DJ “Mobile Guy” Kachman is head of mobility at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and also serves as government co-chair for ACT-IAC’s advanced mobility working group. He spoke with WashingtonExec about how he got the moniker “mobile guy,” his time at VA (he’s been there for fourteen years), what he thinks about BYOD and cybersecurity, his work with ACT-IAC, and more.
Kachman received a B.S. in Social Psychology from Western Michigan University.
WashingtonExec: Could you tell us a little more about your background and how you became the “mobile guy” for the VA?
DJ Kachman: I’ve been with the VA for roughly fourteen years. I started as a contractor at the medical center here locally, just pulling PCs out of boxes and putting them onto a shelf, provisioning them and sending them out to users. From there – sometime around six or so years ago — we had the encryption that started happening on the laptops and I played a role in that. Some jobs opened up in our engineering department which is where I sit now, and that’s how I came into being Security Assurance Director.
About two years ago or so we had the influx of the mobile devices, and I started getting involved in that because my primary role for security was also around the Apple Mac devices. Now I’ve been assigned for the department to lead the effort on the technical infrastructure and the devices.
WashingtonExec: You recently let a contract regarding this type of work. Could you provide us with any updates?
DJ Kachman: the premise behind the contract was to bring in a more solidified method of managing these devices. There are so many different devices, so many great ideas on how to use them and one of the core components of that is infrastructure, managing your devices. The solution we have in place will provide a baseline set of security configurations for the devices that we use in VA. This includes the ability to inventory, manage, update, wipe, query and interact with a variety of devices, all providing great visibility and security to the devices. Additionally, VA plans to use this for BYOD, as well.
“This is one of the challenges of all federal agencies and with a strong infrastructure, the necessary policies and practices, and realistic expectations, we will be able to leverage employee-owned devices where possible.”
WashingtonExec: Could you provide us with updates on how BYOD is going within the VA?
DJ Kachman: I think BYOD has some great advantages from the perspective of its pushing government to really expand its scope of what we are able to use in the government. Without the drive from employees to say, ‘I want to use this device or that device or this device’, we’d have a specific set of devices and perhaps innovation wouldn’t happen as rapidly. Employees across the federal agencies are starting to use these devices. They see the great opportunities with them and they are able to integrate them into their lives.
The flipside of BYOD is that there is a lot of policy and law that we have to tread carefully around. There are things like e-discovery, IG investigations, what happens when an employee leaves and there is still data on the device, whether it is encrypted or not encrypted. There are a lot of concerns around that particular piece. We are taking a more cautious approach.
WashingtonExec: Cyber security is a big issue as of late. What are your tips on staying safe against cyber attacks?
DJ Kachman: With mobile increasing, cyber attacks on mobile have increased significantly, primarily because users now have devices that are much more powerful than your normal cell phone. Tips for staying safe – I would say education of employees is probably the most important piece. It’s easier for us as an agency to tell employees, ‘these are all of the configuration controls and security controls you are putting on this device,’ because then they will understand. They do it at home, and when they come to work we expect the same thing. That is probably one of the most important tips for any agency.
WashingtonExec: Do you see implementing BYOD policy as a separate pilot program or do you want BYOD eventually integrated with all VA contracts?
DJ Kachman: We are still piecing together the best ways to integrate mobile type devices. One is to make sure the technology fits our requirements, and two is to make sure that we’re leveraging the technology that we currently have and, where it makes sense, taking a mobile device and replacing something. Primarily from a technology standpoint, the devices are only about 2 ½ to 3 years old, and that quantum leap to devices really started about 2 ½ or 3 years ago. There is a lot of desire to use them. We don’t want to continue to add a bunch of devices to an employee’s set of tools. We want to replace what they have with some of the newer mobile devices.
WashingtonExec: I liked your point about how the devices are really only 2 ½ to 3 years old. Do you think we need to see a more intense or major overhaul of our procurement acquisition policy?
DJ Kachman: I would probably defer that to our procurement folks. I think what I’ll say about that is certainly technology leaps ahead fairly quickly and mobile devices certainly change versions or their ability to function in a certain way. We are trying to stay bleeding edge with that in the department but I think the key is to look at the requirements of what you need and then meld that together with what you capture that is out there — something that you can use for the next couple of years. It is more difficult with mobile devices as compared with, say, a laptop or desktop – it’s got a longer lifespan. I think we are seeing the trends from companies starting to look at the needs of government and large corporations that can’t afford to turn around and buy a new device every six months. I think between those two things we will have a better story to tell.
WashingtonExec: Where is new technology development going? What do you think we will be using (inside or outside of the federal government) a year from now?
DJ Kachman: That’s a great question. The trend over the last three years has been an explosion of mobile devices that target the consumer markets. Those devices have excited a lot of staff across federal agencies, and provided a considerable challenge to IT organizations due to the consumer focus. Over the last six months, I’ve started to see a lot more companies developing solutions that specifically target the federal government’s requirements. This includes focusing on risk mitigation, FIPS validated solutions, as well as other solutions that help take a consumer- focused device and bring it into the federal environment. In the next year, what I see is technology that provides tighter integration of multiple devices into a single device that can meet many different missions, as well as the rules, laws, and policies in the federal space.
WashingtonExec: What is the latest with ACT-IAC?
DJ Kachman: I’m the government co-chair for the mobile workforce and we are still continuing to do a lot of work there around BYOD and some of the other portions of the digital strategy. We have a lot of great interaction between government and private industry and it is starting to bear some fruit, because we are starting to see private industry really listen as they take back what they learned from their government partners and say, ‘This is what we really need.’ Probably over the next six to nine months we will see even more of private industry providing those solutions that government really needs. That is probably the biggest update.
“The digital strategy has been out for about six months now; 10.2 was just released, so there is still a lot of work done, and now we are really getting into the weeds.”
That’s where that tight collaboration between private industry and government is really going to bear some fruit, and it is already starting to do so. It is a great opportunity to do that collaboration. It is one of the things in government that traditionally hasn’t been a strong point but the federal CIO is pushing the digital strategy itself and we are talking about inter-agency sharing and centers of excellence and that type of thing.ACT/IAC is probably one of those things that will bear some fruit; and, just like we spend a lot of time talking with other agencies from the VA standpoint, this is just another avenue to do that.
WashingtonExec: Do you have a favorite app and, if so, what is it?
DJ Kachman: I don’t have a favorite app–I have a favorite component, which is the camera on the devices. I like it because I have kids and when I’m out, it’s easy to pull out of my pocket and take pictures no matter where you are. It’s handy – a lot of the devices now have pretty good picture resolutions so you can take some pretty high-quality stuff.
WashingtonExec: What is something most people might not know about you?
DJ Kachman: I like to drive myself and everybody that works with and for me to success. I have several veterans in my family and I look at the mission of VA as something that is truly important. I kind of hope that comes out when people see the work I’m doing– that I have a passion for it – but, if not, that is probably one of the things that people should know.