VA Revamps Mobile Device Plan

Go-Slow Approach Paired with Mobile Device Management Rollout
VA Revamps Mobile Device Plan

The Department of Veterans Affairs will test-drive up to 5,000 tablets and smart phones in pilots during the next six to 12 months before ramping up its use of mobile devices.

See Also: The Vulnerability Epidemic in Financial Services Mobile Apps

The phasing in of mobile devices from various manufacturers will be done in conjunction with the implementation of a mobile device management system, which will help enforce security controls (see: Details on VA's Mobile Device Mgt. Plan). At first, the VA will focus on using government-issued devices, with the accommodation of personally owned devices to come in future phases, says D.J. Kachman, the VA's director of mobile and security technologies.

About a year ago, Roger Baker, the VA's CIO, described plans for accommodating the use of 100,000 mobile devices within 18 months as it started phasing out desktop devices to cut costs.

But the VA's modified plans, as described by Kachman, now call for potentially supporting as many as 30,000 devices within three years. The exact number of devices implemented over the long haul "depends on the technology maturing to meet the needs" currently addressed primarily by laptops, Kachman says. "I don't see 100,000 [devices] a reality in the short term."

Proving Value

The upcoming pilots are primarily focused on "proving value" in using tablets in place of desktop and laptop computers, Kachman says. The pilots are necessary, he says, because tablets are a relatively new "consumer technology" that's largely untested in an enterprise environment.

Pilots being considered include VA staff using tablets for applications that involve ordering patient prescriptions, tracking blood pressure, handling benefit requests and working with homeless veterans, he says.

"There's a homeless veteran initiative where a worker would go out on the streets and talk to homeless veterans and use those devices to do interactions with the veterans, and that information is transmitted real time to the VA," Kachman says.

Initially, the VA plans to rely mainly on government-issued devices, adding support for employee-owned devices later, he says. That's because in addition to having the technology in place to support mobile devices, the VA still needs to continue developing a BYOD policy. "Everything we do is based on the core component that VA data doesn't get leaked," he stresses.

MDM Implementation

In late September, the VA selected LongView International Technology Solutions Inc., which does business as FirstView Federal Technology Solutions LLC, to manage the mobile device management system implementation. The total "task order" value, inclusive of all potential options, is $9.3 million over three years, says VA spokesman Jo Schuda. The task order is for one year with two 12-month option periods.

FirstView will implement an MDM system from Airwatch, Kachman says. Airwatch's MDM was among those tested last fall when the VA was piloting MDM software to support up to 1,500 mobile devices, he adds.

Core security capabilities of the MDM system include the ability to manage passwords and encryption, add different accounts and remotely wipe data, such as e-mail messages, if a device is lost. Also, the MDM's inventory management capabilities will allow the VA "to know where the device is."

The MDM system also could be configured to prevent employees from using mobile devices to post VA information on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, Kachman says.

First View will create a cloud computing environment for the MDM; it also will build a VA app store. The app store will give the VA the ability to "white list and black list" applications that can be used on the VA devices, Kachman says.

About the Author

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Executive Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity, ISMG

McGee is executive editor of Information Security Media Group's media site. She has about 30 years of IT journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues for more than 15 years. Before joining ISMG in 2012, she was a reporter at InformationWeek magazine and news site and played a lead role in the launch of InformationWeek's healthcare IT media site.

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