ATF’s Rick Holgate On The “Transformational Moment” Of Mobility

Rick Holgate, ATF

Last month WashingtonExec had the opportunity to interview Rick Holgate at Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). We asked the CIO and Assistant Director for the Office of Science and Technology about everything mobile.

What are ATF’s plans for implementing mobile applications in 2012? What difficulties does Holgate faces when pitching new technology across federal agencies? How would he describe the impact and scale of mobility in comparison to other technological breakthroughs (like the internet)?

Holgate answered all of these questions and also discussed his hopes for the newly-formed IAC Advance Mobility Working Group. Holgate is the working-group chairman along with Tom Suder of Mobilegov.

“I think that’s a radical mindset change. It’s a matter of becoming much more comfortable in an environment where you don’t necessarily own everything from end-to-end, but you know who owns it and you can figure out how to make it all work together.”

WashingtonExec:  What is your role at ATF?

Rick Holgate: My role at ATF is a little unusual in the sense that I am both the CIO as well as the assistant director for the Office of Science and Technology.  In that broader science and technology role, I am responsible not only for our IT portfolio, but for ATF’s forensic services portfolio as well.

WashingtonExec: What do you think of the argument that implementing mobility would cost more money in a time of budget constraints and so should be put on hold?

Rick Holgate: We’re now seeing that tablets give our agents and investigators many more mobile capabilities at a lower price point. We can afford to give them something like a tablet and, perhaps, instead of a laptop, we might give them a thin client desktop that collectively costs less than what we are currently providing.  We are pursuing mobility in a cost conscious way because we all know that the fiscal situation in the federal government is not terribly rosy.

WashingtonExec: Do you have any mobile pilot programs that have been successful? What plans does ATF have for 2012?

Rick Holgate: ATF is moving to an “email as a service” model following the example that a number of other agencies have set with the Department of Agriculture and GSA. I think that we are the first law enforcement agency moving to that model.  Other efforts we are undertaking include video content management since, as a law enforcement agency, we deal with a fair amount of such materials.  We’re investing in better infrastructure to manage that video and to make it accessible, on-demand, and more readily available on mobile devices for our agent population.

WashingtonExec: What are the biggest challenges that you have been facing in trying to implement mobility in your agency and across agencies?

Rick Holgate: One consistent challenge that all of us face is how to transition legacy applications into a new environment that is much more mobile friendly. It requires a fair amount of investment and transformation to make them truly mobile.  Our case management system needs a lot of work to become mobile friendly. Getting those legacy applications, that were never designed with mobility in mind, into a form that really supports the current mobile workforce, requires considerable effort.

WashingtonExec: How would you describe the scale of mobility when compared to other technological breakthroughs?

Rick Holgate: I would certainly think of it as a transformational moment.  We got comfortable over the last roughly ten to fifteen years with the Internet and a traditional desktop kind of environment. For the most part, that environment remained stable from about 1995 until roughly the last couple of years.  Suddenly, we started getting wireless connectivity everywhere and highly capable mobile consumer devices. Now, commercial connectivity, the user’s device, or other things are between the user and me, things that I don’t necessarily control.  How do I get to a point where I’m comfortable with that? I think that’s a radical mindset change. It’s a matter of becoming much more comfortable in an environment where you don’t necessarily own everything from end-to-end, but you know who owns it and you can figure out how to make it all work together.

WashingtonExec:  You are a Co-Chair with Tom Suder on the IAC Advanced Mobility Working Group.

Rick Holgate: That group represents our commitment to try to get the federal community, both government and industry, to work together to the maximum extent possible so that we can assist and benefit each other. The group really brings together the community in a way that is as constructive as possible and drives mobility further and farther into the culture of the way the federal government thinks about doing things.

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