While technology such as wireless data access enables more effective business travel, other technology makes it possible for businesspeople to avoid travel. The best example is videoconferencing. Improvements in equipment and networks make today's videoconferences "almost like television," says Mike Taylor, a videoconferencing analyst at Kinko's Inc., which operates more than 150 videoconferencing centers in its copy shops nationwide.
Disaster, not technology, is the biggest news in videoconferencing. After 9/11 reduced people's willingness and ability to travel, Kinko's 9-year-old videoconferencing business experienced an unprecedented demand. Things have leveled off, Taylor reports, but are still at a higher level than before 9/11.
It may be unusual for a technology-based solution, but one thing that hasn't changed about Kinko's service is the price. For the past three years, a two-location videoconference has cost $450 per hour. One thing that's holding down prices may be competition from Web-based videoconferencing. This technology lets entrepreneurs set up a Web page that displays PowerPoint slides and other presentation material. A number of services host Web conferences at a fraction of the price for videoconferencing. You can also purchase software you can use to set up your own Web conferences for a few hundred dollars.
Another solution is to invest in inexpensive hardware that will allow you to do your own videoconferencing over the Internet. Polycom sells a $499 combination videocamera and interface that lets a regular desktop PC work as a videoconferencing system. Barry Walker, vice president of marketing for Polycom's video communications group, says portable videoconferencing allows entrepreneurs to both cut back on business trips and remain effective when they're out of town. "There are people who travel with them because [the systems] work with [their] laptops," he says. "This makes them video-enabled wherever they go."