Army faces unique challenges in mobile device adoption


Adoption of mobile devices such as tablets within the military is fraught with considerations alien to most other organizations.

Something as basic as the dimensions of a tablet computer can make the difference between its use or its disuse on the battlefield. "A big, full-sized tablet didn't work," said Mike McCarthy, lead of the Army Connecting Soldiers for Digital Applications program. He spoke Jan. 23 during a panel of the 2013 Federal Mobile Computing Summit in Washington, D.C.

The Army then decided to experiment with 7-inch tablets, and noticed a change. A smaller tablet "fits into the cargo pocket on the side of their pants," McCarthy said. "They don't have to put it into something to carry it. It's there, so they can get access to it when they need it."

That such a small thing can have a large effect may be "silly," McCarthy said, but unless the Army examines mobile device use holistically in the context of its users, it won't get the results it wants.

Another challenge it faces, McCarthy noted, is charging the devices after days of use in austere environments.

The service also is changing its approach toward purchasing when it comes to mobile devices, McCarthy said. Were the Army to decide to make a mass purchase of a single device and issue it to its soldiers, "by the time we got them, half of them would be obsolete. By the time we got them issued to everybody, all of them would be obsolete," he said.

In general, the Army has had to change its methodology for assessing technological risk. The traditional method is to accept zero risk, McCarthy said. "The challenge we've run into is that in today's environment, there is no such thing as zero risk." Soldiers are already using their own smart devices in any case, he added. "They were taking it into theater and using it."

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