Agencies plan to increase spending on telework technologies, study says

With bigger budgets, advocacy group advises IT managers to track return on investments.

About two-thirds of federal information technology executives said they plan to increase spending on technologies that support teleworkers in the next two years, according to a study released Tuesday by a public-private partnership focused on promoting the benefits of telework.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Of the 127 chief information officers andIT directors, procurement officers and analysts surveyed by the Telework Exchange, 68 percent said their agency would increase spending on telework in the next two years. Defense agencies reported telework spending would increase 15 percent and civilian agencies said spending would increase 17 percent, according to the study. The survey has a margin of error of 7.29 percent.

"Telework has been around about 20 years, but we've seen some significant traction in the last few years," said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange. "There's a great opportunity, so I think there's much more spending to come in terms of increasing telework programs. You're seeing a lot of agencies that are really stepping up."

Auten said agencies planned to spend more on new technologies for telework efforts, rather than buy replacements for existing technologies. She said laptops, which currently account for 21 percent of the average telework budget, would replace desktop computers for more employees.

"It's becoming more acceptable to hand every employee a laptop with all the security equipment," Auten said. "There was the notion that maybe executives were the nontraditional teleworkers who worked at home on nights or weekends, but right now it makes more sense for employees to work at home during business hours, and it makes more sense for them to have a laptop."

But differences remain in the kinds of telework technology that agencies gave to managers andto nonmanagers. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said they gave managers smart phones or personal digital assistants such as BlackBerrys or Treos, compared with only 35 percent of respondents who said they gave those devices to nonmanagers who telework. Nearly three out of four respondents, or 72 percent, said smart phones were an important part of a comprehensive IT approach to telework.

With the increase in spending, agencies should track the return on investment for telework spending and dedicate specific budget line items to telework, Auten said. Only 18 percent of Defense Department agencies and 25 percent of civilian agencies included in the survey said they tracked return on investment for telework purchases.

The Telework Exchange found only three agencies -- Defense, the Health and Human Services Department and the General Services Administration -- that considered telework requirements when they drew up IT plans and evaluated the return on those investments.

"GSA was one of the top ones in the honor roll, and they set up the agency telework challenge, and because of the aggressive goal, they need to ensure that all their teleworkers have the right equipment," Auten said. As agencies begin to build more comprehensive plans "it's important to bring in the [human resources] folks, the IT folks, [and] I think it's really important to bring in the unions."