Posts Tagged ‘ Business Collaboration ’

Virtual Travel Impact on Architecture and Contruction

Last week I talked about how the evolution of virtual travel would likely affect the travel industry.  But, it’s not just the travel industry that will need to learn and change.  So will the architecture and construction industry and a number of others.   The way commercial real estate and even residences are designed will need to be completely re-thought.  Take the special case of hotels and how they are presently designed.  There are many sleeping rooms, significant conference  space, restaurant capacity, catering capacity, etc.

In the future, if a much larger number of people travel virtually to meetings, fewer sleeping rooms and square feet of traditional conference space will be needed.  Ditto the number of meals in hotel restaurants or in event spaces by catering.  If more knowledge workers can use virtual travel technology to be completely effective without going into their employer’s locations, then those companies will require fewer “physical” offices, cubicles and traditional meeting rooms.  The lessee’s of these large commercial buildings will begin to see tenants reduce their demands for physical space with each renewal of their leases.  As new buildings are designed and developed, they will need to be smarter, smaller, and more flexible.  At some point the only buildings that will need to have the workers show up physically is for things like manufacturing, converting raw materials into finished materials, and the like.  But, the knowledge workers, i.e., the white-collar workers, will very rarely have to make a trip into an office.  This will not be the same thing as today’s attempts at telecommuting.

Although even with today’s basic technology, telecommuting is making an impact for some businesses bottom line, even though to date, there is no discernible reaction by the architecture and construction industry, aside from a smattering of telepresence studios in the most forward thinking corporations.  For the longer term as virtual reality technology matures, knowledge workers will be able to collaborate with as many of their colleagues, customers and suppliers as they wish by using the same technology will provide an “as if you were there” business travel experience without leaving your home town.  This will be a game-changer for a far broader and deeper set of industries and businesses than one might think.

Ask yourself the question, would you physically commute to work if you could work from a location within a short walk or even from home (eventually) and have a more productive, rewarding experience than if you physically traveled?  I know what my answer would be.

My experience at Marriott – the seeds of my Virtual Travel conviction

The seeds of my conviction that virtual travel will become a reality within many of our lifetimes came from my time as Chief Technology Officer at Marriott International, Inc.

I feel it will start with business travel, simply because it will be easier to completely satisfy business travel requirements virtually. The reasons for business travel relate to lots of different roles, such as sales, marketing, training, collaboration, joint decision-making, knowledge transfer, and many others. Travel associated with these roles, unlike leisure travel, can be effectively performed if just 2 of the 5 senses are effectively stimulated by the virtual business meeting offering: sound and vision. If the virtual experience gets these 2 things right, with such fidelity that the participants in these meetings feel they have not compromised anything by avoiding physical travel, then it would make little sense for them to actually take the trip.

Technology that is frequently referenced as TelePresence (a term coined by Cisco Systems) is pretty much delivering this kind of experience today. Let’s call it virtual business collaboration technology. Multiple companies, including but not limited to Cisco and Hewlett Packard provide it. It is not some futuristic vision that has not yet been achieved. It is here now, and it is a stellar experience.

As CTO of Marriott, I felt that our company needed to embrace this technology, because it would eventually replace the need for in-person collaborative business meetings. Within the hotel industry, Marriott was on the cutting edge by creating a few public access virtual business meeting studios in selected hotels over five years ago, and have increased the number since.

In recent years, the technology has also penetrated more densely into public access building, such as hotels and airports. Concurrently, businesses have been installing virtual business collaboration technology and using to dramatically curtail physical travel. These companies and their employees are getting used to it, and they like it.

Because of their investment in this technology, they will continue to use it even as the economy recovers. So, it is unlikely that small, interactive business meetings in hotels and conference centers will come back to levels the travel industry enjoyed before the downturn. These companies will have to adjust. And when virtual leisure travel hits within the next 20-30 years, small adjustments to the travel industry business model will no longer be a survival option.