Meet Mark Cohn, CTO of Unisys Federal Systems. Cohn leads Unisys’ portfolio strategy and solution development for major Federal Systems programs to expand and innovate IT within the marketplace. He is also enabling a mobility-driven enterprise transformation and acts as technology emissary for Unisys.
Cohn shared his thoughts with WashingtonExec on the importance of making cyber security a priority in the federal sector, how mobility solutions foster government-citizen relationships, as well as BYOD implementation in the federal civilian sector.
WashingtonExec: On your Unisys blog you wrote about the use of biometric data when traveling abroad. How are cyber security issues affect mobility in the federal government? Do you think is the government embracing mobility or is there a lot of push back?
Mark Cohn: Cyber security is a big driver both in the government and the private sector these days, because weaknesses in cyber security have compromised the effectiveness of many of our automation systems to the point where national security and global economic security are threatened. As a result, despite the fact that the country as a whole can’t invest what we might like in modernizing our infrastructure in every respect, the government recognizes that failure to address fundamental cyber security concerns would be very foolish. At the same time, we want to promote mobility, because it is one of the ways that IT can improve mission performance and deliver greater value by increasing productivity in the workforce and enhancing citizen engagement. But the need to protect sensitive data has delayed adoption so that we haven’t expanded the use of consumer mobile devices and solutions as fast as many desire.
WashingtonExec: How far away do you think the government is from starting the implementation of ‘bring your own device’ type of environment to work?
Mark Cohn: Many agencies are not far at all from implementation. It depends largely on the legal framework being put in place regarding ownership of the information and tools to manage the information protection model. It almost doesn’t matter whether the device is owned by the government or personally liable to the employee – as long as the information stays in a protected repository. The policies that apply to securing and managing enterprise data can effectively make it operate in a manner equivalent to a government-owned device, when it is being used for government business. Many of the civilian agencies are in a position where the device ownership is less of an issue than it would have been in the past.
“What I would suggest is that mobility allows us to capitalize on many of these other trends and to deliver greater value to the public through enhanced collaboration and reducing the way that agency mission boundaries got in the way of getting things done in the past.”
WashingtonExec: Is there a particular agency that you have been most impressed with in embracing mobility or as being the most forward/innovative?
Mark Cohn: There are many examples. There is an application that the IRS has for finding out the status of your tax refund; which is obviously something that a lot of people want to see. The FCC developed an application to test your broadband connection speed, which became a tremendous example of how to save money by allowing the public to collect information on performance. It illustrates a new model for public use of inexpensive mobile applications to save millions of dollars as opposed to what it otherwise would cost to collect information about performance around the country for broadband initiatives.
There are many examples of citizen-facing applications where the federal government is innovating in ways that engage the public and show the value of mobility. Internal efficiency and improvement to mission delivery is also a focus with next-generation systems for employee collaboration and workforce productivity. One example of this would be the ATF, which is a relatively small law enforcement agency. They are adapting their investigation systems to work on consumer mobile devices.
WashingtonExec: How do you think the role of mobility or the impact of mobility compares to the Internet or cloud computing or personal computers? How big of a scale is this?
Mark Cohn: That’s a fascinating question to try to assess what each of these trends brings us. Mobility by itself is in large part taking advantage of some of those other developments – the power of the end user computer in your hand, essentially the maturation of what the PC represented originally; the ability to collect information in a standardized format from many different sources, what the World Wide Web represented in the browser. The ubiquitous 3G or 4G network is required to deliver the promise of mobility in terms of being able to do almost anything from anywhere as long as you have wireless coverage. You can’t really separate mobility from these other trends that you mentioned. To tease out mobility as a separate trend almost doesn’t make sense.
I might ask the question a different way: How profound will the change be on the government workforce and on the way the government interacts with citizens? What I would suggest is that mobility allows us to capitalize on many of these other trends and to deliver greater value to the public through enhanced collaboration and reducing the way that agency mission boundaries got in the way of getting things done in the past. That will be just as profound as the other trends that you mention – not so much by itself but building upon them.
“Mobility is essentially the next model for engaging the public, because it goes beyond the web browser to the mobile device as a way to catch eyeballs and engage customers.”
WashingtonExec: Those are all of my questions. Do you have anything you would like to add?
Mark Cohn: I guess there are two things that I will mention. One is that it’s often thought that the private sector moves faster than the government when innovative information technology capabilities become available. In some respects, there is truth to that because private sector organizations can experiment more freely. The information they have isn’t subject to quite the same degree of formal protection. What we see in regulated industries that have information security requirements comparable to the federal government is that, if anything, we believe our federal government customers are moving at a speed that is comparable to what private sector organizations with equivalent data protection requirements are doing.
There are things that relate to acquisition mechanisms that impair government leaders’ freedom of movement, but overall there is tremendous enthusiasm for mobility across the government. Mobility is essentially the next model for engaging the public, because it goes beyond the web browser to the mobile device as a way to catch eyeballs and engage customers. What’s exciting about it is not just what we can do to save money and improve worker productivity, but that we see an opportunity to engage with the public and particularly to serve what have been traditionally underserved demographic groups in ways that we didn’t see before with the internet because of the “digital divide.” Mobility represents something which in this century is probably the most exciting evolutionary change in the way IT can help society transform itself. The federal government is really at the center of this, and what we are doing is very exciting.