From building his own customized PC to developing digital strategies for Adobe’s government clients, John Landwehr has spent his career ahead of the technology curve. In his current role as Adobe’s Public Sector CTO, his mission is to create and adapt technologies to improve government services in today’s mobile world.
These days we’re seeing bring your own device (BYOD) programs becoming the norm, lightning-fast adoption of smartphones across all demographics, and cloud computing simultaneously enhancing IT jobs. Needless to say, the technological landscape is shifting beneath our feet. And Landwehr has a simple test to determine whether the government industry is keeping up with the changes.
In this Q&A, Landwehr discusses trends in mobile, the cloud and Adobe’s future FedRamp certification.
WashingtonExec: In mobile, how is the government lagging behind the private sector?
John Landwehr: Too many government websites are still not accessible on mobile devices. Commercial organizations have taken a mobile first approach, through a combination of mobile optimized websites and installable applications, recognizing the significant shift of content consumption and usage on non-PC devices, such as smartphones and tablets. To maintain their business – they don’t want to leave anyone behind by not being mobile accessible – so mobile is their first priority. As an informal survey, I recently used my smartphone to analyze a number of government website categories: 70% of state government websites are mobile friendly. 40% of US Executive Department level websites are mobile friendly. Only 33% of the 60 US Government Independent Establishment websites are mobile friendly. Compare that with the news, weather, sports, social, finance, shopping, websites you frequent – and you can see the gap. It’s an easy test to do, making sure not only that a website homepage will render on the screen, but also all parts of the website interaction work, such as logins, electronic forms, etc. It also needs to be usable, without having to pinch to zoom and constantly swipe side to side just to see content.
WashingtonExec: What about mobile deployment to the government itself (in contrast to deployments to the public)?
John Landwehr: Equipping the government with mobile devices, considering bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, and deploying mobile-device-management (MDM) seems to receive much more technology news coverage than making sure government content is accessible to all people. Those are important topics, which support productivity, efficiency, teleworking, and more. I also think it’s important for government workers to use these devices, whether provided at work or purchased for home, to experience the capabilities of these devices and advances in the digital world. According to various industry statistics, more than half the US population now has a smartphone. For 18-34 year olds, it’s more than 75% of the population. Over half of mobile phone users are using their device as their primary internet source. Therefore, it’s no longer sufficient to offer digital government services only on PCs.
WashingtonExec: What does your research show about mobile IT in general in the economy?
John Landwehr: When smartphones first appeared years ago, they were viewed as an expensive gadget only for executives and management. Now it’s no longer considered a luxury to have a smartphone as consumers see it as an important tool for communication, entertainment, and access to services. There are industry statistics that indicate almost half of adults earning less than $30,000 year have access to smartphones. The smartphone ends up consolidating communication services to save the consumer money, as they replace their landline phones, cable TV, home broadband lines, and more – in a single device and service at a lower cost.
WashingtonExec: How does cloud adoption look from the industry’s point of view?
John Landwehr: Cloud services have increasingly compelling attributes for all organizations, given the cost savings, features, capabilities, and advances in security. This is all good for innovation and business efficiency. It also has an effect on IT personnel and can be a positive change to a workforce when managed appropriately.
Here are some examples of similar technology shifts: I used to build my own PCs, because I wanted a system that precisely matched my needs. I had to buy a case, power supply, motherboard, graphics card, hard drives, etc. This was a time consuming process, which required a fair amount of research for capabilities and compatibility. Now I wouldn’t think of doing that, because I don’t have the time to research or build the system, and I can have a new PC that exceeds my needs show up at my doorstep tomorrow, for a great price.
I also used to run my own personal email server for our family on the Internet, starting in the 90s. I thought I had higher reliability and better features than service providers at the time, who were limiting email attachment sizes and overall mailbox storage. Then I had to start regularly patching the system to stay ahead of security concerns, and power supplies would fail, and hard drives would fail, and the battle against spammers intensified. So I went to a service provider to host our email, and handle all those concerns at scale and efficiency greater than I could manage. That freed me up to learn and do other things with technology, such as mobile applications, home automation, and energy efficiency.
I say all this because there is sometimes a fear of the cloud replacing IT jobs inside an organization, which can slow down evaluation of cloud services. Yet I have never seen an IT organization without a significant backlog of tasks. Freeing up IT expertise by relying on cloud service providers for increasing commoditized technology is a great way to allow a workforce to learn something new, support innovation, and address the IT backlog to better support the business and mission of the organization.
WashingtonExec: Adobe is applying for FedRamp certification. Describe the process.
John Landwehr: With ongoing concerns about cloud security, FedRAMP is a great program to provide greater assurances of security compliance to both government and commercial organizations. Adobe is taking our first wave of hosted services through the process now for content management, forms, collaboration, and content security services. We are providing both Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), with HHS as our FedRAMP sponsor, and Veris Group as our 3rd party assessment organization (3PAO) – which is all listed on the FedRAMP website.
In going through the process, we had to internally confirm we were meeting all the requirements in our technology, policies, and procedures – then formally submit this as hundreds of pages of documentation for each service we provide – and lastly prove it all to the independent auditor. When complete later this year, we will then continuously monitor our infrastructure for compliance, incorporate ongoing FedRAMP requirements, and advance with the industry in identifying and mitigating security risks.
WashingtonExec: What made you want to take on this new role and what are you most looking forward to achieving over the next couple years?
John Landwehr: In my career at Adobe, and other technology companies before that – I have had a great opportunity to work with organizations around the world – both commercial and public sector. In product management, I have always split my time working externally with the people who use our technology, and internally with the people who develop and support it. I enjoy solving problems, to make processes faster, less costly, more secure, with a better user experience, using advances in technology. This has led to new products, patents, and industry partnerships throughout my career. I believe security and privacy are going to remain important technology trends, and my experience with innovations in the digital signature ecosystem, electronic identities, and content security for protecting intellectual property and personally identifiable information (PII) will be frequently utilized as more organizations advance their digital infrastructure internally and externally.
Reaching users across the evolving electronic device ecosystem will also be important. The reason I drove the release of Adobe’s first iPhone application in 2009 was this intersection of security and mobility. I was on a family vacation, standing in front of Mount Rushmore, and got a call from the office that I urgently needed to approve something. This required getting my laptop, finding an Internet connection somewhere, booting up the computer, logging in – just to hit a button that said I approve in our official workflow system of record. Since I was carrying a smartphone, I wondered why my device couldn’t just beep or silently buzz, indicating someone had assigned me a task, that I could review on the screen, and quickly approve, reject, or request more information – all within seconds, and without being disruptive. When I got back to the office after vacation, we quickly prototyped such a mobile system and then released it commercially.
Now as Adobe’s Public Sector CTO – I have the opportunity to focus within the government and healthcare communities to see how our existing technologies from across our company can best support their needs, as well as brainstorm how future technologies can be created and adapted to improve user experiences, saving time, saving money, and improving quality of life in an increasingly digital world.