VA Revamps Mobile Device Plan

Planned Rollout Delayed, Strategy Altered
VA Revamps Mobile Device Plan

Last October, Department of Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker revealed plans to accommodate the use of as many as 100,000 iPads and iPhones, primarily for clinical purposes, within 18 months. But the project remains in the pilot phase and now could take several more years to complete.

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Plus, the VA is re-examining whether to accommodate the widespread use of personally-owned mobile devices, as originally planned. And it expects to implement mobile devices running the Android and Windows operating systems, as well as Apple's iOS.

During an August 2 media briefing, VA CIO Roger Baker said the rollout of 100,000 or more mobile devices likely would happen "over the next few years" as the VA builds its business case for support of mobile apps.

A major holdup appears to be the acquisition of an enterprisewide, cloud-based mobile device management system, which Baker had earlier said the VA would acquire and implement by this summer. But the VA just recently issued a request for information from MDM vendors, Baker acknowledged Aug. 2. And the agency has not yet issued a request for bids - much less started implementation.

Baker has portrayed an MDM system as essential to monitoring the devices to ensure security. The devices also will use encryption to protect data.

VA officials declined to comment further on when a contract for the MDM system might be awarded. They also would not offer a firm timeline for the rollout of mobile devices.

BYOD, Or Maybe Not

Last year, Baker said that to control costs, many of the mobile devices would be personally-owned by VA clinical staff members. But now that approach apparently is being re-examined.

"The determination on BYOD is ongoing as we analyze our capabilities to manage and secure the information that may be presented to the user on their personally owned devices," D.J. Kachman, director of the security assurance and mobile divisions at the VA's Office of Information and Technology, told HealthcareInfoSecurity on Aug 10.

"The goal is to reduce costs, and, where we can, provide a secure method to access VA data on a BYOD [personally owned device]. ... BYOD is being worked on from the federal government level as part of the digital strategy, and we expect to have more of the policy guidance that is necessary to implement a successful BYOD program."

Changing Plans

When unveiling the mobile strategy last fall, Baker said the VA would initially accommodate only the use of Apple iOS devices. In April, he reiterated that the VA eventually would also accommodate the use of mobile devices running the Android operating system if they pose no new security risks (see: VA's CIO Provides Mobile Device Update). "We know we're going to need to make the tools available on multiple mobile platforms," he said.

But Kachman said on Aug. 10 that the VA is now planning to support multiple mobile platforms because other mobile device operating systems have matured and improved. "VA has maintained that we will be an OS agnostic enterprise and choose devices, and operating systems, based on the business requirements, as well as the ability to secure and manage the devices," he said.

"IOS was used first in VA due to some capabilities of VA to consistently manage the necessary settings," he said. "As the other operating systems have evolved, those configurations are becoming available as well. We will be looking at operating systems that allow VA to integrate the devices into the enterprise and reduce overall costs to the enterprise."

Test Drive

Since last October, the VA has been conducting a pilot project involving 1,000 Apple devices running a limited number of applications. The feedback from users participating in the pilot, which will wrap up soon, will help the VA determine if users were able use their devices to accomplish appropriate tasks, and that information will be used in devising details for the broader mobile device rollout, VA officials confirm.

"VA will take the feedback from the users, business, and IT staff to look at how the apps were used, the devices were used, issues that were addressed by the IT staff, and other information to determine the best approach for rolling out the mobile program in VA," Kachman says. "This analysis will continue as the technology matures and the ability to use it expands."

A New Era

As the VA gradually implements more mobile devices, it's also hoping to cut costs by phasing out other devices now in use. For example, Baker said earlier that he envisions mobile devices taking the place of many desktop PCs.

"VA is moving toward the single-device model," Kachman says. "VA is working toward using the information we are receiving during each of the pilots and deployments to provide the best avenue in decreasing the footprint."

Ultimately, Kachman says, the choice of what single device a staff member uses will hinge on "the business needs of the different departments in VA and the business requirements that ultimately enhance our mission of providing top quality services to veterans."

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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