The best apps, gadgets and business tech when you're on the move

Business travel doesn’t have to be a waste of time - get productive, get entertained and get wired in

With stagnant growth across the Eurozone, more and more UK businesses are looking to develop work overseas – particularly in emerging markets such as the Middle East and South America. This is maintaining or increasing levels of business travel.

In fact, a recent report found that businesspeople are expected to take more or the same number of trips in 2012 as they did in the previous year. Ever more technology-dependent, business travellers are constantly on the search for WiFi hotspots whilst on the move, but many are unaware of the apps, technologies and devices that can truly enable them to realise the promise of the “always-on office”.

Reducing the cost of roaming data

Many business travellers continue to suffer from the cost of data downloads. One solution is to take two mobile phones when travelling; one which uses a UK SIM and one that uses a local (country specific) pay-as-you-go SIM. You can now get a local SIM in advance of your trip for between £15-30, which means you know the number and have it all set up before you leave. By ensuring the PAYG package comes with a sensible data bundle, the business traveller can save hundreds of pounds on their domestic mobile bill when travelling. It’s also important to ensure the UK phone has automated data download settings turned off and that both phones are synchronised to a service such as Exchange, Google or Apple’s iCloud, so both phones work as equal peers with up-to-date contacts, etc. Also, by using an iPhone and Android device, the business traveller can benefit from different apps and extended battery life.

Exploiting the apps

The wide range of apps and technologies that can be exploited by the business traveller falls roughly into three categories: collaboration; convenience and relaxation.

Collaboration

Mainly based around cloud technologies and applications. Google is making life particularly easy for the business traveller to collaborate with apps such as GoogleTalk and Messenger over 3G connections, and Google Hangouts for multi-video conferencing. By using Google Hangout, it’s possible to conduct a 10-way video conference with team members across the globe, even those that are on-the move. And, in combination with Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), it’s possible to share documents, work on amendments and discuss issues all with high quality, streamed video, chat and document exchange. Skype also provides video conferencing options, although the costs are higher and companies tend to restrict the use of VOIP services, so care is needed here.

Apps such as Group Text by Esendex are also increasingly useful in allowing team members to send group SMS for alerts, diary scheduling, contact sharing or quick message collaboration.

Facebook, Yammer and Twitter are also becoming increasingly collaborative corporate tools, particularly amongst Generation Z - or digital native execs - who are comfortable using these tools for chat or collaboration. 

Convenience

The obvious convenience technologies are mobile hardware – tablets, smartphones and notebooks. In particular, tablets and ‘hybrid’ smartphones - like the Samsung Galaxy Note - are gaining a significant foothold in the business traveller community because of their obvious “always-on” capability, combined with portability. The battle between Apple’s IOS and Google’s Android platforms for domination continues, although Windows is still pushing to gain market share.

Whichever platform, there is no question that business travellers use these technologies as much more than ‘gadgets’ because of the scale of functionality and the ability to use them at something close to desktop/laptop performance.

Among apps, the development of ‘hands free’ software is starting to push new boundaries.  Particularly while driving or where using a keypad is just impractical, the likes of Apple’s Siri or the voice dictation capability of Dragon’s T9 Flex keyboard (on Android) is transformative.  Although accuracy is still not 100%, voice applications have developed exponentially since their introduction in 1995.

Travel management apps are also invaluable. Concur, for example, offers a range of automated, cloud-based management tools that allow travellers to instantly update and track expenses while they are away. Not only is this effective for the traveller, it removes the drudgery of ‘filling in expenses’ on a monthly basis and ensures accuracy and real-time updates of flight or hotel bookings which can also be monitored and amended by administrators back at the office.  

When it comes to networking, Card Munch (currently iPhone only but Android soon) is an app that helps with efficiency by allowing devices to photograph business cards, add contacts to a Card Munch or iPhone address book and view their LinkedIn profile with one touch. Having recently been bought by LinkedIn, Card Munch is a former subscription app that is now free!  As well as the immediacy of updating contacts, it also means travellers are less likely to forget why they have that individual’s business card in their wallet once they return from the trip or conference, where they may have gathered pocketsful of cards, by allowing them remain separate from their main contacts list to avoid the clutter of ‘passing acquaintances’. 

Relaxation

Even business travellers need to relax and the two main areas for this are reading and music. A Kindle 3G allows you to download documents as well as books, newspapers and journals. Many business travellers use flight or hotel time to catch up on news or CPD and a Kindle provides excellent screen clarity whilst preventing the distractions that come with e-mails or text messages when using a phone.

Every mobile device now has some form of MP3 player, but apps such as 00 Tunes (iPhone/iPad only) or Spotify are great for downloading tracks, listening to mood-based radio or compiling playlists to take with you. 

If you’re also keen to know what your friends and business contacts have been up to, the Flipboard App is a free and fun way to keep up to date with your social network.

And, finally, if you don’t have time to pick up some postcards, write them and get them in the post, then you may want to consider using the Touchnote App. This allows you to send laminated personalised postcards home (or to clients). It uses your personal contact list of addresses and even allows you to handwrite the text, and choose a holiday photo from your mobile photo album. My kids love it – especially when I use pictures of me in a local restaurant eating sharks or weird lobsters!

The life of an IT consultant involves challenging work which is both interesting and varied, but you can also find yourself travelling 25-75% of the time, dependent on your role and the firm that you work for. As I gear up for another business trip to the Far East or Africa, I am more confident than ever that the variety of apps, technologies and services will support both my ‘always-on’ uptime and downtime. 

By Peter Chadha Phd, founder of Dr Pete Inc and identified by IBM as one of the top 50 IT commentators in the UK. Peter can be found tweeting @drpete7. Dr Pete Inc are independent IT advisers.

Readers' comments (1)

  • For a very convenient business-orientated service, check out Olocode. They use a simple 6 digit code to breath digital life into business cards making them more effective and convenient. They're android app is cool too using Full Contact, a user can photograph a business card and it's automatically typed out for them into their very easy to manage address book. www.olocode.com

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