New Technology Helps Prioritize Business Travel
Cost-Cutting Innovations Gaining Advocates
BY DOUGLAS CADDELL
Special to the Business Journal
Corporate travel can be one of the most costly expenditures for many organizations. According to Rusty Carpenter, general manager of American Express Consulting, medium- to large-sized businesses spent $157 billion last year on travel.
The costs to travel across the country for a sales presentation or to meet on internal or organizational issues can be considerably offset by using technologies now available.
Videoconferencing, company intranets, Web-based conference capabilities and other advances have made business communication more convenient and cost-effective.
During times when travel can prove problematic and cost inefficient, these technology innovations have found their way into the many industries that make up our economy. While certain industries may not feel the impact as sharply, the legal arena is profoundly affected by the high cost of corporate travel and has already begun to experience the positive impact of communicating with clients in new ways.
Safety, time and budget concerns have fostered a reluctance among clients and others to travel across the country to meet regarding pending cases or business deals. Attorneys have realized that new technologies can provide significant benefits while reducing costs.
The downturn in the economy and the ongoing desire to save on business costs plays a major part for law firms, who must to take immediate action to make sure clients are happy, secure and willing to do business in the way that makes sense to both parties.
– Alternate, Cost-Saving Forms of Communication
Law firms realized years ago that there are ways to get around traveling across the country to meet with clients or to meet regarding their firm’s internal business. Sharing information within a nationwide intranet and taking advantage of video and Webconferencing are just a few of the options at the disposal of progressive law firms across the country.
Videoconferencing is the tool most often used. Firms use this technology to offer a forum for face-to-face interaction among parties , to consult with clients, train and educate attorneys and employees, and hold budgetary and internal meetings that wrangle numerous participants from separate locations around the country.
Videoconferencing systems are in high demand, and, on many days, often over-booked. A typical conference room-sized videoconferencing system costs around $8 to $10,000, while just a few years ago, such systems could cost anywhere from $30 to $50,000.
The cost-effectiveness is obvious, especially when you consider the many hours spent in transit, to get to and from a meeting that may only last two hours.
Videoconferencing is also versatile in its applications. A firm’s management can use it to make presentations to employees, industry group lawyers can provide technical training to attorneys on their team and clients can put a face to their legal counsel’s name.
Videoconferencing has also been used to give seminars and to interview candidates for jobs.
Many firms have taken advantage of company intranets, which allow a company to share valuable information instantaneously with attorneys and employees around the globe. Firms use their intranet to post current case information, send and retrieve corporate e-mail from anywhere in the world and educate employees on a daily basis. Secured e-mail is available as well.
E-mail contact with clients is available by remote connection to the firm’s network, via the World Wide Web from any Internet-capable computer, or from the pager-like Blackberry device providing wireless e-mail connectivity.
– Enabling Real-Time Response
Another tool that has come to the forefront is Web-based conference capabilities.
WebEx is a service provider specializing in Webconferencing. WebEx provides a tool that allows meeting participants to log on to a Web site from any computer and share programs and data just as if they were looking at same computer screen.
The Webconference can be simultaneously tied into a telephone call to provide voice, video and data sharing.
WebEx allows visual presentations to go along with dialogue and illustrate points more clearly. It’s amazing to be able to have someone follow along, as a proposal is unveiled from 1,000 miles away.
Many firms are also auditing current travel expenditures to ascertain their cost effectiveness.
Travel budgets, which analysts say ballooned during the past decade’s booming economy, are a likely place for businesses to continue to cutback in order to counteract the receding economy.
While reducing travel expenditures is ideal, elimination is not practical. Many businesses are turning to online travel sites for an easy and effective way to locate low prices and reduce time spent booking travel.
According to American Express Consulting, any time you automate a service like travel booking and take a person out of the equation, it’s likely to streamline the process.
Sabre, an online reservation system, links directly with a firm’s corporate travel agent. The move should help save travel funds and put attorneys in greater control of their time and travel by having them locate, price and book their own flights.
You’re never going to replace the handshake. Firms across the country are going to save money and time, but we all know the value of seeing someone face to face and making that connection. What we are seeing now is companies taking a hard look at exactly when and where travel is necessary and then introducing technology that can help economize the process.
Caddell is the CIO for Foley & Lardner.