Saving energy by having people work from home is only as good as the access-if you're using unreliable or unwieldy connections, it might not even be worth the bother.

Needham Bank, for example, was using GoToMyPc via Citrix, but the tepid results led the Boston-area community bank to a new IT project that connects more remote workers to the bank in an easier fashion. "[The old system] log-in process was cumbersome and usage was low [only a few hours per month]," says James Gordon, vp of IT at Needham, which has about 88 employees. [Citrix did not respond to requests for comment.]

The bank now licenses a system called DesktopDirect from Array Networks, which enables most workers' PCs to be outfitted with full network access, rather than traditional VPNs-which are usually only available to external users that have remote workstations outfitted for access.

"We didn't send all of our employees home, but what we can do is if there are people who want to come in on a Saturday or a Sunday, they can come in 'virtually'," says Gordon, adding the bank has 50 concurrent connections and can also extend desktops to iPads and iPhones. If workers don't come into the office on weekends, he adds, "We won't have to adjust the temperature of the whole building."

If they choose the right technology, banks have an opportunity to leverage IP networks beyond the usual realm of telecom savings and disaster recovery to accomplish environmental goals. "[Having access to] telephony, fixed line, mobile or VoIP is also critical," says Doug Washburn, an analyst for Forrester Research.

There are myriad companies that provide IP-based networks, and Andrew Borg, a senior research analyst for Aberdeen Group, says these can be used to submit data, voice and other functions to remote sites. "The prices [for faster networking technologies] are going way down," Borg says, adding prices in some cases have gown down more than 50 percent since the technologies first came to market.

DesktopDirect uses strong encryption, AAA (an advanced authorization technique), and data leakage protections to provide centralized management of a workforce that can log into their work stations from any Microsoft Windows-based device. To access the bank's network remotely, employees browse to a URL and enter the same credentials they would at the office-then a window presenting their office desktop launches.

"If you give people special credentials, they tend to forget," says Lior Rapaport, director of product line management at Array Networks. Gordon didn't say what the specific ROI goals are, though the bank should save on electric bills given the reduction in computer and electric use. Array Networks says an average mid-sized company can save about 1,400 tons of carbon emissions per year by using remote access.

There is evidence remote work can make a decent energy dent. State Street says its Work from Home initiative-which leverages teleprescence and video conferencing-saved about 880 metric tons of carbon emissions in its first year.

 

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