• United States

Telework used to improve air quality

Jan 06, 20035 mins

The city of Austin selects GoToMyPC Web service to help expand program.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Since 1996, Austin’s city government has looked to telework as a means to improve air quality by decreasing vehicular emissions. But budget and technology constraints kept its program from taking flight. Because Austin lacked the funds to provide laptops or workstations for the employees’ home offices, IT struggled with how to fashion teleworkers’ home PCs into stable and secure remote workstations.

“For years we’ve made some attempts, tried different approaches, the same story as everyone else,” says Brownlee Bowmer, CIO of Austin’s Information Services Department (ISD).

But last year, Austin’s telework initiative got a double shot in the arm. The city received an $86,000 grant from the state energy conservation office to develop its telework program. Bowmer’s security team now could test a number of newer remote-access technologies and develop an intranet site promoting telework, and the city could hire a telework program manager, Wendy Frizzell, to market the program and provide telework training.

In the end, Bowmer’s network security team selected Expertcity’s GoToMyPC as its primary method for connecting remote workers to the office. Today, 300 Austin teleworkers in a variety of agencies use it to access their corporate desktops via their home PCs, while another hundred or so use traditional VPN, dial-up or Citrix Metaframe to connect to the city’s network. Austin’s goal is to have 1,000 teleworkers by mid-2005, most using GoToMyPC.

Most Austin teleworkers work from home one day per week. Many use telework to avoid coming in on the weekends, and a small number telework several days or even full time from home. Many work in ISD, the city clerk’s office, city manager’s office and emergency medical services department.

Although improving air quality is the program’s prime driver, Frizzell finds telework benefits city workers with special needs. “We’ve had very good success with people on maternity leave who extend their time at home by teleworking 20 hours per week before returning to the office. We also use it for a handful of workers who are ill with cancer and receiving chemotherapy,” she says.

Long arm to the office

GoToMyPC is a Web-based remote-access service that lets users access their corporate desktops from any browser-based PC. An always-on client program is installed on the corporate PC, which then stays in constant communication with the GoToMyPC server on Expertcity’s network. When a teleworker wants to access his corporate desktop, he connects to the service via a browser and must clear two levels of password authentication before the target desktop appears as a window on-screen.

While many network executives find the idea of having a slew of corporate desktops in constant communication with a third-party service unacceptable, Expertcity is finding success in public sector IT departments such as Austin’s, which is pushed to comply with regulations like the Clean Air Act, but can’t afford new equipment for teleworkers. The company also recently announced deals with the state of Alaska; King County, Wash.; Albany and Rochester, N.Y.; and San Bernadino, Calif.

“We have a very robust security organization that did thorough testing of the product,” Bowmer says. “We rolled it out slowly and didn’t suffer any intrusions. Anything Internet-based is always a red flag for any IT organization, but GoToMyPC has significant security around it.”

Easing Austin’s aches

Another key to the success of Austin’s telework program is keeping support costs low. Many of the VPN products Bowmer’s network security team tested met their security needs. “But VPN support costs were crippling us,” says Teri Pennington, ISD’s information security supervisor.

“The VPN itself wasn’t difficult, but users weren’t clear on how their PC actually works on the network,” Pennington says. “We’d get numerous calls from users saying they were having trouble mapping drives, or accessing network files or e-mail. They always assumed it was a VPN problem when it usually turned out to be a problem with the user’s PC configuration.”

With GoToMyPC, IT doesn’t support the home PCs. “If a user has a problem while teleworking, it is probably with their office PC and we’ve already got that covered,” Pennington says.

Another way GoToMyPC saves in support costs: If the teleworker needs to run some sort of processor-intensive program, his home PC might not have enough power to support it. Because GoToMyPC uses the home PC to access all the applications on the work PC, the home PC doesn’t need to have the same applications loaded.

“Very seldom does the help desk get a call,” Frizzell says. “I usually get the first call because my name’s on everything. And I can often help them myself, and I’m not technical.”

Employees: 12,000 workers, about 4,800 eligible to telework
Teleworkers:About 400 with plans to reach 1,000 by mid-2005
Goal:To improve air quality by decreasing vehicular emissions
Challenge:Expanding the program on a limited budget without compromising security
Remote-access technology:A mix of VPN, Citrix Metaframe and Expertcity GoToMyPC
Policy snapshot:City doesn’t pay for equipment or services. Individual departments develop telework policies, and participation is voluntary both for managers and employees. Teleworkers required to run antivirus and personal firewall on home PCs, and attend a training session focusing on remote work practices, security and ergonomics.