Vendors see opportunities in fed telework

A videoconference is captured onscreen.

Rick Steele

Rita Mace Walston, general manager of the Telework Consortium, points to the Defense Logistics Agency's telework program as an example to follow. About a third of its eligible workforce participates.

Rick Steele

As the federal telework initiative gains momentum, small and midsize vendors will have more opportunities to offer related products and services to the government, industry professionals said.

Agencies have until the end of fiscal 2005 to let as many employees as is practicable work from home or another offsite location under the federal telework law passed in 2000. The law requires each executive branch agency to establish a policy under which eligible employees may telework as much as is possible without diminishing performance.

The percentage of employees who telework should increase to as much as 10 percent over the next three years, said Amy Fadida, senior vice president of Viack Corp., based on the interest that her firm has received from federal, state and local governments and businesses. Viack of Scottsdale, Ariz., provides secure collaborative tools for teleworking over the Internet.

Small and midsize businesses that provide secure access infrastructure, and hardware and server vendors will see demand for their products rise, said Mark Goldman, area vice president of government systems for Citrix Systems Inc. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company provides access infrastructure software to publish applications and data over any computing device in any location.

Another positive sign for teleworking is the growing demand for laptops as replacements for desktop computers, industry officials said.

"That's an indication they want users to work at home, even just evenings or a couple days a week or month," said Ken Grimsley, vice president of strategic sales at CDW Government Inc. of Herndon, Va.

Other business opportunities will include providing installation services, virtual private network access and training, and help-desk services, said Jim Shanks, president of CDW-G.

Other products in demand will be broadband telecommunications services, call center work, hoteling and security technologies such as biometric identifiers that let users access PCs. Use of authentication and verification services, networking equipment and voice over IP also will see an increase, industry officials said.

[IMGCAP(2)]Recognizing potential business opportunities, members of the IT industry along with government representatives created the Telework Exchange in April to speed the federal workforce's adoption of telework requirements. Founding industry members include Citrix Systems, CDW-G, Intel Corp. and Juniper Networks Inc. Some federal agencies have conducted pilot programs to test VoIP solutions and set up telework pilots.

The Defense Logistics Agency, for example, has a telework program in which about one-third of its total eligible workforce is participating, said Rita Mace Walston, general manager of the Telework Consortium, a Herndon, Va., non-profit organization that promotes new technologies for teleworking.

Citrix provides services for the Patent and Trademark Office's teleworking program for its attorneys, Goldman said.

Similarly, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration runs a telework program, and the Securities and Exchange Commission started one earlier this year.

Vendors will not see any new contracts specifically for telework, but services will be procured through General Services Administration schedules, governmentwide acquisition contracts and agency-specific blanket purchase agreements. Some new procurements, such as GSA's Networx contract, include a section on teleworking.

GSA's Alliant contract for governmentwide IT solutions likely will have both telework solutions and professional services that can help clients prepare their infrastructures and work environments for teleworking, Viack's Fadida said.

Small companies see opportunities through teaming relationships with larger companies and partnerships with resellers.

"It makes perfect sense for us, as a smaller firm, to provide our services through any number of large systems integrators that have much greater reach into the communities of interest we will serve," Fadida said.

So far, agencies have made little progress in complying with the law. According to two surveys on federal teleworking published by CDW-G, the percentage of agencies complying with the mandate has not changed substantially. The company issued the first report in January and a follow-up in April.

"The biggest swing was 1 percent, and that statistically is insignificant," said Barbara Crystal, CDW-G's spokeswoman.

The company's most recent report found that only 20 percent of federal employees surveyed were teleworking by the end of March. About 51 percent of those surveyed said they were ineligible, and 12 percent said they were unsure about their eligibility.

Experts said several factors keep agencies from adopting telework schemes, including cultural issues, lack of awareness about the program's implementation date or lack of standard telework technology.

Managers "must overcome the cultural issue of not being able to see and touch their people," said Charles Viator, president and partner of C.H. Viator and Associates LLC, a Springfield, Va., telecom and technology consultancy.

Although the federal government is making progress with the telework initiative, there is still a long way to go, said Dan Scandling, chief of staff for Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the main driver behind the federal telework initiative.

To reinforce the 2000 law, Wolf, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary, added an omnibus provision to the fiscal 2005 spending bill that levies a $5 million fine for agencies in those departments, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Small Business Administration, if they fail to certify that telecommuting opportunities have been made available to all their eligible employees.

The bill also requires the agencies to have a telework program coordinator and to provide the House Appropriations Committee with quarterly reports on the number of employees who telecommute.

"If it becomes a legislative issue where you're going to lose funding by not doing it, then I think you'll see people start to accelerate it," Grimsley said.

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

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