Telework Scorecard: What's Holding Government Back?

Telework is a no-brainer, right? You can, theoretically, help the environment, reduce road congestion, lower your rent, increase morale, and save money at the same time. But two problems remain – managing remote workers and security.

At least, that is the premise of a recent interview with Jack Nilles, who is the reported father of telecommuting. The Network World interview was just one of the documents I came across as I researched best practices for telework – again. Yes, this seems to be a regular routine which rolls around annually. What’s the simple question we keep trying answer: Can we save (big) dollars if we allow more teleworkers?  

Before I give my thoughts on this question, I want to point you towards a fascinating study that I found along the way from GSA. This GSA Word document entitled: “Telework Technology Cost Study,” is dated May 2, 2006

 If you’re looking for some interesting data on the costs and benefits of telework in the federal government – READ IT.

Here’s a few key quoted nuggets to wet your appetite:

1)      The General Services Administration (GSA) commissioned this Telework Technology Cost Study to (1) investigate potential cost impacts to Federal agencies of information technology (IT) infrastructure expansion to accommodate increased home-based telework, (2) identify technologies needed to support widespread telework deployment, and (3) provide guidance to Federal organizations in justifying IT infrastructure expansion to support their telework programs.”

2)       The study found that Federal organizations generally have some of the necessary elements of IT infrastructure in place to support limited levels of telework, but they lack strategies for IT support of widespread telework and for including telework considerations in agency investment planning or technology enhancement initiatives.  

3)      An overarching finding is that the lack of a programmatic, enterprise-wide approach to telework implementation and support is detrimental to telework success and value to the federal government.

4)      To expand telework to a significant number of the organization’s staff (25-50%), the organization needs to be able to provide basic telework infrastructure, services, and technologies to its teleworkers

5)      Taking actual market-based prices of IT products and services that agencies deployed in the Home Office, Services, and Enterprise categories, the total annual per user spending by agencies on telework IT ranged from $310 to $5,420, with an average per-user cost of $1,920.

One big take-away from this study is that to save money with telework, we require “real” initial investment.  This may seem obvious, but I’ve lost count of the number of times that business areas have pushed for telework programs with a $0 budget.

Basically, they wanted employees to use home PCs. That was it. No laptops, no home network checks for security, nothing.

Of course I just said no – and tried to explain the risks and the laws we need to enforce. But again, that makes security the Party Poopers. Not good. We generally end up with the same slower approach that the feds have used, because no one wants to make big upfront investments.

Table 5 of the GSA report sums it up. For an agency of 100K employees to get 25% to telework, the report recommends an investment of $16 million with a $32 million return. That’s a 225% ROI.      

You can divide by whatever number you like and figure out your numbers, but we’re talking about big dollar investments. When my brother started to telework at IBM, they invested in his home office and did the right thing. Unfortunately, some will continue to want the benefits of telework, but none of the investments – which spells trouble for security.

My view: Governments will continue to move slowly, until the right amount of investment is available to do telework the right way.  What’s your view?    

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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