Tech Success: How Texas telecommutes

GoToMyPC lets Austin's employees tap into work systems

IT solutions in action

Project: Employee teleworking

Agency: The city of Austin, Texas

Partner: Expertcity, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Goal: To reduce air pollution, Austin wants to let city workers who can work from home do so at least one day a week.

Obstacle: Allowing workers access to office computer files would involve setting up a virtual private network. A VPN would require purchasing or leasing additional hardware, and might require city system administrators to visit homes to install software and configure machines.

Solution: A Web-based solution, GoToMyPC, provided by Expertcity allowed city workers to securely access their work computers from home.

Payoff: Most of the 400 workers now teleworking are using GoToMyPC. Because the solution is Internet-based, the city didn't have to lease or purchase additional modem banks, and systems administrators didn't have to visit homes to install software.

Brian Donahoo is senior vice president of products for Expertcity.

Mike Eliason

When city officials in Austin, Texas, decided to reduce pollution by allowing more city employees to telecommute, they found Expertcity Inc.'s GoToMyPC software enables employees to telecommute without the expense of upgrading the city's virtual private network.

Austin is one of many cities driven by Environmental Protection Agency clean-air regulations to establish telecommuting platforms for employees, said Brian Donahoo, senior vice president of products for Expertcity. Based in Santa Barbara, Calif., the privately held provider of remote access software has 120 employees.

With more than 1 million residents in the Austin area, the city has been looking at ways to cut smog since 1996. In 2002, it laid out a plan to improve air quality and used an $86,000 grant from the state's energy conservation office to make it happen

One element of the city's pollution reduction plan is to have as many of its approximately 10,000 employees telecommute as possible, said Brownlee Bowmer, Austin's chief information officer.

While people such as emergency medical workers, police and park attendants are not eligible for teleworking, about 50 percent of the city's work force can work at home at least part of the time, said Wendy Frizzell, telework program manager for the city.

Frizzell said Austin's goal is to have people who can work from home do so at least one day a week. The city hopes to have 1,000 people telecommuting by 2005.

Because most city employees have home computers and at least dial-up connections to the Internet, Austin used the GoToMyPC solution to connect to their desktop computers at work.

The city also has a virtual private network that employees can connect to, but by using the Internet, the city does not need more phone banks to add users to the VPN.

Of the 400 people who have signed up for the telework program so far, about half log into work through GoToMyPC, Frizzell said. The others go through the VPN, a dedicated dial-in connection, or they don't require a computer for working.

Among the advantages of using GoToMyPC is that workers don't need a copy of the software they use at work, Frizzell said. The home PC user runs a Java software console, downloaded from Expertcity's site, which presents a fully operational view of the work computer's desktop. The connection is made through the Internet, authenticated via Expertcity management servers, and requires the work computer to be on and available through an Internet-connected office network.

Through this setup, employees can run all the applications on that work computer, such as a word processor, from their home computers, within the console. Austin administrators manage accounts on Expertcity's management servers, and the communications are secured with standard 128-bit Secure Socket Layer encryption.

And because GoToMyPC works from a Web browser, Austin's system administrators do not have to go to worker's homes to install or maintain software. This came as a relief to the IT department of the city.

"We were wrestling with what degree of home involvement we should have on the part of city staff," said Bowmer. "Here we have none."

Another advantage for the city is the savings. Austin pays Expertcity a per-seat subscription fee and had minimal upfront capital costs. In contrast, improving a VPN could require purchasing additional servers, phone banks and other equipment, Bowmer said.

The government is one of the fastest growing markets for Expertcity, thanks to EPA regulations that are pushing federal, state and local agencies to expand their telecommuting programs, Donahoo said.

The company provides GoToMyPC services to many other cities and counties, such as the cities of San Bernardino, Calif., and Vancouver, Wash., and the counties of Albany County, N.Y., and King County, Texas. Other customers include the California Department of Corrections, the Minneapolis Public Library, the New York Power Authority and the Texas Department of Health.

The company works with Accenture Ltd., Hamilton, Bermuda, for large city and state accounts, as well as through resellers such as CDW Computer Centers Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.

The company can offer a lower-cost alternative to setting up a VPN, Donahoo said. A typical 200-user implementation under a VPN would run about $139,000, while a GoToMyPC installation for the same number of employees would cost about $37,300.

Thanks to GoToMyPC, the main challenge to the telework goals is not technical now, but cultural, Frizzell said.

For example, employees have to develop the habit of bringing from work the files, phone numbers and information they will need to work at home.

There is a lot of "education, communication and training that has to go on," she said. *

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Joab Jackson at jjackson@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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