a half days of closures due to historic snowfalls last week. We are slowly returning to normal, and it felt good to get out of the house and into the office on Friday (even though my drive took over two hours, more than twice the usual time).
Although we were not coming into the office, many of us continued to work remotely. With tools such as laptops, air cards and Blackberrys, we are really never out of touch. Telework has been a priority for GSA for the past few years, and we have a comprehensive program that includes telework policies and procedures, IT tools and support, and training. As a result, about a third of our employees connected to the network during the office closures, and many more stayed connected through other means such as mobile devices and webmail.
This trend toward mobility is only going to grow. A couple of weeks ago I visited the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held every January in Las Vegas, NV. This is the world’s largest trade show for consumer technologies, with over 2,500 exhibitors and more than 120,000 visitors. This show is a primary showcase for new technologies that will have an impact on our professional and work environment. Last year, the big trends included high-definition and 3-D displays, advances in solid state memory, and touch navigation (controlling a device with touch and gestures rather than a mouse or keyboard).
This year the big trend was mobility. This means mobile devices—e-book readers, smart phones, netbooks, and tablet PCs—as well as a wealth of applications to run on them. Many of these apps have potential to support the work of federal employees. For instance, it would be nice to have an ultra-lightweight netbook with you at all times, rather than remembering to pack your five-pound laptop on a telework day. And imagine taking your e-book reader to meetings, with the briefings and white papers distributed to them electronically rather than pages and pages of printouts. However, our security, privacy and other compliance requirements mean that we will be taking a careful approach to adoption.
More evidence of the growing emphasis on mobility came last week when Federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced plans to offer mobile applications from an iPhone-like ‘store’ that will give the public access to new capabilities developed by both the government and third parties. The mobile apps will be hosted on Apps.gov, perhaps beginning in six months or so. The White House, NASA, and the U.S. Postal Service have all created iPhone apps for the public already. No doubt in the near future we will see federally-compliant apps to help federal employees stay productive, whether on the move or snowed in at home.