Slouching toward telecommuting: IT's newest challenge

The latest data suggests that energy prices are likely going higher. Now the big question is whether IT will be ready to handle the new demands put on it by more telecommuters.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read

It was simply happenstance but this headline crossed the wire just as I was boring a colleague with another doom-and-gloom update on the skyrocketing price of energy.

"Fortune 500 Visionaries Speak at Woodside Private Home Theatre for Discussion on Smart Energy & Grids."

Telecommuting's best argument CNET Networks

Turns out that Scott McNealy and Jim Rogers of Duke Energy are headlining the event next week along with CEO Echelon Ken Oshman to celebrate what's being billed as "20 Years of LonWorks Technology."

For anyone unfamiliar with Echelon, the company's embedded control technology fosters "smart energy" applications in homes and businesses. If we're going to figure out how to thrive in a future annotated by increasingly expensive energy costs, tech companies like Echelon will take the lead. Couldn't happen fast enough, because the near term is looking bleak. The price of crude pushed past the $126 a barrel line Friday for the first time. For what it's worth, Goldman Sachs predicts that oil prices may hit $150 or even $200 a barrel in the next six months to two years.

All this is making IBM's Mike Rhodin look more prescient by the day.

A couple of months ago, Rhodin, the general manager of IBM's Lotus group, gave a speech at the VoiceCon conference where he talked about the emergence of the "virtual workplace," in which employers increasingly let their people telecommute. (Here's alink to the press release where IBM summarized his remarks.)

Larry Dignan over at ZDNetrhetorically asks whether IT managers are ready for that shift, noting that the "jury's still out." "Companies weren't ready for mass telecommuting back when avian flu was a hot topic. And it's doubtful that they are ready now."

That may be true, but IT, circa 2008, is better equipped than it was in 1998 to handle the infrastructure demands of a more dispersed workforce. And if it isn't 100 percent ready for a big crush in demand, there's no time like the present to get moving. But CTOs are waiting for the directive to come from the office of the CEO. That day can't be far off. With gasoline prices in many places hovering around $4 a gallon, the writing's on the wall.