Will Technology Really Displace Business Travel This Time?

from the trendwatching dept

For many, many years, there's been talk about how business travel was living on borrowed time, because it was going to be replaced by things like videoconferencing that offered the same benefits at a cheaper price and with less hassle. But every time this sort of boom is predicted, it fails to materialize. After 9/11, video and web conferencing took off for about three months when travel dropped, but then use fell right back down. Several months ago, more such predictions were made with oil prices driving the cost of business travel through the roof, and now, the motivation is apparently the drive to cut costs. For instance, Cisco's CEO John Chambers says that by using the company's own communications technology, it's been able to slice its per-employee travel spending by more than half, and that it won't increase again, even after the recession. Of course, as the NYT notes, Chambers is making a look-how-we-eat-our-own-dog-food sales pitch. But it's worth wondering if a prolonged recession could finally give these travel-replacement technologies the boost they've long been looking for, and supplant business travel, rather than just add to it, as they have largely done thus far.


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  1.  
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    MG, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

    Telepresence

    I've seen Cisco's telepresence product up close. It is definitely a game changer in the video conferencing market. It is also really expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars). If it takes off and gets cheaper I could easily see it reducing travel for business meetings as there is almost no difference in meeting someone with the telepresence vs real life (except you can't shake hands).

     

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    ScaredOfTheMan, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 4:03pm

    The cost of Video

    I too think Telepresence is as close to get to being there, without being there as possible. The real cost of the video though isn't the expensive equipment, TP is like $300K list per room. Its the network you need to run it. My company is really pushing video for all real time communications, but our remote offices are hanging on the end of a T1. 2 video calls and the network is done QoS or not, as the culprit for the congestion IS VIDEO.

    That said I hate (no that's not a strong word) business travel, its borderline torture. Sit here, turn off your laptop, line up here, wait there, and whatever you do don't complain!

    So I hope and pray that immersive and HD video really take off and become acceptable means of communicating!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 4:38pm

    bandwidth

    i think the key in this is faster and un-caped internet connections.

    so until the majority of ISPs upgrade there networks TP is as likely to happen as paperless offices.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 5:51pm

    Sure - why not

    I think it really has a chance this time, especially considering what a PITA it is to fly these days.

     

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  5.  
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    Derek Kerton, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 6:00pm

    Incrementally

    Carlo,

    Good point. It seems the claims of a "teleconference revolution" never materilaize. But instead, we DO have the very real fact of steadily growing use of collaboration and telepresence services.

    I think this stuff is for real, but it just isn't a revolution. It's incremental growth, based on steady and incremental improvements of the technology and broadband infrastructure.

    Derek.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 10:24pm

    Nothing will ever replace face to face meetings. If nothing else the non-verbal kendo which goes on in a face to face meeting simply can not be replaced with any other medium. I know this sounds like bullshit because you can prove me wrong via 500 different studies etc etc. But the reality is that even in my lowish position in a large company my face to face time with someone providing me with goods is much more usefull than 20 times the time in any other medium.

    Get out the books on all the schizo crap and then consider the fact that while I'm a 6 foot 154lb twig in person, there is a difference between someone who could not really win a physical fight and the fact that they go in assuming they "can" win the fight. While it helps that most of my opponents know I'm x-military with decorations (part of the "mystique") but look non threatening, just gives more credit to the fact that I am serious when I make demands.

    The fact that I don't give a crap about who you are, what you've done, how much you are worth, only "really" comes across face to face, other mediums simply can't get that "feel" for the opponent felt on all sides. Any salesman will likely say the same thing, it "has" to be face to face.

    The funny thing, I'm a programmer anymore. But I have been a damned good salesman in the past.

     

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  7.  
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    Easily Amused, Feb 7th, 2009 @ 8:19am

    Re:

    Yes... because physical intimidation is the cornerstone of good business. Especially for a programmer.

     

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  8.  
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    nasch, Feb 7th, 2009 @ 9:04am

    Re:

    The fact that I don't give a crap about who you are, what you've done, how much you are worth, only "really" comes across face to face,

    For now. Eventually (some are claiming this telepresence thing is doing it already, I have no idea) there will be technology good enough that all the nonverbal cues are there. Personally, I think if you could have high-resolution video, good quality audio (not boomy, no echo or feedback), and no lag, that would really be good enough for most purposes. In my experience, the lag time is what kills the videoconferencing experience.

     

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    Esahc (profile), Feb 7th, 2009 @ 9:44am

    Respect

    Nothing will replace the face to face.

    I work for a company with customers all over the world, we use video conferencing as much as possible. But nothing will beat the face to face with a handshake at the beginning and end, and these face to face meetings affect sales directly.

    While many of our competitors don't do as many business trips (and save money), they're also struggling to expand while the company i'm with just keeps on growing, even in the economic downturn.

    Psychologically a video conference means, I don't want to spend the time & money to see you and shake your hand; and nothing beats a good hand shake at the end of a meeting.

     

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  10.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Feb 7th, 2009 @ 6:39pm

    Alternative Modes of Organization.

    The kind of organization which can thrive on the internet is a bit different from the kind of organization which thrives on air travel. The Open Source Movement gets much more benefit out of the internet than Microsoft does, because, obviously, one cannot throw a chair across the internet, but one can upload code, or run dispersed version control software. I suppose one could invent a device for remote-controlled chair throwing... More seriously, the open source movement operates at much higher levels of candor than Microsoft does, both internally and externally. Doubters are invited to download the code and see for themselves.

    Once people find internet-based organizational forms which work, they can step up the pace, and force things to happen at internet speeds.

    For example, one could envision a system in which every salesman is also a user trainer and a repairman, etc., who operates out a local office, and provides support to the people he sells to. The local offices have sufficiently broad autonomy. This of course means that you have to train the salesman to a very high standard, but this would hopefully make a favorable impression on the customer. Your customer contact is thus essentially local, and your long-distance operations consist of training and otherwise supporting the salespeople. The internet is well suited to enabling a salesman/repairman in the field to rapidly contact a designer to talk about some strange and unforeseen occurrence not covered in the shop manual.

     

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  11.  
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    Obi Nwosu, Feb 8th, 2009 @ 2:41pm

    Face to Face communication is not important to the next generation.

    I am VP of Engineering for WeeWorld.com, a leading Virtual World and Social environment aimed primarily at teenagers. What we, and many others in our industry see is a seismic change occuring in the attitudes of the next generation when it comes to communication.

    Most relevant to this conversation is how web savvy teenagers are much more comfortable in forming relationships and communicating electronically versus in "real life". I would go as far to say that in the minds of the most engaged there isn't a distinction.

    Contrast this to our generation. We formed our worldview when the internet was in its infancy. Therefore face to face is natural (like a mother tongue) versus electronic communication which was a learned skill.

    When todays teenagers become tomorrow's business leaders expect a completely different attitude. The concept of "face to face" will not be relevant.

     

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  12.  
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    GL, Feb 8th, 2009 @ 6:08pm

    Face to face will not be irrelevant anytime soon.

    One thing about teen attitudes is that they change when those teens become adults.

    There are industries more readily tailored to virtual communication tools and there are those that are not. It isn't technical shortfalls that make certain industries resist the use of those tools.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 9th, 2009 @ 4:56am

    Re: Face to Face communication is not important to the next generation.

    Wait until those teenagers enter the workforce. Then face-to-face will become important to them because they'll be starting at the bottom of the food chain.

    Face-to-face meetings will never end as long as there are managers who prefer to spend endless hours beating topics to death and berating various team members and engaging in empire building within corporate walls.

    I had a project lead who conducted a weekly status meeting that lasted nearly four hours. This was in addition to code reviews, peer reviews, design reviews, formal and informal testing, and management reviews. All of these meetings took a lot of time and effort to prepare for. Then he'd stand up and yell "why does everyone complain they have no time to get anything DONE around here?"

     

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  14.  
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    Obi Nwosu, Feb 9th, 2009 @ 5:05pm

    Re: Re: Face to Face communication is not important to the next generation.

    I had that same guy in a previous workplace too!
    But I disagree. Attitudes can change. Ask the average adult to press a button or bell and the vast majority will use their index finger. This has been the case for many generations. If you as most teenagers today they will instinctively use their thumb.
    This significant change in a basic and instinctive change is generational and is completely due to the games console and the mobile phone. These teenagers will go in to their adult life knowing that the using your thumb to press a button is natural and normal and the use of an index finger is "weird".

     

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  15.  
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    tawan, Feb 21st, 2009 @ 1:26am

    Thank..

    Thanks, that was a very interesting read. The history behind the facts…

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2010 @ 12:28pm

    It's true technology could serve almost all purposes of an in-person meeting, but shaking the hand of a prospect will never lose it's value. Private jet charter companies are seeing more and more revenue coming in as business partners travel all over the US in search of business and this isn't going to change.

     

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  17.  
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    www.privatejetcharterprices.com, Jun 13th, 2012 @ 2:59am

    I think that communications technology will increase but won't replace the business travel at all, to meet phisically a person is different than to speack with him through a webcam.

     

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  18.  
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    Privatejetcosts.net, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 7:23am

    It is an interesting debate, however I am inclined to think that you will always get the CEOs of rich companies who don't really mind how much it costs, and prefer the private jet lifestyle.

     

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  19.  
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    Privatejetcosts.net, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 7:25am

    It is an interesting debate, however I am inclined to think that you will always get the CEOs of rich companies who don't really mind how much it costs, and prefer the private jet lifestyle.

     

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