Jul 30 2009

Telework-able Solution

The ultra-portable netbook platform offers an inexpensive alternative for agencies that want to expand their work-from-home hardware options.

Most agencies issue notebook PCs or desktop systems to teleworking employees, but another possible platform has come along: the netbook.

When it comes to systems for teleworkers, newer netbooks on the market offer options as secondary computing devices or even alternatives to full-size notebooks if the performance requirements for content creation are minimal.

Offered by manufacturers such as Acer, ASUS, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, netbooks function somewhere between smartphones and more traditional notebook PCs, says Jeff Orr, senior analyst for mobile devices for ABI Research. Netbooks cost $300 to $500 — roughly half the price of a full notebook.

“Netbooks are designed for the type of user who does content consumption: people who need to be online to do e-mail and research,” says Helen Daniel, product manager for commercial notebooks for Hewlett-Packard. “If you have someone in the federal space who is doing training, a netbook is ideal because it’s very lightweight and easy to carry.”

While netbooks first sprung up as consumer products, manufacturers have developed models suited for enterprise deployment. Daniel notes that durability features should appeal to agencies. For example, the HP Mini 2140 netbook sports the DriveGuard drive protection system and the DuraKeys finish that reduces wear on the keyboard. Other high-end features include a choice of operating system, a Gigabit Ethernet port and several wireless connectivity options.

The Right Fit

“A netbook would absolutely be useful for telework,” says Orr, adding that the computing devices would also be appropriate for any group that must perform field reporting, such as Census Bureau or Federal Elections Commission workers who collect information for real-time tracking and reporting.

139 million  Estimated worldwide shipments of netbooks in 2013, up from an estimated 35 million shipments this year

SOURCE: ABI Research

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which touts a strong telework program with nearly 90 percent participation, has looked at netbooks. But for now, they’re not appropriate for agency deployment, says Larry Koskinen, associate IG for mission support.

TIGTA monitors the IRS. “We deal with highly confidential information that you can’t put out in the cloud,” he says. “You can’t use netbooks for that.”

Though mobile computing technologies can improve employee productivity and job satisfaction, they’re just small components of a much larger movement. “What you’re really building is a virtual enterprise,” Koskinen says. “It’s about nimbleness and getting to the new, responsive government agency.”

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