Web-to-Host Connections: Remote Possibilities: The New TCO

Total cost of ownership, or TCO, has served us well as the mantra of thin-client and Web-to-host computing. However, TCO calculations only barely scratch the surface when you consider what’s happening in today’s workplaces.

While PC hardware savings may be negligible, there’s no doubt that centralized administration of applications formerly on fat desktops saves time and money. The real TCO savings and benefits of Web-to-host computing start to roll in, however, when you extend access outside of the walls of your company. And the best place to start is your mobile or remote workers – telecommuters, road warriors, day extenders and contractors.

GartnerGroup estimates that within the next three years, there will be more than 137 million remote workers worldwide, including one-third of the U.S. workforce. It’s getting to the point where companies no longer distinguish between remote workers and on-site workers. "Everybody here is telecommuting in one form or another," says the vice president of one large software firm.

"The network – not the office – has become the standard workplace," notes John Girard, Vice President and Research Director with GartnerGroup. "It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish between the LAN and the WAN."

Remote work adds a new dimension to TCO, which typically covers hardware and software maintenance and support for desktop systems. The enhanced productivity, reduced space requirements, reduced recruiting and turnover costs add considerable value to the bottom line, not calculated by TCO.

The productivity lift for employees that no longer have to schlep into the office every day is well documented. Industry experts calculate an average productivity gain of about 25 percent for telecommuting employees. What’s not documented, however, is the additional sales that someone may make because they’re more willing and able to contact customers after 6 p.m.

Or, consider the costs of replacing or hiring new employees, which may be reduced when you offer remote access. For example, a call center, hard-pressed to find employees that can work late evening hours, may find recruiting far easier if interested applicants can work from home. Insurance firms, looking for employees to handle mountains of claims-processing work, may find all the help they need in a home-based workforce. Some data entry-intensive occupations see turnover rates exceeding 30 percent a year, with a replacement cost of about $5,000 per employee. Imagine the savings if this turnover could be cut in half.

Add to that a reduction, or elimination, of corporate overhead – literally meaning the roof over workers’ heads. Remote work may eliminate the need for excessive office space required for most customer-service and data entry operations. Remote work also takes a bite out of office costs, such as lighting, climate control and security.

Web-to-host computing offers additional TCO benefits above and beyond thin-client computing, in that it reduces or eliminates the challenges of remote back up and data security – vexing issues for many organizations supporting remote work. Since all data remains on the central server, backup of data from remote laptops and PCs is not required.

Surveys over the years have consistently shown that technical and sales professionals are most likely to engage in remote work. Web-to-host promises to also open up remote work to employees engaged in heavy transaction work that requires persistent terminal access to a mainframe or midrange host. Tasks involving customer service and data entry can now be performed in virtual offices.

New broadband technologies and services reaching the general market – including cable modems, DSL and ISDN – are speeding up access capabilities for home-based workers. This helps alleviate potential network delays in downloading Web-to-host applets – essential for establishing a persistent connection. Previously, the only viable solution for such functions was dial-up access to corporate systems. With dial-up solutions, many companies found they have had to restrict log-in times to manage heavy demands. Remote access via browser through a VPN to local ISPs can alleviate this problem.

Remote workers come in all flavors, but have a lot of common needs – such as bandwidth, and lots of support. Extending Web-to-host access to remote employees is a strategy that can ensure a successful transition from the on-site office to the virtual office.

About the Author: Joseph McKendrick is an independent consultant and author, specializing in technology research and white papers. He can be reached at joemck@aol.com.