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May 11, 2009

A Drop-Dead Certain UC Prediction: "Collaboration Tools Cut Travel Expenses"

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

Some trends are predictable. By the end of the year, some firms will be touting the business value of telepresense and other conferencing tools, producing numbers that show how much travel expenses have declined after video and other conferencing technologies were adopted.

Providers of conferencing solutions, especially of the multimedia sort, will have shown revenue growth. And conferencing likely will have emerged in many selling situations as the lead offer.

It makes sense that software, hardware and service providers are touting the advantage of collaboration tools that can remove the necessity of travel as well as improve productivity. Indeed, says Forrester Research (News - Alert), 70 percent of firms surveyed by the research company say they plan to adopt collaboration software
in the next 12 months, with another 21 percent expressing interest in adopting the technology.

Overall, 91 percent of firms say they are interested in or adopting collaboration technology of some sort.

There is a degree of "truth" here. There is also some element of serendipity and a dose of managerial strategy. The serendipity is the global recession, which has firms cutting back on travel expenses. In some cases, decisions to deploy collaboration tools will have occurred at the same time as reductions in discretionary expenses also occurred.

The relationship is not necessarily direct and causal, but it will be touted as such.

The other angle is deliberate managerial choice. Some suppliers have every incentive to tout the hard dollar cost savings collaboration tools produce, and can, in fact, "produce" such savings by ordering employees not to travel, and to use collaboration tools instead. Guess what? At the end of such a year there will be quantifiable savings to show.

The issue is what might have happened had employees not be forced to substitute collaboration tools for travel.

None of this is to downplay collaboration tools or their value. You'd be hard pressed to find a coherent and believable argument against use of collaboration tools, other than the cost of deploying high-end solutions right now.

In some cases, firms will believe they achieved, and should be able to document, hard dollar savings from substituting collaboration tools for travel. The point is simply that some of the data will be muddied. Even firms that do not adopt more sophisticated collaboration tools will show a reduction in travel spending.

By the end of the year, more collaboration solutions will have been sold, and travel expenses will have dropped. What is not clear is the causal relationship between the two, and whether the relationship will hold after the recession has ended.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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