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Net Gains

Netbooks tout an inexpensive price tag and green appeal for state and local governments.

Mark DiLuglio is used to doing more with less. As IT director of Scituate, R.I., and its public schools, DiLuglio makes every decision with budget and efficiency in mind.

DiLuglio spent years listening to requests for notebook computers from teachers in the small town's combined middle/high school, but cited cost, fragility and potential for theft as reasons to forgo implementation. But when netbooks came on the market, he relaxed his position. "I decided that if we could find something in our price range that would do what we needed them to do, we would give it a try," he says.

After evaluating four different models, DiLuglio chose the Acer Aspire One and ordered 70 units. He created four mobile computing labs using carts that carried 13 netbooks each, and used the remaining netbooks for other projects.

"I was very impressed," DiLuglio says. "They were basically just smaller laptops that could do everything we needed them to do." A simple model meets students' computing needs because they can access Open Office over the Internet for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, "but we went for 2 gigabytes of memory and extra-large batteries to accommodate the Google Earth application and photo editing software we needed for classes," he adds.

The netbook program has been so successful that DiLuglio is considering rolling the devices out to city government, particularly to reduce paper use in meetings and create other efficiencies.

Popular Appeal

Cost, portability and durability are driving other state and local governments to implement netbooks. Deployment scenarios are varied and growing. City councils and other groups use the devices to streamline meetings and save paper, some agencies outfit field workers with netbooks, and some libraries use them to provide lower-cost computing.

"The opportunity for netbooks in state and local government, like private business, is in analyzing usage patterns of the workforce and understanding where it provides an advantage," says Jeff Orr, principal analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research.

Netbooks often make sense for workers who aren't always at their desks -- whether moving from building to building within a jurisdiction or assigned to the field. But functions that require computationally intense or image-heavy applications probably aren't a good fit, Orr adds.

One of the fastest-growing uses of netbooks in government is for conducting meetings more efficiently and without the use of printers. The city of Kirksville, Mo., for example, recently ordered five HP Mini 5102 netbooks with 2GB of RAM, Wi-Fi and Windows 7 Pro for city council members to use during meetings. As a result, the city expects to reduce printing and paper costs.

"It was the right time to do it since we are also moving to a wireless network for the city council chambers," says Cherie Bryant, assistant to the city manager. "Council members will be able to download what they need wirelessly and securely from our server -- everything from spreadsheets and reports to maps and presentations -- without carrying around reams of paper."

If the project goes well, the city is open to implementing netbooks in other areas of city government, Bryant says.

The city of Sacramento, Calif., has also turned to netbooks, acquiring six Asus Eee PC 1000HA 10-inch netbooks for use by city council members and committee members who want them.

Learn more about netbook deployment in local government at statetechmag.com/110mobile.

"Our first goal was to reduce the amount of paper we were producing for members before meetings," says Sacramento City Clerk Shirley Concolino. "Our agenda packets are huge -- as much as four inches worth of documents per member -- and we meet weekly. We decided to see if we could do it digitally."

Four members of the nine-member mayoral council were the first to try the netbooks, followed by members of the Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, and four other commissions. A larger rollout is planned to more of the city's 20 boards and commissions, Concolino says.

Before meetings, members receive the agenda and all supporting documents on USB sticks, which they plug into their netbooks. The netbooks are pre-loaded with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as Adobe Professional.

The Asus netbooks are helping Sacramento achieve its goal of becoming 80 percent paperless over the next few years. Concolino estimates that having each council member use a netbook for meetings saves the city about $1,500 per year in paper costs.

Boosting Broadband Access

Today's libraries often hold not just books, but netbooks, too. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library System in Tallahassee, Fla., has already made the switch.

Netbooks give libraries an economical option for providing computing services to patrons, says Jason Griffey, head of Library Information Technology at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and a frequent blogger for the American Library Association. "With the vast majority of patron computing needs revolving around the browser and basic productivity software, a netbook can fit the need while saving money," he says.

Libraries can use netbooks for more than just connectivity. The Putnam County District Library, for example, offers résumé-writing software, Microsoft Word and a link to the State Library of Ohio's Learning Express Library, which offers practice tests for GED, college placement and civil-service exams, as well as an online job-search system.

Jun 26 2010

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