Collaboration In the Age of Terrorism

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Last week’s news out of Great Britain of a plot to attack airplanes traveling from Heathrow to points in the United States caused a massive disruption to the travel plans of many.  For enterprises that rely on frequent business travel, the results of security crackdowns, including a banning of all carry-on luggage could be catastrophic.  How will the events of last week effect how people collaborate?

As we’ve all heard by now, British authorities last week arrested numerous individuals that authorities have charged with orchestrating a plot to blow up numerous commercial aircraft in mid-flight using bombs that would be smuggled on-board in carry-on bags and presumably be assembled in-flight.  As a result, authorities in the United States banned all liquids in carry-on bags, while British authorities went a step further, banning passengers from bringing anything on board other than travel documents.  Yes, that meant no iPods, no cell phones, and perhaps most importantly to the business traveler, no laptops.

While these rules were eased yesterday in the UK (laptops and phones are once again allowed), the implications of reenacting rules like these -- or making them permanent at some point -- would have a huge impact on enterprise operations. Enterprises not only run an increased risk of loss of, or damage to, equipment that must be stored in checked-baggage, but the time before boarding, when many used their laptops and/or cell phones to work, would no longer be productive as those items cannot be accessed while in the boarding area.  Productivity of individuals on business travel would plummet, perhaps making on-site visits a rule of last resort, instead of the primary way that many do business today.

The obvious impact of these events should be a renewed interest in applications that enable individuals to conduct business without having to be in the same room.  And that means video and real-time collaboration tools such as web conferencing, shared white-boarding, and other collaborative applications.  But video, while offering the greatest opportunity for “closest-thing-to-being-there” communications, has proven to be expensive and for desktop video systems, of a level of quality that serves to frustrate communications rather than foster them.

Fortunately these trends are changing.  New desktop video services from companies such as SightSpeed offer a high level of quality for those with broadband connectivity speeds, though with limited conferencing capabilities.  Skype, famous for its free calling services, is now incorporating video into both its Mac and Windows clients.  Enterprise-focused communications products from Microsoft, Nortel, and Cisco to name a few are increasingly offering video as a standard complement to voice-based applications.  Higher-end video conferencing products now are delivering on the promise of telepresence, a level of video interactivity that in indistinguishable from in-person communications, is increasingly available from vendors such as LifeSize and HP.  Video is increasingly being coupled with web conferencing as well, further improving the user experience.

Travel safety has always been about balancing safety and security with convenience. As the pendulum tilts towards safety and security, for many, the most convenient option will increasingly be to take advantage of improving collaboration tools and avoid travel altogether.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing