Technical solutions for flexible working

There is a wide range of technical solutions available to support flexible working. Superfast broadband can increase their potential still further, for example improving the user experience on Skype or Apples’s FaceTime, ensuring that a virtual private network (VPN) is stableand not ‘jittery’, giving more reliable access to ‘cloud’ services and collaboration software (LINKS) as well as saving time on email and so on.

The following represent some of the most common ICT solutions employed to enable remote working.

1) Technology supporting remote computer access

1.1) Virtual Private Network (VPN)
1.2) Remote desktop
1.3) Windows Terminal Services / Citrix Server

2) Technology supporting Voice & Video transmission

2.1) Voice over IP (VoIP)
2.2) Conference calling
2.3) Video conferencing
2.4) Mobile phones

3) Technology for working on the move

3.1) Mobile phone
3.1.1) 3G
3.1.2) Smartphones
3.1.3) Tablets
3.1.5) WiFi Hotspots

4) Applications supporting remote working

4.1) Cloud computing
4.2) Digital dictation
4.3) Document management/ document scanning
4.4) Instant messaging

1) Technology supporting remote computer access

There are a number of technologies that support remote working and mobile working, helping the working nomad away from the office to access their office systems and data.

1.1) Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the technology employed to use a public network (usually the Internet) to provide an individual who is remote working with secure access to their company’s internal network. Network traffic from the company is routed over the internet in a secure ‘tunnel’ wherever the individual is remote working. The technology basically ‘extends’ the local area network in the organisation out to the remote machine. However it must be remembered that the network link is now operating at the speed of the slowest link, which is most likely the Internet link between the office and the remote working location. This can be a problem when running certain applications over a VPN where a large amount of data is being transferred over the network. With superfast broadband, a VPN can work at its best, with a stable and fast connection

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1.2) Remote desktop is a generic term for software that enables a local machine to control and display the output of a system when you are remote working. Unlike VPN where the application is running on your local machine, with this form of remote computer access, the application is running on the remote machine (for example at your office) and only the screen/keyboard/mouse data is being transferred between the local and remote machines. It overcomes the problem of running applications that transfer large amounts of data when running, and has the added security advantage that the actual data is still being manipulated and held on the remote system, not on your local machine. Also the local machine does not have to be very powerful or have the applications required installed as the local machine is just a gateway to the remote system. 
The disadvantages are that the remote connection must be left switched on, and it will not be able to be used whilst someone is making a remote connection. Also, although most applications are suitable for running on a remote desktop, some are not. So you will need to check with your software supplier. An example is goToMyPC.com.

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1.3) Windows Terminal Services / Citrix Server These are very similar technologies, as Microsoft bought much of its Terminal Services technology from Citrix. Another way of having remote computer access , the principle is similar to Remote desktop where the application is running, in this case on a remote server rather than a PC or laptop. However the server allows multiple connections, both remotely and locally, particularly useful if you have a number of workers who need a remote connection as you only need to leave your server systems running (which is normal anyway) rather than multiple office systems.

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2) Technology supporting Voice & Video transmission

2.1) Voice over IP (VoIP) or Internet Telophony. VoIP is a way of making phone calls over the internet. VoIP can provide you with a very flexible telephone system, allowing you to receive your phone calls on one single number wherever you are. So it is a great help to mobile working. The ‘switchboard’ is software based, and is easily controllable so that you can choose whether your desk phone, home office, garden office or mobile rings depending on your location at the time. Your VoIP systems also have sophisticated call routing and prioritisation, and advanced voicemail functionality.

A VoIP system can run over broadband or superfast broadband lines. With superfast broadband, you can expect an even more crystal clear service, and you can support quite a few lines over a single connection � saving you money.

Free VoIP systems (e.g. Skype, Google Talk) also exist. These can be great ways for employees to stay in touch with each other or the office, wherever they are remote working but will not provide you with the reliability and functionality of a paid for installation.

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2.2) Conference calling is a telephone call where more than two parties are involved in the call. Sometimes it is set up so that additional parties can only listen in but usually all parties can participate fully in the call. Conference calls can be a great way for staff to keep in touch if remote working for extended periods. A simple version of this is Three-way calling available from BT, however for greater numbers of participants you would need services such as BT’s MeetMe conference service, where participants dial into the conference number to ‘join’ the meeting. Additionally many 3rd parties provide similar services.

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2.3) Video conferencing uses both audio and visual communications to bring people remote from each other together into a meeting. It may be used to link two or more locations and may also include the ability to share documents/presentations electronically. Skype and FaceTime are bringing video conferencing within reach of all. With Skype or FaceTime or similar applications, you can show samples or designs, take people on a tour and, importantly, pick up body language and facial expression for better communication. Take a look at TeleLab’s high definition Skype box for an even better quality experience.

In the past, video conferencing has been an expensive option requiring specialist equipment and communications lines. With superfast broadband access to the internet this technology is available to all if required from simple solutions with PC based software and a Webcam to hosted solutions and cloud computing applications such as Huddle and Sharepoint enabling larger groups to meet and share documents. This is a great way of overcoming the disadvantages of flexible working and with superfast broadband, the quality is superb.

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2.4) Mobile phones�more on mobile phone technology can be found under ‘Technology for people on the move’ below.
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3) Technology for working on the move

3.1) Mobile phones
3.1.1) 3G is the third generation of mobile phone standards and technology. To the consumer it brings faster data access speeds. The ‘normal’ data rate of 384kBits/s provides a higher connection speed than that of dial-up connections on land lines of 56 kbits/s, however other 3G technologies such as HSDPA provide for down-link speeds of between 1.8 and 14.4 Mbits/s! With the higher speeds and wider networks now available, 3G is becoming a more popular way of getting broadband when working on the move. Maps of 3G coverage are available from Vodafone (Click here) and Orange (Click here).

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3.1.2) Smartphone is a term generally used to describe a mobile phone with additional computer enabled features that have not previously been associated with a mobile phone. In general Smartphone provide additional features including, email, scheduling, internet connectivity and the ability to load additional 3rd party applications. Many provide a touch screen for input or a mini QWERTY keyboard. An increasing use of Smartphones is to enable remote access. The growth of Smartphone use ( Including iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Windows mobile) has been very rapid over the last two years and it shows no sign of slowing.

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3.2) The BlackBerry is a great way to overcome any disadvantages of flexible working. It is a wireless handheld device based on mobile phone technology to deliver email and web browsing, which now includes all standard mobile phone facilities as well as standard office facilities such as scheduling. The BlackBerry became very popular when introduced as it provided ‘push-email’ where email was delivered to the phone when it was received, rather than needing the user to connect and ‘pull’ the emails down to the device. The technology requires a BlackBerry server to push the emails out to the devices, although for firms that do not want to make this investment the facility may make use of 3rd party solutions. The BlackBerry email client is now available for a number of mobile phones. In addition many other phone devices now support ‘push-email’ technologies reducing BlackBerry’s dominance in this area.

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3.3) Tablets such as the iPad are light and convenient ways of working on the move. Broadband or superfast broadband connectivity allows remote connection to a computer system and remote web access via WiFi or mobile phone connectivity. By accessing cloud based services or running remote desktop sessions on your tablet you will get remote access to all your applications.

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3.4) WiFi Hotspots are a godsend for mobile working and remote working. They are locations where remote web access may be made using a WiFi enabled device, such as a laptop, tablet or WiFi enabled phone. The connection may be provided as a free or chargeable service, or sometimes ‘accidentally’ when the owner of a WiFi network has not secured it correctly! Hotspots are great ways of gaining remote web access when working on the move and are often found at venues where the pubic gathers, such as restaurants, airports, libraries and hotels. Increasingly, these WiFi hotspots offer superfast broadband connectivity than insecure networks, gaining access to the network will require some form of ‘handshake’ to authenticate your use of the network. This may be done by configuring ‘key’ information into your devices, or it may be done by some form of ID/password challenge when you attempt to use the service. This later method is employed by providers such as BT Openzone and The Cloud where you have the choice of a range of products from pay-as-you-go to a monthly subscription.

You can lookup hotspots from BT and The Cloud on their sites:

BT Openzone www.btopenzone.com
The Cloud www.thecloud.net

Check out our map of superfast broadband WiFi hotspots in Cornwall. (http://www.superfastcornwall.org/superfast-wifi-hotspots)

Or all providers from the Hot Spot Directory www.hotspot-hotel.com.

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4) Applications supporting remote working

4.1) Cloud computing is opening up a range of new applications to businesses at an affordable cost. Some services are free and others are charged on a ‘pay as you go’ basis.

For example, Goggle Apps is a service from Google that provides a number of cloud based office tools including, email, Calendar, Talk (Instant Messenger type service), Page Creator (to create your own web pages) and Google Docs, the Google word processor and spreadsheet.

These applications can really help flexible working.

Other cloud computing applications that can help support flexible working (and which are made still easier to use with superfast broadband) include Dropbox (for file storage and transmission) Huddle or Sharepoint (for online collaboration) and online automatic back up of data.

More sophisticated business systems like CRM and finance are becoming increasingly popular. For a fixed monthly fee per user, you will have access to the latest software as good as any major corporate, with no worries about hosting, maintenance, security, upgrading.

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4.2) Digital dictation is a means of recording the spoken word in a digital format rather than on analogue based methods such as cassette tape. It has several advantages over analogue recordings in playback, editing, copying and distributing the material. Digital dictation systems are normally used as part of a process of producing a word processed document where one party dictates into the digital recording system and another creates the word processed version by replaying the recording. As recordings are held in a digital format they may be transferred easily over networks with no loss of quality making the system very useful in situations where the parties involved in the process are remote working.

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4.3) Document management/ document scanning are two technologies that are often used together to provide a solution to document manipulation and storage. Typically a document management system (DMS) allows electronic documents (both text and image) to be stored in a central searchable database or repository. Advantages of DMS include;

  • Space saving over paper filing systems
  • Faster document retrieval and searching
  • Remote access to documents
  • Easy electronic document distribution
  • Documents are not ‘lost’ on someone’s desk

Document scanning complements DMS installations by providing the means to handle incoming paper based documentation and convert it to an electronic format for storage in the DMS.

For remote working and mobile working employees, a DMS with document scanning can provide remote access to all the central files including incoming post, wherever they are.

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4.4) Instant messaging services like Google Talk, Instant Messenger, Microsoft Lync or Blackberry smartphone Messenger can really aid real time collaboration.

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