Home and Away

June 30, 1999

Michael Robinson is IT Director at Bevan Ashford. You cancontact him on m.robinson@bevanashford.co.uk

In common with many organisations, Bevan Ashford is experiencing asteady rise in the number of staff requiring remote access to our systems. Withmobile and remote working becoming so common-place you would imagine that itwould be simple to implement; well it is and it isn’t and there are severalways of doing this. The first issue is to identify what individual staff arehoping to achieve, this will include home working and tele-working, hot deskingwithin the office or between offices and working offline when travelling or whenout of the office. Below are just a few ways Bevan Ashford use mobilecommunication.

Home PCs

Although not strictly mobile, the home PC is an important step towardscreating a truly flexible and efficient working environment. Home workers atBevan Ashford tend to be working out of hours, plus occasional days at home.They require the full range of services available on their office PC, includinge-mail, word processing, intranet and Internet access and the full suite ofresearch databases. The advantages of using a PC are those of speed, memory andfunctionality.

A home PC should be set-up to connect to the office via a modem or ISDN line.ISDN can cost up to »100 installation fee and about »25 per month line rental.The telephone calls from then on cost the same as from an ordinary phone.Depending on your office telephone system, you can also take advantage of theoption to attach a telephone to the PC, through the ISDN. This involves a smalladditional charge, but allows the user to set-up their office phone to divert tohome, anyone telephoning their work number will immediately and seamlessly reachthem at home. Modems are cheaper to install and run, but they are slower todownload and send information.

Modem & ISDN Communication Links

It is worth mentioning some of the ways of accessing your diary and mail fromoutside the office. You can use either Citrix/MetaFrame or Novell GroupWiseRemote, or both depending on your needs.

Novell GroupWise includes a product called GroupWise remote. This works bycreating a duplicate copy of your PIM on your home PC or laptop. You then add orchange the information it contains and press the remote connect button. Thisthen dials up through an ISDN, modem or mobile phone to the office where it willconnect and discount in minutes to update both ends automatically. This methodis quick, easy and cheap. It only works with the diary and e-mail system, if youneed a Word document you need someone to attach it to an e-mail for you.

An alternative way of accessing your diary is through any Web browser whichcan be accessed from anywhere in the world. You type in an address, name andpassword and you can get access to your own diary. Web access works well, butspeed can be a problem and is dependent on the Internet bandwidth between youand your office. This is one instance where you need a high level of IT knowhowand the right infrastructure to enable you to implement this procedure.

Citrix/MetaFrame is a live link to the office which sends keyboard, mousestrokes and screen updates down the line. This is quite a fast connectionthrough a modem, but ISDN connection is slightly faster. With Citrix you can usea low specification PC and still get the same response time as a Pentium PC inthe office, but only whilst connected. We use ISDN to provide access for ourremote users who are able to use all parts of our system, from case managementand time recording to our intranet/knowhow and CD jukebox systems. One goodthing about Citrix is you only need to update the office systems through theCitrix server and all changes are immediately relayed to the end user, makingsupport and updates very easy.

Laptops and Docking Stations

The most popular way of staying in touch, for the mobile user, is through alaptop. The laptop is portable and should allow up to four hours of batterylife. The speed, memory and functionality are compromised in favour ofportability and the Laptop will be more expensive than a comparable PC. To use alaptop in place of the PC you will need a docking station, monitor, keyboard andmouse installed in the office. Laptop users are staff who regularly travelbetween our seven offices or visit client sites and who need to work ondocuments and access their diary and mail whilst out.

At Bevan Ashford we use the Personal Information Management (PIM) optionwhich is provided free with Novell Group Wise. To operate this facility, theuser clicks on the Hit-the-Road icon as they close down the machine, thiscreates a duplicate copy of their diary, e-mail, tasks and address book. Anyupdates or changes made to this personal data whilst working offline areidentified by the system when the laptop is next logged into the network, whichthen updates the live system. An additional feature provided with laptops is MyBriefcase, which works in the same way for documents and spreadsheets. The usercopies these into My Briefcase as they leave and they can then work on thesedocuments whilst out of the office. The system will identify which version isthe newest and give you an option to update to the amended version once the userreturns to the office.

For the truly committed it is possible to use a mobile phone as a modem.Presently the speed of mobile phones is limited to 9600 bps which is slow andtherefore limits what you can do and can try the patience. To operate you willneed a PCMCIA (card bus) which costs about »150 and modern GSM mobile phone;the lead to connect your mobile and laptop can cost up to »100.

The first time this configuration was used by one of our partners, I receivedan e-mail message reading ‘I am typing this going down the motorway and itworks fine.’ I had a vision of him driving and typing at the same time, butlater found out he was the passenger.


CE handhelds have been around for a while and are all based on the MicrosoftCE operating system. They range in size from a few square inches to half thesize of a laptop. The operating system looks and feels like Windows 98, but theycome with pocket editions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. Theproblems with the pocket versions are that they contain a lot less functionalitythan their full-size equivalent, which many users may find limiting. Their mainadvantage is their tiny size and low weight. I have recently evaluated the HPJornada, which is compact with a good size keyboard and an amazing 10 hours ofbattery life, all for under »600. The cable link between my PC and the CEworked first time allowing me to copy documents from one to the other. If it hadhad the full version of Microsoft products on, I would have been tempted to keepit.

Palm Pilots

The Palm Pilot is ideal for the user who needs to have access to diary andtasks, but who does not want to send e-mail or edit documents whilst on themove, although this is possible in a basic way. Bevan Ashford has been usingPalm Pilots since version II and we are now on to version 5. Version 5 is slim,sleek and sexy and that’s without switching it on. One of the problems withthe II’s and III’s was that the batteries drained within two to three weeks.The version 5 has a lithium ion battery, which is charged every time it’s leftin the cradle.

With the Palm Pilot you get a Palm Desktop which is a PIM which enables youto add meeting, tasks, addresses and expenses. This is fine if you do not have acorporate mail and diary system, but if you do you can link your Palm Pilot toyour company mail system. The palm and PC will synchronise your diary, keep allyour contact names, addresses and phone numbers, create tasks and to-do list,even download all your e-mails each time the Palm is synchronised in the cradle.There are a variety of free add-ons and shareware available. The ones I havefound useful are the WWW link, which allows for the downloading of Web pages toyour Palm Pilot; this can include sections from your firm’s Intranet or thesport and news pages from the BBC. An image viewer also is available, an exampleof this is the map of the London underground. One of the other fun features withthe Palm III and Palm V is the infra-red beaming feature. This allows palm usersto beam data or programs to each other without needing to install it through adesktop PC.

Flexible Working

In planning flexible working it is important to remain flexible in your ownapproach. You will probably find that you will choose a combination of theequipment detailed above. Two years ago Bevan Ashford had only five laptopusers, we now have over 20 plus 60 staff with home PCs installed. The pressureon office space combined with longer working hours will ensure that remote andmobile working become increasingly commonplace.