As businesses all over the world slide deeper into the yawning chasm of recession, CEOs and CFOs must strike a delicate balance between the cost and benefit of travel.
Does meeting face to face outweigh the thousands of dollars spent for the business trip? In a recession, the answer is often no, even for companies with the deepest pockets.
One of the solutions is to cut out travel costs and leverage collaboration systems such as Web conferencing. Products in this category include Cisco WebEx, Citrix GotoMeeting, Microsoft Office Live Meeting and IBM Lotus Sametime Unyte-all of which let users conduct meetings via the Internet.
Often, these applications are grouped in a larger category of software known as UCC (unified communications and collaboration), an integration of e-mail, calendaring, VOIP (voice over IP), instant messaging, audio and Web conferencing, and other technologies.
But Web conferencing seems to be the big driver when companies-and employees-are tightening their belts. Akiba Saeedi, director of UCC for IBM, told eWEEK that she's had four or five conversations with director-level executives who have told her that the sky-high fuel costs during the summer forced their employees to work from home.
Conventional wisdom has it that Web conferencing and UCC installations will jump during the recession. But, according to Roopam Jain, principal analyst with market research firm Frost & Sullivan, sales cycles are being affected by a spending slowdown, with cycles getting longer as customers drag their feet on making a purchase decision.
"People are taking a step back, and this is having a downward impact on video conferencing, audio conferencing, and unified communications and collaboration," Jain said. "Yet there will be opportunities for vendors as people continue to go through tough times and cut back in travel. We are seeing some businesses that have a mandate to cut travel 30 to 50 percent. Yet they still have to communicate and collaborate by voice and audio conferencing."