Forrester Recommends Businesses Prepare for Virtual World Collaboration
"Today, information workers use technology pervasively to get their jobs done — to communicate with others, complete tasks, and learn new skills," opens the new report by Forrester, "Getting Real Work Done in Virtual Worlds," before explaining that "No matter how well integrated today’s collaboration and communication tools are, the experience is still a far cry from actually 'being there' — whether 'there' means sitting at the same conference room table with team members or working in the trauma bay at an emergency room learning to use a new piece of medical equipment." But that experience, Forrester says, can be too pricey, hazardous, or inefficient to really work. Enter virtual worlds.
Imagining a world--and, it seems, predicting one--where everyone in a company has an avatar that interacts in an environment simulating the best of the physical world (all the communication without the "acrid-smelling empty coffee pot in the kitchenette"), Forrester envisions meetings where distributed participants are more engaged and are supported by technology like 3D models. digital white boards, real-time recording and playback, and more.
In short, Forrester's new report is prepping workforces for the time when virtual worlds revolutionize business as much as the Web already has. And it cites numerous examples of how the technology is already there. In side-by-side tables comparing the Web and more traditional collaboration tools and spaces to virtual worlds, the benefits are clear: more immersive communication than teleconferencing, more cost-efficient (though still unwieldy) non-verbal communication than most video setups, and much more purposeful collaboration tools than IM or email, to name just a few.
The report also cites existing projects as success stories. Among many others, the Institute for Avanced Study at Princeton University is using Qwaq to bring together international astrophysics research teams, and mental health therapists in Camden, N.J., us Forterra’s OLIVE platform to help disturbed adolescents work through traumas. On the business side of things, Forrester lists projects undertaken by IBM, Intel, Sun, and many others as proof that virtual worlds can ease long-distance, and even same-room, collaboration with many different tools.
But the report isn't entirely rosy. Forrester rightly notes that there are many factors holding back virtual world adoption. From confusing, game-like interfaces and problems of credibility to more technical problems like bandwidth requirements, bug-heavy clients, and integration with office productivity software, Forrester notes that virtual worlds may not be ready for prime time in many enterprise-level businesses. But that only means companies should prepare now.
"The costs of establishing a small, relatively secure presence in Second Life are typically so low as to be expensed in many organizations," says Forrester. "The real costs are the employee hours it takes to create a useful space and working environment."
The time to experiment and establish best practices is now. While individuals already involved in virtual worlds may not glean too many new recommendations from the report, it's a compelling argument for why everyone else should join up.