September 28, 2005

For some 1,500 employees and contractors working for McLean, Va.-based Capital One Financial Corp., the desk has gone the way of other office dinosaurs, like the typewriter. The first wave of the company's knowledge workers to be outfitted with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, Voice over IP software phones and portable printers now can do business from anywhere within Capital One's 24 buildings in the United States and the United Kingdom.

These employees are the first in a program Capital One calls "Future of Work," which CIO Gregor Bailar defines as a necessary step in keeping the $1.5 billion-a-year bank and credit card company competitive. "The Capital One story has always been to look for the game-changing opportunities," Bailar says. Capital One's staff at large uses a Web portal that routes work processes to employees automatically, making it easy for mobile professionals to do their jobs from any location.

The people who Capital One selected from its 15,000 employees to participate in the program, which launched last fall, work in information-intensive areas such as finance, human resources and IT. Bailar expects 1,000 more employees to become mobile users by the end of next year. Already, the company reports that the program is helping achieve the three critical goals for which it was designed: keeping employees satisfied with their jobs, improving productivity and reducing costs related to real estate.

Capital One's Future of Work program is ambitious. It extends from stand-alone buildings to a 360-acre, eight-building campus with wireless access points covering coffee rooms, cafeterias, and more-traditional work spaces such as offices and conference rooms.

While Forrester Research (Cambridge, Mass.) predicts that 64 percent of U.S. companies are upgrading or deploying wireless LANs in 2005, just a small percentage of those are multicampus deployments that provide wireless access to large portions of a company's workforce. Most IT execs still don't buy the argument that large wireless network deployments can provide a productivity boost that justifies the security and management headaches and extra expense.

Because of the increasing number of public Wi-Fi hot spots, however, people are growing more accustomed to the convenience of connecting wirelessly. The number of publicly available hot spots in North America will reach 20,400 this year, according to research firm Gartner (Stamford, Conn.); the Yankee Group (Boston) predicts that 1.5 million people will pay to use commercial Wi-Fi hot spots by the end of this year; and components of wireless infrastructures are creeping into the workplace as more businesses choose wireless-ready laptops and PDAs when making upgrades.