The flashy consumer products that have been adopted in the corporate workforce — upending BlackBerrys for iPhones, Microsoft Outlook for Gmail, and lately laptops for iPads — are now invading the federal government. The State Department. The Army. The Department of Veterans Affairs. NASA. The General Services Administration is in the process of moving 17,000 employees onto Gmail.
The stakes are huge. The change may damage companies long associated with Washington work culture, but officials say the shift will make workers more productive while slashing billions from the $80 billion spent annually on information technology. The government is trying to keep up with federal workers’ interest in the new gadgets.
“The demand we are seeing now in the last 90 days has been just extraordinary,” said Tim Hoechst, chief technology officer at Agilex Technologies, which is helping federal agencies integrate Apple products into workforces. (Like other contractors racing to meet demand, Agliex practices what it preaches; it has replaced its sign-in book at the reception desk with an iPad.) “It’s like everybody is saying, ‘This is really happening here now.’ ”
From home to work
Analysts and government officials say the demand for consumer technologies is coming from two directions. At the top, agency directors and senior officials are using iPads, Android phones or Web-based e-mail in their personal lives and asking IT administrators why they can’t use them at work. But the bigger push is coming from frontline workers, who see the value consumer technology could add to their working life, making them more mobile and less tied to an office.
“People have better access to information technology at their homes than they do at work, and that’s especially true in the public sector,” said Vivek Kundra, the federal government’s chief information officer. “If you look at the average school kid, he or she probably has better technology in his or her backpack than most of us do in government offices.”
And employees are no longer taking no for an answer. A recent Forrester Research study showed 35 percent of workers in the United States either buy their own smartphone for work, use unsanctioned Web sites or download unapproved applications on a work computer. Why? Twenty four percent of do-it-yourselfers say the technology is better than what their job provides. Thirty-six percent say they need it, and their employer won’t provide an alternative. And nearly 40 percent say they use it at home and, well, they want it at work, too.