Federal Funds Boost Telework Initiative

Workers can be just as productive collaborating remotely, using the right technology, as when they are working at the same location. That is what the Software Productivity Consortium intends to show through the work of their new Telework unit, called the Telework Consortium.

As limitations of technology are considered to be a barrier to the adoption of teleworking, the consortium seeks to eliminate the barrier by developing and showcasing new technologies and best practices for remote collaboration activities.

The Telework Consortium will also demonstrate enhanced communication and collaborative work using ultra-high bandwidth (sufficient bandwidth for high quality video presence on the desktop).

The Software Productivity Consortium (SPC) is a public/private partnership of industry, government and academia that works to improve software and networking technologies. They received $3.4 million in federal funds to build a telework laboratory center and conduct research on teleworker productivity.

Consortium members seek to significantly improve the existing networking and collaboration technologies to enable collaborative work to be done using ultra-high bandwidth. The telework lab center will be equipped with ultra-high bandwidth conference and workstation facilities. Pilot programs for telecommuting will then be launched with participants working from the lab center. New technologies and collaboration methods will be showcased and tested.

The lab center will also be used to conduct research. The members of the consortium will be examining technical and security issues and will periodically measure the productivity of the pilot programs and produce business cases and best practices reports.

"Through the pilot programs we will demonstrate the return-on-investment gained from enabling 'virtual presence' among remotely located workers and its highly productive collaboration value," says Werner Schaer, SPC president and CEO. "Our goal is to demonstrate the economic benefits and technological feasibility of ultraband telework solutions to business and government leaders and policy makers."

Consortium members say widespread broadband connectivity would make high-speed, true-to-life desktop videoconferencing a reality between home and office. Meetings with the boss would be as simple as gazing into a computer monitor and talking.

"The Consortium's approach to leveraging high-bandwidth for advanced Telework capabilities will overcome the most significant management and technical hurdles in implementing effective telework solutions," said U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf said. "I believe that the successful demonstration of remote face-to-face communication and collaboration will convince business managers, government executives, investors and others, that teleworking is the way of the future."

SPC expects to establish partnerships with broadband providers to lower the cost of broadband service. They also expect that investors and developers will see the economic values of virtual presence and complete the nation's ultra-high bandwidth infrastructure. AT&T, AOL Time Warner and Spectrum Access are already members of the consortium.

"We are looking to bring together interested companies, a critical mass that would make the economics work," said Robinda Sackdev, Spectrum Access' vice president of corporate development. "Maybe each of the partners will revise their price points. We are willing to do that."