Double Vision

Organizations deploy dual monitors to bolster worker productivity and ease eye strain.

Organizations deploy dual monitors to bolster worker productivity and ease eye strain.

Equipping Oregon Employment Department workers with dual monitors reduces the chance of errors, says Deputy CIO Jon Debban.

Robbie McClarran

Oregon’s unemployment rolls have doubled in the past year, making it a busy time for the state’s unemployment claims processors. Fortunately, dual monitors help workers cope with the heavier caseload. Each claims handler’s desk now sports two 19-inch Planar LCD monitors.

“Our focus on this was really about productivity,” says Oregon Employment Department Deputy CIO Jon Debban. “Reducing the toggling workers need to do between applications helps them move through claims faster and reduces the chance of errors.”

Analysts say dual-monitor deployments are on the rise because such a setup boosts user productivity and improves ergonomics. Rhoda Alexander, director of monitor research for iSuppli, says, “We are an information-heavy society. Anything you can do to facilitate the ability to touch that info is much appreciated.”

Another trend propelling purchase is that growing numbers of workers rely on notebook computers, which tend to have smaller screens, Alexander notes. When they’re back at their desks, they will often use an additional monitor to perform most of their work. Alexander herself combines her notebook with a pair of monitors.

Productivity Perk

Last spring, the Oregon Employment Department purchased about 280 monitors to complement the LCD panels already in use by the unemployment insurance center workers. The agency chose the Planar PL1911M model with variable height adjustment, swivel and tilt. The state spent $91,000: $75,600 for the flat panels and $15,400 for dual-head video cards (see sidebar).

Some accounting, financial analysts, research and IT staff also use dual monitors in other areas of the department. Today, staffers can’t imagine doing their jobs without dual monitors, Debban reports. Along with reducing the need to toggle between applications, employees can work with large panes instead of small windows. “There’s an ergonomic benefit in that they don’t feel they have as much eye strain,” he says.

Debban says the department’s pre-purchase user testing and anecdotal evidence of productivity gains jibe with the results of a study from the University of Utah comparing the productivity of workers using widescreen and dual monitors with those who use single, smaller monitors. Commissioned by monitor maker NEC, the research recommends large widescreen or dual-monitor configurations for use in any situation where multiple documents or sources of information are an ordinary part of work.

The University of Utah study found that for text tasks, dual 20-inch monitors offered a 44 percent performance gain over single 18-inch monitors, and a 12 percent gain over dual 18-inch monitors. And for spreadsheet work, dual 20-inch monitors offered a 29 percent productivity gain over single 18-inch monitors, and a slight gain over dual 18-inch monitors.

What’s more, a survey of multidisplay users by computer mount manufacturer Ergotron shows respondents enjoy an average productivity gain of 25 percent. The company offers a multidisplay payback calculator at

In addition to productivity and ergonomic benefits, Debban believes the multiple monitor setup improves accuracy by minimizing transposition errors. “If you have information up and can see it, you have less likelihood of entering data incorrectly,” he says.

Oklahoma City IT Director Mark Meier estimates that 10 percent to 12 percent of his organization employs dual monitors. Employees who get more than one include developers, engineers who work with CAD or GIS systems, and anyone whose work entails heavy comparison or cutting and pasting. “We have seen productivity gains in the 5 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent range,” he says.

Easy on the Eyes

Columbia County in Wisconsin standardized on HP monitors and PCs a few years ago and gives employees the option to choose dual 19-inch LCD monitors as a standard configuration. “Like everybody else, we’ve got an aging workforce. Those older eyes need bigger text,” says John Hartman, MIS director for the county.

Hartman says clerical workers in the county’s Child Support Agency were early adopters. Other types of workers who benefit include those in finance, Registry of Deeds, human resources, geospatial systems and applications development. Of the 100 dual-monitor configurations IT has rolled out, he says, only two users were unhappy.

“Quite honestly, the app developers did not want to have dual monitors,” he says. “I forced it upon them, and now they absolutely will not give them back.”

Oregon found another benefit in the form of energy savings. Though dual monitors consume additional power, they draw less electricity than the older CRT monitors they replaced. According to Debban, the average power consumption of LCD monitors is 20 watts versus 76 watts for a CRT monitor.

“Even if you consider the energy consumption, the cost of an extra monitor is comparatively low compared with the cost of an extra worker,” sums up iSuppli’s Alexander.

Peripherally Speaking

Microsoft Windows 98 and newer operating systems support capability for dual displays.

On the hardware side, there are a few options for connecting multiple monitors to a PC. The workstation needs either a dual-head graphics card or multiple graphics cards, or you can choose an external adapter.

“Most of the developmental efforts in the industry to simplify multiple monitor usage at the moment seem centered around the use of the ubiquitous USB port,” says Chris Connery, vice president of the PC and large format commercial display market research group for DisplaySearch, an NPD Group company. Companies such as Aluratek, Kensington and make these adapters.

Notebooks and mini notebook computers lack the slots for graphics cards, so the USB port offers the best means of connecting multiple displays. Some monitors have USB connectivity built in.

Connery shares one caveat, however. USB-based dual-monitor solutions are fine for mainstream use but won’t work with extremely high-resolution displays.

ROI Arithmetic

Increasing screen space can yield the following productivity gains and cost savings:

Additional days of production

250 employees 500 employees 1,000 employees 5,000 employees
Dual 17-Inch Monitors 8,152 16,304 32,609 163,043
Dual 19-Inch Monitors 14,050 28,101 56,202 281,008

Net annual cost savings after additional electricity and monitor cost *

250 employees 500 employees 1,000 employees 5,000 employees
Dual 17-Inch Monitors $840,977 $1,681,953 $3,363,907 $16,819,535
Dual 19-Inch Monitors $1,564,908 $3,129,817 $6,259,634 $31,298,169

Source: NEC

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Apr 03 2009