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Technologies for working anywhere

This is the third in a series of Flexibility articles aimed at IT, telecommunications and facilities managers and others responsible for specifying, designing, putting in place and supporting the electronic infrastructure for anywhere / anytime working.

In this article we consider the importance and implementation of the "location-independent desktop", providing a familiar environment to users wherever they may be working.


 

 

 

3. The location-independent desktop

The previous article set out the options for remote access to corporate voice and data systems, essential for effective anywhere / anytime working.

The concept is that the corporate "desktop" (PC and phone) is "stretched" to the remote location securely through the public electronic networks - the telephone network and the Internet.

In this article we outline the characteristics and implementation issues of the two main components:

The location-independent PC:

Many large organisations have chosen to configure all their PCs identically to simplify management and support.  Customisation is performed at log-in, at which time the specific configuration is downloaded from a server.  This can include desktop "look and feel", e-mail and groupware personal data, history files and applications access rights.

An incidental benefit of a common operating environment throughout the organisation is that mobile staff can log-in to any PC or plug their laptops into any network access point.  Some large companies even extend this concept internationally, so travelling executives are able to keep in touch and continue working, wherever in the company they may be. 

Extending this concept away from the corporation's network is technically straightforward, using the techniques outlined above.  It is however sometimes impractical as the time taken to synchronise and customise over low bandwidth connections may be prohibitive.  For laptop and home PC users, most of the customisation can be pre-installed, reducing log-in downloads mainly to e-mail, calendar and other data.  When using shared PCs, for example in cybercafs, staff might be limited to accessing (with appropriate security) the corporate intranet and other web-enabled applications. 

Small portable PCs, sometimes called palmtops, personal digital assistants or pocket PCs, can offer diary, contacts management, e-mail and other applications.  Increasingly these can be synchronised with corporate networks, adding another option for mobile workers.

The location-independent phone:

Many people give out their mobile phone numbers to their contacts, knowing that calls will reach them wherever they are.  There are however several problems with this approach:

  • Grade of service is often poor - coverage, drop-outs, call quality, etc. 

  • Costs to the caller are high 

  • Mobile phones are rarely integrated with the corporate systems: call transfer, conferencing and other facilities are not generally available.

Other operators also offer location-independent numbers using the fixed network: the user controls where he or she wants the call delivered.  These normally use premium rate tariffs; they are also difficult to integrate with corporate systems. 

The preferred approach at present is to enable so-called "virtual numbering" and "follow-me" services on the corporate network.  The user's direct dial number can be redirected by the user to any other number: internal, external fixed network, external mobile network, voice-mail, etc.  However each redirected call beyond the internal network incurs a charge to the company and the value of this type of service comes at a cost which some organisations may not wish to carry.

Next article: Preparing for the future

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