There is no better time for all business people, especially business people who spend large chunks of time traveling or on the road, to make the transition to the mobile office – where business meetings, conferences, transactions and client liaison can be done at the tap of a laptop.

“The only thing you cannot do virtually or remotely these days is to physically share a cappuccino with your business associates. With the appropriate technology business can now be done ‘face to face’ over a laptop or computer no matter where you are,” says the Nedbank Group’s head of networks, telephony and end user communications, Barry Froneman.

Nedbank has taken the lead in business mobility and unified communications by initiating a pilot project that puts people in direct electronic contact with each other at the press of a button. “It saves a considerable amount of time and energy, it is a far more efficient way to do business and it considerably reduces the carbon emissions associated with all forms of business travel. This is important to the Nedbank group because we are carbon neutral and we support Green IT initiatives,” says Froneman.

“With the advancement of business communication tools like Office Communicator Service, Unified Communication Service, Tele-presence, Video-, Audio- and Tele- conferencing and Skype, there is little reason to physically get in your car or on an aeroplane to conduct business today. When you consider that it can take longer to drive to OR Tambo from Sandton and back than to fly to Cape Town, the travel down time does not make sense. This will be compounded during the Soccer World Cup.

“By comparison, from my PC I can make contact with you, we can see each other on screen or talk to each other and while we are communicating I can email you my presentation or documentation,” Froneman continues. “This way I can refer to page 3 or point 5 or whatever we need to discuss. If I need to send you a contract I send it to you straightaway by email or e-fax, dispensing with the need for paper or for a separate fax machine and a separate printer. In other words, my PC or laptop becomes the ultimate all-in-one global office.”

Conferencing the virtual way could not be easier. While some people might enjoy flying and staying in hotels and everything that goes with business trips, the majority of business people find this time-consuming and exhausting. A significant percentage of meetings and conferences can now be held virtually where decision-makers get together without stepping out of their office.

“If I need to conduct a conference with people anywhere in South Africa or anywhere in the world, I can be linked individually or to an auditorium or to several conference rooms at the same time. When our CEO makes a group announcement, for example, he can make it to all 27 000 of Nedbank’s employees countrywide at the same time using a combination of satellite and video conferencing technology. The facilities exist to extend the service globally.

“This is a phenomenal saving in time, money and wear and tear – not only on equipment and transport but also on people,” says Froneman. “I cannot ever recall going to the airport in a relaxed, calm state. It is always a mad dash and this leads to anxiety. The transition to the virtual office and mobility, which is happening at a rapid rate, reduces stress and considerably improves people’s work-home-life balance because they don’t spend so much time traveling or on the road.

“At Nedbank we have introduced ‘flexi-time’ and ‘work-from-home’ for our employees so that they can avoid rush-hour traffic and thereby increase productivity. This cannot apply to everyone for obvious reasons. Tellers, for example, need to be physically present, but a significant percentage of staff members in most businesses can operate flexibly.”

Nedbank has also introduced a bus for staff members traveling from Centurion to Sandton who were spending over two hours in heavy traffic every morning. “We have a wireless LAN system on the bus so that they can work on their laptops while traveling,” says Froneman. “It’s all part of what we call unified communications. As the name suggests, it is a system where all the tools of technology interface with each other no matter where the user is situated.

“If I phone you from my home, for example, my office line shows up. My phone, my Blackberry, my laptop, my PC are all linked for maximum professionalism. I can be anywhere, anytime and I can conduct business anywhere and anytime.”

Froneman does however emphasise that the ease of mobility also increases the ‘ease’ of data and information interception and stresses that users need to ensure that all networks are safe, secure and efficient.

To combat the risk of theft associated with mobility, at Nedbank all PC data is encrypted, so even if a staff member’s laptop gets stolen, the information cannot be retrieved without their password.

“The demand for virtualisation and home office connectivity is bigger than the supply in South Africa where the need for increased bandwidth has been catalysed by events like the Soccer World Cup. From large corporate to individual entrepreneurs, everyone is calling for systems that benefit business and increase their return on investment.

“The beauty about technology is that it can only get better, more efficient and more environmentally friendly,” says Froneman. “And the more sophisticated and mobile technology gets the easier it is to use. The only setback with mobility is that I don’t know when to down tools. My Blackberry rumbles all day and I often find myself working into the small hours.”