BUYING GOVERNMENT LAPTOPS FOR FEDERAL, STATE, & LOCAL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES

Government workers are under more pressure than ever before to demonstrate value to their constituency.  Whether they are working with highly sensitive data or using a computer in the field, employees need government laptops that are durable and reliable, with the ability store and transmit data securely.

This guide reviews the specific requirements to look for when purchasing laptops for a federal entity, or any branch of government, including state or local administrations. It will describe features that enable devices to withstand the conditions of challenging environments while offering high performance and affordability.

When selecting government laptops, consider the following key areas of functionality in order to guarantee the best fit for your organization:

Security

Government employees are held to a high standard of security. While online protection of digital information is of supreme importance, it is also imperative that the laptop and its contents are protected from physical theft.  The following features will ensure the best defense possible:

  • Trusted platform module (TPM) security chip. This small piece of hardware authenticates passwords, encryption keys, and digital certificates.
  • Theft protection agent in the bios. The presence of this feature will help recover data due to lost or stolen laptops.
  • Cable lock slot. The ability to lock the laptop with rubberized metal cable is a barrier against theft.
  • Password security.  Government laptops should be password-secured at the device level.
  • Fingerprint scanner. In the event of the need for biometric security measures, check for options such as fingerprint scanners.
  • Optical disc storage. When optical storage such as CD, DVD and additional hard drive storage may be required. Agency policy will dictate specific security measures. Understand these requirements ahead of time before you buy.
  • FIPS 140 compliance.  Levels within FIPS 140 specify degrees of tamper evidence or resistance as well as modes of user authentication. Understand the specific needs in various agencies and use cases and select accordingly.

Wireless Connectivity

When government workers are on the go, wireless connectivity is a must. Individuals count on constant connectivity and the ability to quickly and accurately capture data.

  • Access to data via cell networks. Dependence upon a single 3G cellular network can be inconvenient and non-productive. Identify which systems should be accessed and then determine whether 3g or broadband access will provide the needed connectivity. 

    For example, government inspectors often need to travel to a variety of communities. Gobi can make different 3g carriers accessible in the event your regular carrier is not available.

Touchscreen Capability

  • Touch screen and touchpad.  A significant amount of an inspector’s time involves recording and storing equipment and other readings. In fact, for any agency worker gathering information in the field, touch screens are the preferred tool for accurate, fast data entry. 

    An oversized, electrostatic, (allows scrolling) touchpad, with multi-touch (tap, pinch to zoom, and paging) are important features to have in the field. The ability to use a stylus for digital input should also be an option.
  • Screen display.  Viewing conditions vary for government workers. Depending upon their occupation, their workplace may be under the night sky, beneath city lights or in the glaring sun. 

    Insist upon a screen with nighttime and direct sunlight viewing capability with high definition and adequate screen size.
  • Swivel screen. When working one-on-one with a co-worker or a constituent, a swivel display allows easy screen sharing.  Look for swivel mounting if you need this capability in a vehicle.

Durability

Extreme durability, including resistance to heat and cold can be a necessity for federal workers in various fields. For example, food safety inspectors in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) visit a wide variety of plants, kitchens and processing facilities for chemical testing and outbreaks.

Temperatures in these locations can range from freezing to steaming hot, not to mention the possible contact with substances being tested. When faced with such a variety of risks, commercial tablets or PCs will almost certainly fail.  Look for a laptop that has been tested and proven to stand up to punishing treatment.

In cases such as these, determine if the laptops you plan to purchase comply with standards such as MIL-STD-810G. This standard guarantees durability levels often required in tough environments. Pay special attention to the IP rating which indicates the device’s level of water and particle resistance.

When purchasing government laptops you may need to obtain assurance that operation of the devices does not interfere with nearby equipment, and that the laptop will resist interference by nearby equipment. Below is a list of Tests using the MIL-STD-810G standards. Laptops that successfully undergo these evaluations will withstand the most challenging conditions including:

  • Shock and Drops
  • Vibration
  • Humidity
  • Blowing Sand and Dust
  • Water
  • High and Low Temperatures
  • Keyboard durability. Through testing, keyboards must withstand 25 million keystrokes.
  • Electromagnetic compatibility.  MIL-STD-461F certification assures that devices do not generate unwanted electromagnetic energy that interferes with the function of nearby equipment.  Nor will the laptop be susceptible to electromagnetic energy from nearby equipment.

For conditions that result in particularly rough treatment including shocks, bumps and drops, features to look for include:

  • Shock mounted hard drives
  • Protective casing
  • Meets appropriate MIL-STD-810G and MIL-STD-461F standards
  • Appropriate IP ratings for specific environment and use
  • Weight. Workers frequently collect data when standing inside a plant our even outside in the weather to examine a gauge or meter, while holding the laptop or tablet. Therefore, weight may be a crucial factor in selecting your device.

Safety and ease of use

A lightweight convertible tablet PC may be an option, while tablets may be the best choice when the device is carried for long periods of time.

  • Ergonomic features. Government employees sometimes work from cars or at desks, but often they are standing for long periods of time while using a laptop in the field. For devices used under these conditions, require features such as a shoulder strap with elasticity and dome support for the palm of the hand.
  • Safety and convenience. Built-in or detachable handles can be a useful feature for individuals who take their laptops in and out of vehicles frequently.  The ability to grab the handle reduces the likelihood of dropping the device.

Performance and Response-Enabling Features

For government workers on the road, staying in contact is not only necessary for proper reporting and in some cases, dispatch, it is a requirement for personal safety. In the case of Code Inspectors and other employees who visit many types of facilities at various times of the day or night, the following features will provide the access and performance that is so important to workers in the field:

  • GPS capability. Determine if the device is capable of expedited GPS routing in urgent situations. Also establish whether workers’ locations can be provided, thereby enabling employees to be directed as needed.
  • Smartcard and magnetic strip readers. These devices can be used in various facilities for secure entry or data collection.
  • Mobile printers. Determine whether your device should support interface capabilities for mobile printing. Although we are quickly becoming a paperless society, paper reports in some cases remain a requirement for documentation purposes.
  • Interface and Integration Capabilities.Third party applications may be necessary.  Check out interface capabilities for your specific requirements including:
    • Fingerprint authentication readers
    • Cameras
    • Phones
    • Barcode and RFID readers
  • Continual connectivity.  If workers use their devices in vehicles, determine whether the computer will resist vibration and shocks and bumps on the road while maintaining connection with the office.
  • Dual processors. Will your workers need to access databases while using their communication software?  If so, dual processors will allow efficient execution of programs and multitasking. Look for dual processors that exhibit low power consumption.
  • Expandable memory. Evaluate your memory needs based on the applications that will be running. Although the laptop chosen may have plenty of RAM, expandable memory may be invaluable if applications are added later.
  • Battery operation. Government workers outside the office need battery power that will last through their shift at a minimum. Check to determine whether hot-swappable options are needed.

Custom Configuration

Government workers at all levels are guided by policies, many of them changing at any given time to accommodate new rulings and legislation.  Because of this dynamic environment, the availability of customization options is important when selecting government laptops.

For example, as new video features become required for public safety purposes by agencies of the federal government such as the National Park Service (NPS), rangers are using Toughbook rugged laptops and Toughbook Arbitrators as a video solution to monitor specific sites.

Because of the wide range of responsibility among federal employees and other government workers, The ability to customize features can make the difference in having a system that works efficiently for an agency’s unique needs.

Value

Government laptops must support secure operations and exhibit durability and high performance while incorporating features designed to get the job done.  And all of this must be paired with reasonable pricing. In other words, procurement officials purchasing laptops require high value in order to execute a contract.

According to PC Magazine, the overall industry failure rate for laptops in 2011was 15 percent.  However, Panasonic Toughbooks service records show an annual failure rate of only 2.4 percent.  Combine this with superior Toughbook features and you the sum is unquestionable quality.

But it is only when you combine quality with reasonable pricing that value is obtained. Through our innovative cooperative purchasing program, we are helping organizations take advantage of special pricing by combining purchases across multiple organizations.

By purchasing in quantity, we are reducing costs for all participants, and that’s an equation for value.  Check here to learn how to become a part of a buying group.  Or for more information about Panasonic Toughbooks, call 1-877-532-8088.

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