Friday, October 27, 2006

Virtual Business

A while back I wrote about digital natives, a phrase used to describe generation Y consumers flooding into today's business environment. They will inevitably disrupt the way IT is managed and administered by bringing demands for VoIP, blogs, podcasting, and video-on-demand into the corporate environment. But what I find most fascinating about such prophecies is the prediction that digital natives will promote the blurring of real and virtual, not just in their hours of relaxation in the evenings and on weekends, but right in the middle of the workplace. Design and marketing firms, fashion and media companies - they're all sitting up and taking notice. Even training organizations and software vendors looking for an edge are paying attention to virtual worlds such as Second Life as ways to foster more collaborative learning methods.

Imagine yourself as one of those 20-something keeners fresh out of university and facing the new challenge of the world of business. Instead of receiving training about the company's ERP system through Adobe Acrobat files or a Microsoft PowerPoint slide deck, you create an avatar and then enter a virtual world which looks remarkably like the factory floor of the manufacturing company you have just joined. You're invited to interact with a factory manager who shows you how product is manufactured in the facility. That manager then introduces you to the operations manager who takes you on a tour of the inventory management system. And so on...(for an example, see this blog entry by Robert Scoble about John Hartman).

When you're ready, you test your knowledge by engaging in a quest or possibly by designing a simulation to improve a business process.

Maybe, just maybe, a generation Y entrepreneur creates a virtual equivalent of your business, buying raw material, hiring other avatars, planning Christmas parties for staff with virtual entertainers, manufacturing products and then selling them for Linden dollars (300 of which are now the equivalent of a US dollar).

Far fetched? Maybe. But Sun Microsystems recently hosted a virtual press conference on Second Life. Sun's chief researcher and chief gaming office both appeared in avatar form at the virtual Sun Pavilion in Second Life to open the pavilion, a facility with an outdoor theatre, meeting spaces, and kiosks playing videos of Sun technology. Sun is banking on the assumption that blogs are just the tip of the iceberg for new ways to interact with potential clients. Virtual worlds like Second Life may well eclipse all the other recent developoments in the Web 2.0 universe.

No comments: