Friday, February 22, 2008

Virtual Worlds And The Enterprise (Again!)

From Metaverse Journal February 17, 2008 - "I’ve mentioned next week’s Enterprise 2.0 forum in Sydney previously. At Stanford University in the US, an event called MetaverseU is well underway and in recent hours a session was completed on the role of virtual worlds and work. It’s a timely coincidence of events. This excellent report is worth a read but I thought I’d highlight some of the key points from that information: “The opportunity for these worlds to be entertaining pales in their opportunity for work,” said Reeves. “If we could figure out how to entertain a couple thousand call center employees and keep them in a virtual world while they were working and they stayed around for three months longer at their jobs, I think we’d have a multi-million dollar business on our hands.” This is a key component that most businesses fail to grasp with virtual worlds and enterprise: it’s one of the likely ways in which productivity can be enhanced whilst ensuring some degree of entertainment. I doubt anyone would argue the reason for widespread use of the internet for non-work purposes on work time is anything other than boredom and a time-constrained lifestyle. Imagine a call centre employee being able to interact with a customer in a virtual world context, demonstrating the product they’re supporting or selling. “Something the industry needs to understand is to put yourself in your customers shoes,” he explained. “They have a lot of risk in taking this technology on. They might get a lot of benefit, but there’s the risk that this technology isn’t going to be there tomorrow. We need to, as an industry and as customers, put a lot of work together to make this more of an affirming cycle.”
There’s no doubt that the majority of customers don’t see virtual worlds as an obvious business route, but as the opportunities that route offers combines with easier access and improved usability, the business equation becomes a lot more attractive. The immediate use case for virtual worlds in the enterprise, said Steiger, isn’t dealing with his clients and partners. 70% of his business is with people he’s never met. The difference is in an employee-to-employee relationship. A hosted, behind-the-firewall solution could make that easier. And that’s where the big success stories like IBM have demonstrated their key wins and why Australian companies like Westpac have made the investment. “You can’t understand the primitive engagement that comes from puppeteering a cartoon character that looks kind of like us,” said Reeves. “When you look at the physiological response when an avatar gets touched, there’s a complementary reaction in the user. Brining those responses in for an ROI presentation is tough, but those responses that we see in the lab give me confidence that the bandwidth for communication is a value add for the engagement.”
Business is rightly skeptical about anything proposed for core operations that can’t demonstrate ROI - but the intrinsic nature of human interactions and the power virtual worlds bring to that can’t be underestimated. And the key point from the presentation for me: "The scary thing for executives, he says, is that guild leader gamers could be reporting to stockholders. “IBM just did such a survey [looking for those gamers in management] and found 1000s,” said Reeves. As the gamer generation is growing up and leading the workforce, game mechanics become much more appealing than spreadsheets for getting work done. "To do that is not going to be quick in the enterprise,” said Reeves. “One strategy we’re looking at is to look at the recipe for why these worlds are engaging or why games are engaging and see what you can extract. Can you take the economies from the virtual environment? They’re fun and we know they light up the same neurological regions in the lab as real money does. They leave behind self-representation and 3D environments, but they’re worth looking at.” It’s fair to say that developments in virtual worlds are something that enterprise needs to be at least aware of. Ideally they’ll have the resources to dip their toe in the water or even jump right in. The only option not on the table from an enterprise viewpoint is denial.

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