Managing a mixed-device environment in the public safety workplace

In today’s increasingly mobile world, one would be hard pressed to find someone who does not own a smartphone, tablet or portable device. The popularity and growing usefulness of mobile devices means that users increasingly expect the same capabilities in the workplace. This era of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work is already upon us and is transforming the way people perform their jobs. The proliferation of mobile data devices promises to significantly increase productivity and responsiveness.

BYOD transforms the public safety workspace

The public safety workplace is no different. Recognizing that mobile technology can help them do their jobs more effectively, many first responders are already using their own mobile devices in the workplace while applying steady pressure on government leadership to provide them with better access to mobile data and applications.

In fact, in a 2012 Motorola Solutions survey of 250 U.S. public safety decision makers, 86 percent indicated first responders use their own consumer-grade devices for work-related activities. BYOD has become a phenomenon that public safety agencies cannot ignore. However, this also comes with new security, reliability and performance concerns due to the sensitive nature of the profession and the type of data being accessed and shared via personal devices.

So, how do chief information officers (CIOs) balance the use of personal devices that may offer reduced costs with department-issued devices that promise more security and reliability? Government and public safety agencies are facing a mixed-device workspace, and CIOs must look at the efficiency advantages of BYOD alongside the new security and reliability challenges when developing a strategy for their departments.

Information security concerns

While BYOD brings with it clear advantages, it also brings to the forefront one of the top concerns faced by public safety agencies, enterprises, and consumers alike—increased security risks. For public safety, the risk can impact the safety of first responders, citizens and the community. In fact, the survey highlights that 80 percent of respondents are concerned about the security implications of allowing BYOD.

The vulnerability of personal devices leads to a multitude of new risks that must be mitigated. One risk is the danger of criminals gaining unauthorized access to confidential data. Mobile devices are also susceptible to malware which can render department networks vulnerable to attack. The amount of malware targeting mobile devices continues to increase each year as mobile devices become more ubiquitous. Any moment a department’s network is delayed or offline can mean a moment when a first responder is not able to do his or her job.

In addition, mobile devices are easily lost or stolen. Take for instance, a situation in which a foot patrol officer in pursuit of a criminal inadvertently drops his cell phone from his pocket or duty belt. Another criminal or bystander can pick up the phone and access its unencrypted content.

This is not to say that BYOD should not be an option, but several measures must be implemented to allow BYOD access to sensitive data while mitigating the threats. Without these precautions, public safety departments can quickly lose control of sensitive data and open their networks to attack.

Reliability and performance concerns

The reliability of personal devices for public safety must always be evaluated as part of a complete BYOD strategy. First responders should not have to worry that their equipment will fail when they need it the most.

Consumer devices are generally not meant to operate in harsh environments such as continuous heat above 95 degrees, cold below 32 degrees, dust and rain. These devices often fare poorly with the prolonged daily use that police, fire and emergency medical services users subject them to every day. Public safety cannot rely on devices that simply shut down after sitting in the sun for ten minutes or after getting wet during a patrol in the rain.

Consumer device manufacturers consider style above all else. Considerations like radio performance and antenna design may not be at the top of the list when features are being prioritized. For consumers, a dropped call can be frustrating. But for a first responder, it can mean critical minutes lost in reaching and helping someone in need. Public safety departments must consider the possibility of critical applications becoming unavailable during emergency situations and must have contingency plans in place. Public safety officers rely on their communication devices to do their jobs effectively and safely, and CIOs must carefully consider the implications of overreliance on BYOD consumer devices.

Key strategies for managing a mixed-device workplace

A mixed-device workplace is a balancing act, but several strategies can be implemented:


Continually evaluate device options

BYOD is a reality that all CIOs must address with clear policies and technology enhancements. CIOs should consider new, advanced device options for mission-critical data applications.

New public safety devices, such as Motorola Solutions’ LEX 700 Mission-Critical Handheld, combine the security and critical intelligence first responders need in the field with the familiarity and sleek design of a smartphone. In addition, these advanced devices are rigorously tested to ensure they are reliable under continuous use in harsh environments. They can perform in extreme heat and cold, in blowing dust and rain, and even after repeated drops on concrete.

According to the Motorola Solutions survey, more than half of government and public safety IT decision makers would prefer to invest in communication devices specifically designed for public safety.


Understand all associated costs

While consumer devices offer a lower initial cost, CIOs must look beyond the initial price tag of the device to the lifetime total cost of the device. According to a report on Mobile Computing by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the reductions in time, personnel, money, consumables, accuracy, and safety when using public safety grade rugged devices can drive cost savings of 20 to 40 percent.


Have experts manage the devices

Government and public safety agencies will need to institute a BYOD policy that addresses the challenges specific to each jurisdiction. For instance, what applications will be allowed, how will the department handle the issue of lost or stolen devices, and are there security applications in place to remotely wipe an employee’s device when needed? Managing the proliferation of mobile devices is no easy task. CIOs should leverage companies that already have the tools and expertise in place to manage large and diverse populations of mobile devices. These firms enable public safety agencies to stay focused on public safety.


Fortify the network

While awaiting access to private, dedicated LTE broadband networks for public safety use, CIOs should revisit the security and reliability of existing networks. The increasing variety of devices accessing the network leads to new opportunities for malware and security breaches. Departments should consider implementing new security measures that properly segment the network. Additionally, CIOs should assess the capacity of the network and ability for the network to properly prioritize mission-critical applications in emergency situations.

There is no question that with the range of device choices available, government and public safety agencies will have a mixed fleet of rugged and consumer devices that leverage increasingly critical applications. CIOs should acknowledge BYOD and implement policies to ensure appropriate use and security. At the same time, agencies must consider advanced, purpose-built devices for mission-critical applications. While BYOD might be a reality, consumer devices clearly are not built to serve first responders.

Whatever the mix of consumer and rugged devices, public safety agencies must acknowledge the complexity of mobility and count on outside expertise to administer mobile policies on a daily basis. With these considerations, government and public safety agencies can safely take advantage of the latest consumer technology while becoming better prepared to respond to emergency situations with purpose-built technology.