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Technology was supposed to put an end to business travel, right? A few short years ago, we believed that evolving technology, such as videoconferencing and virtual-meeting software, meant that no one would need to leave their home turf to attend an important meeting. Although technology has advanced and the economy is slower, there’s no rest for the weary road warrior. Companies are tightening travel budgets, and executives who travel feel the pressure like never before to make their road trips count. Now, a business traveler’s ability to access information at a moment’s notice–whether it comes from a colleague or the corporate intranet–can make or break a deal.
Goldie Taylor remembers a time when the lack of technology cost her a contract. Before she joined Atlanta-based RocketHouse Communications as chief strategy officer, Taylor worked in technology sales. The contract she lost was a major part of a $3.3 billion expansion of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, which was worth $15 million to $20 million to her firm. “The technology to retrieve internal data inside a firewall from an external location did exist, but my firm did not have it. After that incident, I promised myself that technology would never be a barrier to getting the job done while traveling.”
Taylor, whose main connectivity tool is the Palm VIIx (www.palm.com), was able to negotiate the cost of the technology into her benefits package. “I told the company that the money they would pay out in technology would be returned to them in my accessibility, so now I’m a 24/7 employee,” she says. It takes approximately $4,500 to outfit each executive-level employee. “Maybe I’m a fanatic, but I’m now preparing to install headrest- and dashboard-mounted TVs in my sport utility vehicle to keep up with business and financial news when I’m on the road.”
Taylor believes so much in using technology to keep in contact that she recently gave her three school-age children RIM BlackBerry Internet Edition wireless pagers (www.blackberry.net) so the family can keep in touch and in sync while she’s away.
The right technology can also reduce travel expenses on business trips, says Melvin Flowers, chief financial officer at Novatel Wireless in San Diego, whose specialty is taking companies public. Years ago, when traveling overseas, Flowers recalls incurring $200 and $300 hotel phone bills from using the Internet and e-mail. “I remember fairly large hotel phone bills when I traveled in the U.S. because of the same problem,” he says.
Web connections are faster now, which makes Flowers’ job easier when he’s on the road talking to potential investors. “There’s a big difference between managing a public company now than a few years ago,” he says. “It is critical that you maintain contact with the corporation and stay connected to the company’s e-mail and business systems. Technology, especially wireless modems, makes the process smoother when I’m on the road presenting to investors. For example, I can adjust my presentation, adding or changing a slide, by accessing the company’s intranet.”
If it weren’t for his cell phone and