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For road warriors, offices are on the go

Jun. 26, 2011 - 12:53PM   |  
Jacob Haynes, chief information officer at the Defense Contract Management Agency, said the organization expects to save $5 million by shedding all but a 1,000 of it's 13,000 desktop computers over the next three years.
Jacob Haynes, chief information officer at the Defense Contract Management Agency, said the organization expects to save $5 million by shedding all but a 1,000 of it's 13,000 desktop computers over the next three years. (Colin Kelly / Staff)

With the rise of the virtual office whether that's a Starbucks, an airport or the dining room table some agencies are seeing big cost-saving opportunities.

The Defense Contract Management Agency, for example, plans to shed all but 1,000 of its almost 13,000 desktop computers over the next three years, for an estimated savings of $5 million by 2014.

"We realized that for DCMA to be effective in the future, we're going to have to get people off a connected desk … [and] allow them to stay in the field to do their work," said Jacob Haynes, DCMA's chief information officer and acting executive director for IT. The question is, "What can we do so that you never have to go back to your office again?"

Diminishing budgets, user demands for mobile technology, and administration mandates for a greener, more mobile workforce are driving agencies to buck the status quo and embrace mobility and telework.

Numerous agencies, including DCMA, Labor and NASA, are investing in gear that will make mobility a key feature of their workforces and, in many cases, save money along the way.

There is a "philosophy of ‘get the work done where you are and have the tools to do it,'" said Tom Wiesner, deputy chief information officer at the Labor Department.

At DCMA, many employees travel daily to manufacturing plants to inspect equipment the Defense Department is buying, then they travel back to their offices to upload photos and data from the inspections.

The agency is in the process of dividing its 11,287 employees, including contractors and foreign nationals, into six categories to determine what equipment they will need.

The categories include basic office, office-bound workers who require only a personal computer; basic traveler, who travel daily and need a notebook computer and cell phone; and executive, whose constant connection to agency leadership calls for a tablet computer, notebook computer and smartphone.

Some people who now have BlackBerrys and laptops won't have them anymore, Haynes said. "When you start talking about declining budgets, you have to [do this]."

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DCMA is also incorporating technologies such as "zero client," which is hardware that has no operating system, memory or software, and only serves as a connector between the user and applications running in a data center. This technology will enable the department to drastically shrink its inventory of desktop personal computers, cutting maintenance and energy costs.

Adoption of zero-client technology is happening in pockets across government, said Kevin Plexico, senior vice president of research and analysis services at Deltek.

The intelligence community was an early adopter as a means to ensure electronic documents cannot be stored and taken outside of their facilities.

The Labor Department is taking similar steps but on a smaller scale.

Wiesner said his department has set a rule allowing only one computer per employee either a laptop or desktop which will save on maintenance and software costs.

In "the better budget days," Wiesner said, the affordability of laptops, coupled with an increasing need to work remotely, made laptops an attractive option. But workers didn't want to give up their desktop computers.

A cost-saving initiative prompted by the White House forced the department to tighten its belt.

"You can't afford both [computers], especially in today's tight budget," Wiesner said.

At NASA, smartphones have more than doubled from 5,300 devices in January 2010 to 11,300 devices a year later.

NASA executives predict the virtual office will become commonplace as more agencies adopt tablets and employees gain access to the data on their office desktops from any location. As capabilities of mobile technology improve, NASA will be able to better secure, monitor and manage corporate data on government-issued and employee-owned devices, NASA executives say.

James McClellan, chief technology officer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas, wrote in the agency's CIO magazine that, in the next five years, employees may even be supplying their own laptops, smart phones and other devices, which he calls "bring your own device" or BYOD. "And IT, as we know it, will be on the way out, if not already gone," he wrote.

Plexico agrees.

The austere budget environment will further push the adoption of mobile technology and force CIOs to explore alternatives.

"The crisis that we're in, it brings about change," he said. "Agencies are considering things they might not have considered."

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