Census Bureau looking to mobile for lower costs

Census Bureau looking to mobile for lower costs

Mobile technology has, in just a few years, become a standard component of corporate IT infrastructure. Businesses which once resisted mobile, fearing it would present serious data security problems, now recognize that the value offered by the technology far outweighs any counter-arguments. 

Increasingly, the federal government is following the private sector's lead in this capacity. Agency leaders are looking for ways to embrace mobile as a means of increasing worker productivity and flexibility while cutting costs. Most recently, the Census Bureau aims to embrace mobile tools, along with the Internet of Things, to trim its budget for the 2020 census, FedScoop reported.

Billions in savings
The source reported that Census Bureau Director John Thompson recently appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. Among other topics, Thompson addressed the fact that the 2010 census ultimately bore a total cost of approximately $17.8 billion, a 56 percent increase from the 2000 census. According to Thompson, the use of mobile and other technologies will play a major role in reversing this upward trajectory.

"Mobile use will likely reduce census costs by $2.5 billion."

"We will now use mobile technology and smartphones to achieve significant efficiencies for the 2020 Census," Thompson said, according to FedScoop. "We are now able to provide optimized work assignments to our enumerators, including daily route assignments and the best time of day to attempt contact. We are also able to provide the supervisors of our enumerators with real-time updates and alerts regarding the progress of the workers that they oversee."

Thompson told the committee that these new technology plans will likely reduce census costs by $2.5 billion, while logistical changes will save the Census Bureau a further $2.7 billion, the source reported. 

Decisions to make
While this broad plan for mobile use seems to be well established, Nextgov pointed out that the Census Bureau has yet to make a number of critical decisions concerning how it will embrace this technology. Most notably, the department has not revealed whether it will opt for a bring-your-own-device strategy or provide users with mobile devices itself. 

Steven Cooper, chief information officer for the Commerce Department, appeared with Thompson before the U.S. House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. As Nextgov noted, Cooper indicated that the Census Bureau will likely not address this issue until September of next year. This lengthy period is necessary to ensure that the department has all of the information it needs to make an informed decision, he explained. 

"That allows us to complete the planned and already in motion set of field operation tests, so that we can make both an economic-based determination as well as a security-based determination and include privacy and functionality," said Cooper, according to the news provider. 

He added that the Census Bureau has already begun to field test its mobile operations. 

IT complexity
Part of the reason why the Census Bureau is unwilling to commit definitively to a BYOD or government-provided approach to mobile technology is that the department's previous experience in this area proved rather unsuccessful. Nextgov noted that the bureau attempted to utilize mobile solutions when conducting the 2010 census but was eventually forced to abandon this plan after already investing significant time and money in the endeavor. 

"The bureau was forced to abandon mobile plans for the 2010 census."

This speaks to, among other things, the complexity of mobile initiatives for government agencies. To effectively embrace mobile, the Census Bureau must also upgrade its IT capabilities in a range of areas, which can also lead to further technological developments, as Cooper told the Congressional committee.

"The modernized 2020 Census requires an information technology architecture and infrastructure that is agile, flexible, scalable and able to accommodate innovations and advances in technology," he said, according to FedScoop. "Technology also serves as a change catalyst for developing enterprise capabilities that will create new architectures, and modernize data and systems management for the 2020 Census and all Census Bureau censuses and surveys – from data collection and processing to data dissemination."

These types of issues are not exclusive to the Census Bureau. Any federal agency hoping to leverage mobile technology needs to develop a wide-ranging plan for tackling all of the various components inherent to such efforts. In many cases, the ideal means of achieving this goal is to work closely with a third-party business consulting firm with extensive mobile experience which can guide, oversee and lead the process from beginning to end.