With gas prices increasing, we really need to consider how we approach costs associated with travel. However, most businesses can't cut out travel altogether, even if it's as simple as trips to clients, trade shows or conferences.
Technology can help you keep travel costs down or improve productivity when travel is absolutely necessary. While there are a lot of cool new mobile gadgets and technologies out there, when things are lean you need functional applications that deliver results. Here are my top five:
1. A VOIP-based PBX
Even if you are not familiar with the term PBX, you are familiar with what they do. If you have ever called any large corporation and been greeted by an automated system that provides you with a set of options to direct you to the right department or person, you have interacted with a PBX. This used to be something only larger companies had. Thanks to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) technology, computer based PBXs are now feasible for even the smallest of businesses.
My favorite PBX system, Trixbox CE, is open source and free. In addition to greeting and directing clients and potential clients, the system makes it possible for employees to work from home or on the road and still receive phone calls via the company phone system. At a fraction of the cost of making calls with traditional phone carriers, the phone quality should be almost, if not the same, as your regular land line.
2. Virtual private network
With employees working remotely from home or on the go, accessing files on your business network is necessary and accessing the files securely is of the highest importance. For security reasons, a virtual private network (VPN) is a must. An free open source option is OpenVPN.
3. Mobile access point
When you or your employees are traveling, it is often tempting to use a free available Internet connection. However, these wireless connections are often not encrypted and, therefore, not secure. Furthermore, speeds of these wireless networks are usually too slow to adequately to support communication with a PBX server back at the office. For these reasons, I recommend a 4G mobile access point or a cell phone capable of operating as an access point at 4G speed. The access point is great for the employee with multiple devices that need Internet access on the go or for the times when multiple employees are traveling together and need to set up a virtual office with Internet access on the spot.
4. Mobile payment
You need the ability to make a sale anywhere, whether that's at a trade show, flea market, conference or in a customer’s office. Inability to process credit cards on the spot is no longer an issue. Attach a swiping device to certain cell phones, install an app and you can process a credit card anywhere.
Two competing systems making it possible to process credit cards via cell phones are Square and GoPayment. Before you jump on board, check to see if your budget can withstand the fees associated with offering mobile payment.
5. Power kit
No discussion on mobility would be complete without considering power. The more mobile you are, the more likely you need to recharge mobile devices. But instead of having multiple chargers, find one that does the job of many. Energizer has portable charging kits, like the XP2000K, that you can use to charge many mobile devices.
OPEN Cardmember Clyde A. Lettsome, PhD, PE, MEM (aka Frugal Techie) is Principal Engineer and Technical Business Analyst of CA Lettsome Services. He uses his experience to help businesses and consumers make economical and logical sense of today’s technologies.