GAO makes portable office go

'We gave our people 600 notebooks, and they really never missed a step. We were able to continue our operations and our people remained productive. It was a lot of work, but it was the right technology at the right time for us,' Cicco said.

It didn't take Tony Cicco long to realize the benefits of issuing notebook PCs to all General Accounting Office employees.

A month into the rollout, the agency's CIO helped coordinate the move of employees from two floors at its headquarters to make room for House staff members, whose offices were closed due to anthrax last October.

'It was real important for the House to continue operations,' he said. 'We told the House we could accommodate them on a Friday and on Monday, we started moving two floors of GAO employees out. We gave our people 600 notebooks, and they really never missed a step. We were able to continue our operations, and our people remained productive. It was a lot of work, but it was the right technology at the right time for us.'

GAO earlier this year finished issuing 3,400 notebooks to almost every employee, and since then, Cicco said, user productivity and satisfaction are at the highest levels ever.

'This was a pretty dramatic change for us,' he said. 'The notebooks have become a virtual office for the auditors, and they see the difference in their work. It adds another angle for them to do their work, because they are not locked down to the building.'

GAO previously had only 200 notebooks for auditors to use when traveling and 500 special workstations in GAO field offices across the country that were available for auditors or for training, Cicco said.

Practical value

GAO hired Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., to study the total cost of ownership of PCs. The consultants said it made sense to consider issuing notebook PCs because of the cost benefits.

Additionally, Cicco said comptroller general David Walker wanted a more mobile work force.

Cicco also looked at studies on worker productivity with notebooks, which found employers get an additional 60 to 90 minutes of work each week from employees who use notebook computers.

With all this information, Cicco started slowly by rolling out 500 notebooks for a test at two field offices and a division at headquarters. He said GAO's studies of employee use found that productivity increased and overall acceptance was strong.

GAO bought 2,900 more Compaq Evo N400c notebooks with 850-MHz Intel Pentium III processors. The computers have 256M of RAM, 20G hard drives and run Microsoft Windows 2000 and Office 2000.

Users also received docking stations, CD-RW drives and external 1.44M floppy drives.
Cicco said GAO spent about $9.9 million on the rollout, including hardware, software and labor. The notebooks cost more than desktop PCs, but the advantages they bring make up for the higher price tag, he said.

'The break-even point is about 12 to 18 months for the extra cost of the notebook and other equipment because of the added productivity,' Cicco said. 'It even saved us money when we reorganized the office. Instead of having to move everyone's desktop computer, it was like a briefcase move.'

Employees connect to the office through a dial-up remote access link, but soon GAO will have a worldwide virtual private network. Cicco said the office this month will complete its test of a VPN through AT&T Corp. that will let employees connect to the GAO servers faster and more easily. Staff members can connect to the VPN through AT&T's local points of contact.

Cicco said the rollout went smoothly, and his office will conduct a post-implementation review.

'We had to do our homework up front to make sure the workers would benefit from it,' he said. 'Doing your homework and having metrics to determine success are most important when deciding whether to issue laptop computers or not.'

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