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Feature: Getting online with the Home Computing Initiative

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Sue Harley

By Sue Harley, director of learning at Futuremedia

In 1999, the government launched new guidelines to improve levels of computer literacy in the UK in a drive to get the whole nation online through the Home Computing Initiative (HCI); Sue Harley argues that every organisation in the UK regardless of size should consider implementing an HCI scheme.


Since that time a host of large organisations including The Royal Mail and Britvic have offered employees the opportunity to own an internet-ready, fully installed home computer system, including learning software for as little as £4.40 per week.

Although awareness of the scheme is growing significantly many UK organisations are still hesitant to sign up mainly due to a lack of understanding of the rules and regulations involved.

According to recent research by the British Chamber of Commerce, UK businesses are still failing to make the best use of the government’s Home Computing Initiative. Even though a staggering 72% of companies surveyed expressed an interest in introducing an HCI scheme in their organisation, only 2% of UK companies have actually signed up.

A key reason is likely to be that those companies who have adopted the scheme in the UK have been mostly large companies; smaller companies are thought to perceive the scheme to be too complex to implement and manage. Many HCI suppliers are beginning to recognise this issue and have responded by launching specific programmes to encourage small and medium sized companies to participate.

One size fits all
There is no reason why every organisation in the UK shouldn’t consider implementing an HCI scheme. When introducing any new initiative most employers will carefully weigh up the pros and cons, deciding whether it is worth the time and effort and how much it will actually cost them – a key factor in the decision-making process.

It is true that the employer will see plenty of benefits after implementing an HCI scheme. With more employees using a home PC, the IT skills of the whole workforce will improve. Improving the IT literacy of employees could lead to a boost in productivity and a greater enthusiasm from the workforce to learn more about IT and technology.

Employee retention has always been an issue, and by implementing an HCI scheme employers will be able to offer a wider benefits package to attract both new staff to the company, as well as helping to retain existing employees. This is also a great way for employers to demonstrate commitment to employees and reward them for loyalty.

Employers’ involvement in the implementation of an HCI scheme can be kept to a minimum particularly if opting for a fully managed service. This helps minimise the impact on both internal administration and company resources. A managed service means employers can also take advantage of suppliers’ expertise in HCI, tax, salary sacrifice, consumer law and the internal marketing required.

Suppliers should fully design, plan, manage and implement the programme while providing state-of-the art technology packages. Ideally customer service and technical support can also be offered as well as a full home installation and demonstration.

What’s in it for the employee?
One of the main benefits for an employee taking part in the HCI scheme is the low cost. Those employees who previously could not afford to own a computer can easily do so by taking part in the initiative. Bulk buying of computers enables the employer to lease a computer out to its employees over three years. A relatively small payment is taken out of employees’ salaries each month to pay for the computer, but more importantly there is no requirement for the employees to pay either income tax or a national insurance contribution for the equipment.

Employees’ families will also benefit from using a computer at home. Use is not restricted to employees nor do they have to use it solely for work purposes. Having a computer at home will give both the employee and their family the opportunity to develop IT skills and knowledge in a familiar, relaxed environment. Employees will learn new skills that they may then go on to use at work and these skills can be incorporated into daily job-based routines.

Once a computer is delivered employees are not left alone to figure out the technology – in fact any good managed service should offer complete training support and advice. Employees can even take an exam and receive Microsoft accreditation at no extra cost to their employer.

Employees may also find leasing a computer through the scheme more attractive than acquiring it through traditional channels on the high street for example. The scheme also covers both computers and peripherals such as scanners and printers up to the value of £2,500 and can give employees a wide range of PCs to choose from. Once the employee reaches the end of the scheme, usually after three years, they can buy their computer outright for a minimal charge.

What’s the cost for employers– is there a ‘catch’?
So long as the company is registered, employers are entitled to claim back the VAT which presents attractive savings for companies. Organisations are also able to buy computers in bulk and make good savings as a result in comparison to purchasing computers from high street shops.

Employers receive tax exemptions on the money they invest in PCs and also make savings on national insurance.

The only ‘catch’ in the scheme is the fact that once signed up, organisations are committed to the deal and can’t go back on it, but it is unlikely that they would want to. However, there is normally a three-year warranty attached to the leased equipment, which is particularly valuable for employees.

Getting Online!
The pressure to improve IT skills among the UK’s workforce has never been greater, so much so that it is vital for UK organisations to continue to look at ways of developing the IT expertise of its workforce. Those organisations already taking advantage of an HCI scheme are certainly reaping the benefits, as it not only optimises the overall performance but importantly is seen as a popular way of saying ‘thank you’ to employees.

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Annie Hayes

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