Commuting from 'Anywhere'

Federal employees who telecommute will soon have a new vehicle for mobile computing products and services at their fingertips.

In the next month, the General Services Administration plans to beef up its Office Anywhere program, which provides agencies with bundled mobile hardware, software, communications and services.

GSA will transfer the program from the administrator's office to the Federal Supply Service and establish a schedule to allow agencies to purchase and build their solutions from multiple vendors.

The Office Anywhere initiative started within GSA in 1998 in response to the growing number of federal workers needing technology and support out in the field and at home.

GSA is a lead agency in the government's telecommuting efforts and oversees the many telework centers — offices where federal employees can come to work away from their main offices. But with the availability of new technologies and increased demands from users, GSA saw a chance to expand its services with wireless and other mobile solutions.

"This was [done] more to develop the concept," said Wanda Smith, chief operating officer of the Office Anywhere group. "I studied the market and made the business case for GSA to look at mobile computing."

The solutions — which include everything from handheld devices and software applications to secure networks — have been available through the Office Anywhere group (www.gsa.gov/any where) for almost a year. However, the initiative did not include a formal procurement vehicle or infrastructure.

Now that the concept has been tested and proven viable in the federal market, GSA is transferring the solutions to the established FSS contracts.

"I don't have an infrastructure to deliver the services, and I did not think that I should have to develop one," Smith said, adding that using the schedule contracts made more sense than developing a separate contract at the Federal Technology Service. Providing the products and services on schedule means that anyone, including FTS, can pull from the contracts to form a customized solution, she said.

FSS is not revealing many details about Office Anywhere. However, FSS will confirm that the program will operate within the IT Acquisition Center under the program director Roy Chisholm (www.fss.gsa.gov/it/).

When developing the Office Anywhere concept, Smith and her staff surveyed federal agencies and asked them what they would want and expect. In the end, GSA identified four markets within the government.

GSA also talked to industry to determine what technologies and solutions are available from the commercial market that the federal government might not know about. In one case, Palm Inc., a leader in the mobile computing market, worked closely with Smith's office to demonstrate its technology in an enterprise environment rather than the personal application highlighted in many television commercials, said John Inkley, manager of federal sales at Palm.

The wide range of products and services that GSA researched and decided to include in Office Anywhere makes the program an attractive one to agencies.

"I think something like that, all bundled together, would be a big help, especially for those who are just starting," said Valerie Martin, telecommuting program coordinator of the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 8 in Denver.

The Office Anywhere solutions are attractive even to Martin's organization, which has used telecommuting for more than five years, because of the security solutions offered. The biggest change for the EPA has not been the technology, but the increased security risks for mobile workers, and the agency has had to struggle to find secure ways to allow them to dial into the network, she said.

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