Welcome!

AJAX & REA Authors: Plutora Blog, Pat Romanski, Sandeep Kumar, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: SOA & WOA, XML, Wireless, Virtualization, Cloud Expo

SOA & WOA: Article

Telecommuting – The Invisible Employee

The biggest advantages to having remote workers & virtual offices are in-house facility costs, expansion, & talent acquisition

One of the truisms in information technology is that everything old is new again - well, except maybe for punched cards. We went from big corporate data centers to regional/division corporate data centers back to big corporate data centers and now to even bigger cloud data centers. We have gone from dumb terminals were everything was done on the mainframe, to PCs, and now to virtualized desktops - where everything is run on the central servers. And now, we are back to talking about the IT advantages of telecommuting.

Telecommuting is certainly nothing new. But what is changing is how people are telecommuting and the IT processes and procedures that support them. Gone are the days of modem banks and analog days. Gone are the days when IT departments handed out PCs so people could work from home. And gone are the days when connecting remote employees meant connecting them directly into the corporate network.

When most people think of telecommuting, we hark back to the model that JetBlue made famous: the company supplied the personal computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and Internet connection (there is no need to go back to the caveman days with terminals and modems or acoustic couplers!). The PC was company property so that the policies, anti-virus, patches, etc., could all be controlled and managed by the corporate IT department. After all, a lot of employees still didn't even own their own computer.

These PCs had the necessary software pre-loaded on them, be it a thick client or a terminal emulator. When the remote staff connected in - their computers were placed onto the corporate network and became part of the companies extended network. When the PCs needed to be updated, patched, or upgraded - the employee had to bring everything back to the in-house IT department.

What changed? Well... EVERYTHING! There were four basic changes made for teleworking - and each of these changes required the IT department to adapt in different ways. As the ability to provide a realistic work environment kept increasing, we have gone from teleworkers to virtual offices.

One of the first big changes was that users no longer wanted to take a company PC home with them. They had their own perfectly good computer, and wanted to be able to connect using their machines. These machines/users wanted to connect to the company over the Internet instead of through dial-up modems. So IT departments started to increase their network connectivity, add Virtual Private Network (VPN) devices, and put in place intrusion detection/prevention appliances. Many a sleepless night was had by the IT administrator waiting for some remote user to spread a worm or Trojan through the entire organization.

The next big change was also Internet related - the death of thick clients. As browser technologies involved we were finally able to produce thick-client like look-and-feel inside a browser window. Most companies ported their internal applications to use browser-based web interfaces. These browser-based applications were exactly what were needed to allow better remote workers.

Ironically the Internet contributed the necessary technology to the next big change in our march to the virtual office: the move from IPSec-based VPN connections to browser-based SSL connections. IPSec, while a good protocol, proved problematic. Many travelers found out that their VPN connections were either blocked, or that the ISP or hotel lacked the technology to allow IPSec to pass through their networks. Just about every company's helpdesk received a call from some executive complaining about being unable to connect, and the helpdesk would have to try to work with the hotel or ISP to resolve the problem (and usual not be able to).

SSL VPNs resolve that issue because they work through the browser - an application that every PC already had loaded and that every user was already familiar with using. No longer would users have to be given CDs of the VPN software along with installation instructions (and the sure to follow helpdesk call). Most SSL VPN systems function as a proxy to allow dynamic access rights to the user. Instead of connecting them to the network (along with every virus, Trojan, and worm and the person's computer), we can now limit them to accessing the company's Intranet server, or to allow only access to specific company web pages.

Now that we have people using their own computers, over their own Internet connection, to securely access browser based applications - we must be done, right? What could be left? What is left is giving the user the necessary tools to have a virtual office instead of a remote connection.

Remote phone are required. The person needs to have a phone at his desk - even if that desk is 1000 miles away (or more). Here again new technology was required. We needed the new modern voice systems that allow Voice over IP (VoIP) so that we could have corporate phones remotely become part of the corporate telephone system. Even here, this is starting to give way to soft phones - software running on somebody's computer that provides that phone interface.

The remote person needs to know if his/her co-worker is available. After all, she can't simply look over the cubicle wall anymore to see if the coworker is there or not - and she can't see/hear if the co-worker is on the phone. But presence software, tied into the phone and using software on the person's computer, can tell the remote person if that co-worker is on the phone, in a meeting, or even at their desk working on their computer. Such presence software is normally built into an instant messaging client. These clients provide an easy way to communicate with somebody. Instant messaging is the new way to ask: Do you have a second?

The final piece of the puzzle to finally become feasible is video conferencing. IT departments no longer have to purchase expensive cameras, video conferencing servers, and large data connections everywhere. Point-to-point ad-hoc video conferences are easily done today with commercial "webcams" sitting on people's monitors and attached to their computers. In fact, most modern laptops have webcams built into them. Video conferencing allows the visual interfacing that is critical in modern communications. If you think that video is not important, remember that 70% of all our communication information comes from visual "clues". Without providing video conferencing, you are removing 70% of the person's comprehension.

Now that we know how to create a modern telecommuter environment, the question becomes whether we should allow telecommuting. Why are companies, both big and small, investing in this technology? Is this a technology that you should to be implementing?

The biggest advantages to having remote workers and virtual offices are in-house facility costs, expansion, and talent acquisition. Companies that have increased their use of remote workers have benefited from reduced building overhead expenses. One company that I frequently visit has been so successful with their remote worker program that they had to close the on-site cafeteria because there simply wasn't enough staff present to make use of it.

JetBlue used remote employees to staff their reservation lines. These were primarily part-time college educated women who only wanted to work 3-4 hours while their kids were in school. Using remote employees allowed JetBlue to staff across the country - thereby moving calls across the country as people's shifts changed. This is something that could not have been done with a traditional on-site call center.

Sometimes the perfect employee that you need to succeed isn't willing to relocate to where your office is. This leaves employers with the choice of either doing without a key resource, or figuring out how to allow that employee to work from home. Remote employees and virtual offices empower an employer to find the employee that will best contribute to the company - even if that person lives in a mountain cabin.

Those people who wonder if I really mean what I say about the advantages of virtual offices should know that it is what I use. I have a company phone that connects directly over the Internet to the company's phone system. I have an SSL VPN connection to gain access to the internal system. I use Cisco's Jabber service to provide presence information and instant messaging capabilities. And I use Cisco's WebEx Telepresence video conferencing service for when I need "face-to-face" time. The most important lesson I have learned about using a virtual office is to treat it like it is your real office - because the day you decide to wear your fuzzy slippers to the office is the day your boss will have a surprise video conference call with you.

More Stories By Dean Nedelman

Dean Nedelman is Director of Professional Services at ASi Networks, a network and voice services firm in City of Industry, Calif. In this role, he supports our major accounts, and oversees the implementation of advanced Cisco solutions and services. He has over 25 years of experience in technical and executive level technology roles, primarily in secure high performance computer environments across multiple industries and sectors. Dean's background includes security, high availability, telephony, advanced network, wide area application services, and storage area networks.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
The move in recent years to cloud computing services and architectures has added significant pace to the application development and deployment environment. When enterprise IT can spin up large computing instances in just minutes, developers can also design and deploy in small time frames that were unimaginable a few years ago. The consequent move toward lean, agile, and fast development leads to the need for the development and operations sides to work very closely together. Thus, DevOps become...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, addressed the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. Rodney Rogers, chairman and CEO of Virtustream; Brendan O'Brien, co-founder of Aria Systems, Bart Copeland, president and CEO of ActiveState Software; Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn; Dave Wagstaff, VP ...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series dat...
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionalit...
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your o...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using ...
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by minin...
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial C...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happe...
"SOASTA built the concept of cloud testing in 2008. It's grown from rather meager beginnings to where now we are provisioning hundreds of thousands of servers on a daily basis on behalf of customers around the world to test their applications," explained Tom Lounibos, CEO of SOASTA, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, ...
“The year of the cloud – we have no idea when it's really happening but we think it's happening now. For those technology providers like Zentera that are helping enterprises move to the cloud - it's been fun to watch," noted Mike Loftus, VP Product Management and Marketing at Zentera Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
BMC Software plans to acquire assets of CDB Software, Inc., a mainframe data management company that has developed utilities for managing IBM DB2 databases with virtually no outage. Focusing on the availability of mission-critical applications is strategic for BMC as it continues to help its customers transform IT into a competitive advantage for their business. CDB's technology complements BMC's existing mainframe data management portfolio, which includes software utilities for DB2 administrat...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. ...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what th...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly in the process of breaking from its heretofore relatively obscure enterprise applications (such as plant floor control and supply chain management) and going mainstream into the consumer space. More and more creative folks are interconnecting everyday products such as household items, mobile devices, appliances and cars, and unleashing new and imaginative scenarios. We are seeing a lot of excitement around applications in home automation, personal fitness,...
"ElasticBox is an enterprise company that makes it very easy for developers and IT ops to collaborate to develop, build and deploy applications on any cloud - private, public or hybrid," stated Monish Sharma, VP of Customer Success at ElasticBox, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dale Kim is the Director of Industry Solutions at MapR. His background includes a variety of technical and management roles at information technology companies. While his experience includes work with relational databases, much of his career pertains to non-relational data in the areas of search, content management, and NoSQL, and includes senior roles in technical marketing, sales engineering, and support engineering. Dale holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, and a BA in Computer Science f...
Software AG and Wipro Ltd. have announced a joint solution platform for streaming analytics that provides real-time actionable intelligence for the Internet of Things (IoT) market. “The key to successfully addressing the IoT market is the ability to rapidly build and evolve apps that tap into, analyze and make smart decisions on fast, big data”, said John Bates, Global Head of Industry Solutions and CMO, Software AG. To address the huge market potential created by streaming analytics in conj...
OneCloud Software has launched the OneCloud Partner Program. Responding to demand from prospective partners, the Program offers managed service providers (MSPs) and resellers the resources they need to grow their business with the OneCloud Recovery solution. OneCloud Recovery is an automated solution for disaster recovery/business continuity (DR/BC), which leverages Amazon Web Services as the disaster recovery site. “This is a tremendous opportunity with an innovative hybrid cloud-based DR pro...