Electricity generator Powergen has overcome security problems to roll out a remote-access system that will allow thousands of employees to download company documents from PCs at home, on laptops or at cybercafes.
The company, which employs 6,000 people, believes the remote-access system, a Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network, could significantly improve productivity and cut costs by reducing the number of laptop computers issued to staff.
Powergen has been looking for ways to increase remote access to its systems for some time, but has not acted because of concerns about security.
The company is among a growing number of firms to invest in technology with the potential of opening up networks to the whole workforce, rather than to selected groups of employees with specially secured laptops.
Tony Lock, chief analyst at Bloor Research, said, "Remote access to corporate systems has been a reality for small groups of users over the past 10 years, but over the past couple of years it is becoming much more of a standard offering to employees."
The system, e-Gap, will be rolled out in May following a successful pilot earlier this year. Powergen said the technology offered a compelling return on investment.
"If you consider the lifetime cost of buying and managing a laptop, twice the purchase price every year, the e-Gap solution will pay for itself if it reduces the need for only 30 laptops," said Gary Gooper, business analyst at Powergen.
Trials earlier this year showed that the e-Gap technology, supplied by Israeli firm Whale Communications, was secure enough to allow staff to log on to company systems from any location.
Employees will be issued with an RSA secure ID token, giving them access to the secure server at Powergen's datacentre.
Employees are physically isolated from the network when they access the system, providing protection from hackers and viruses.
"A cynic would say staff will work longer hours. But it will also give people more flexibility, allowing them to work from home and on the road," Lock said.
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The pros and cons of remote access
The links between the company and the employee could leave the system vulnerable to hackers unless the system is absolutely secure
Anti-virus software and other security measures need to be kept up to date
Remote access means employees can spend more time on the road meeting customers
Quick access to sales statistics, company databases and spreadsheets means more business can be conducted on the fly
Infrastructure costs can be lowered, ie by not buying laptops.