You raise an interesting point: I personally think that relationships are built (or at least solidifed) face-to-face. I wonder how many readers think that face-to-face meetings are still important especially when it comes to customers, or if everything can be done digitally now.
Oh, face time certainly helps. Any sales person is likely to tell you that actually meeting with the customer is critical to closing the deal.
But Intel's guy isn't a salesman. He's a chip designer. He's talking to people who use his chips about what they do and how they do it, and how his chips could be made better for that they do. How much of that actually requires an in person meeting?
On a different line, people collaborate all the time without actually meeting. Software devlopers team on projects, and many, expecially in open source development, will never meet, because they are scattered all over the world. How many people contributing to the Linux kernel have ever actually met Linus Torvalds? They might like to, but it's not necessary for what they do.
If I'm in the Intel engineer's position, the data I need will be provided electronically. I'll want specs on the configuration of the servers using my chips, analysis on the workload and task mix on those systems, profiling of code, all the little details about what the machines actually do in a daily basis, and where the choke points are that get in the way. I might want remote access to the servers, so I can see what the server admins see.
None of that requires that I personally meet with the people providing the data. I've no doubt he's met some of the folks he's dealing with, but what he needs doesn't require it.
I was expecting to read about an engineer who created a social network at his work in order to "evangelize" his particular ideology, a la Steve Jobs. But it's really about a guy who's specifying chips for social networks. I guess that's why we read the article!