Commuting from 'Anywhere'
- By Diane Frank
- Aug 14, 2000
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
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
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,