A fire has a way of illuminating things, says Tomas Soderstrom.
In fact, it was the California wildfires this summer, says the IT chief technology officer for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, that brought to the fore just how important a telework capability could be to the robotics lab in Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley.
"The fire in August came within 30 feet of the lab," he says. And while the research-intensive staff at JPL enjoys being able to work when they are away from the lab, expansive telework was not something that the lab chiefs had given much thought to. "We're all pretty collocated," Soderstrom notes.
But the fire (along with earthquake drills over the past couple of years) led the lab's managers and IT leaders to view telework as a crucial component for continuity of operations. Remote access when traveling and the technology bent of most of JPL's staff make telework an obvious COOP strategy, says Soderstrom, who spoke on a panel at the recent fall Telework Exchange Town Hall in Washington, D.C.
"For our smart people, their work tools are their IT tools," he says. "To serve them, we have to stay flexible and provide them what they need." And because its researchers travel extensively, the lab mines their experiences for best practices.
To figure out a viable telework strategy, Soderstrom says there can't be too much testing. His motto is: "Test 'til it fails to actually find out what doesn't work, and then fix it." This approach also applies beyond the technology and can guide an agency in figuring out what policies must be changed as well. Typically, policies lag behind technology, he adds.
Ultimately, the goal must be to make telework (or any remote access) easy for users and provide them with choices. That comes down to serving five needs, Soderstrom says, specifically the ability:
In terms of COOP, Soderstrom says, working from anywhere must address handling both short-term (a small fire) and long-term (a pandemic) displacements.
Looking further out, systems developers will need to figure out how to make far-ranging data use possible through personal digital assistants by 2020, he says -- "because that's the way people will work."