The Immersive Enterprise: Mobile Tools Empower the Anytime, Anyplace Workforce

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The Immersive Internet
The enterprise is expanding in all directions, harnessing all manner of tools, technologies, platforms, and devices to encourage communication, collaboration, and the free flow of data and ideas across the business ecosystem and across the globe. But there are tasks such as learning, training, and prototyping where people need the support that only comes with face time.

This is where the "immersive internet," a collection of emerging technologies that have their roots in the gaming and virtual worlds, comes in. Properly implemented, these technologies promise to increase and enhance collaboration, allowing organizations to connect more deeply with customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders, and stakeholders. In addition, advancements in personal computing power and high-bandwidth internet access mean that many people can participate in these 3D, interactive, multiuser environments. Even handheld mobile devices are starting to integrate with, as a well as a directly support, the immersive internet.

For Erica Driver, co-founder and principal at ThinkBalm, a company offering independent IT industry analysis and strategic advisory services to tech-nology marketers and immersive internet advocates, the outlook for virtual worlds and 3D business applications is positive. Driver further expects adoption to "progress rapidly toward mainstream during the next 5 years," driven by factors including the rise of social networking, the spread of video game culture, and the decision by large business technology vendors to jump into the fray.

A ThinkBalm survey of 66 immersive internet practitioners shows early investments in these emerging technologies are yielding business value. More than 40% of those surveyed saw a positive economic benefit from investments in immersive technologies in 2008 and 1Q 2009, and more than half expect to obtain a positive total economic benefit in 2009. Looking to the future, more than 36% said their organizations will definitely expand their investments in 2009 and 2010, and another 38% indicated that they might expand their investment.

The real driver is the realization that the immersive internet "allows us to do things we can't do in the physical world and can't do (at least not as well) using other forms of communication and collaboration technology," Driver says.

For example, people can meet in virtual spaces to create 3D mind maps and flowcharts and to brainstorm. "In a physical world, we can collaboratively create 2D mind maps or flowcharts on a whiteboard, but you can only fit so many people in front of a 10' wall. And you can look at a 2D mind map or flowchart from only one angle: the front." The immersive internet also allows us to see and do the impossible. From observing air and energy flow to experiencing a model of the human heart, anything is possible. "We can travel through subatomic particles or fly about the earth, all in tandem with other people," Driver says.

A surprise even to Driver is the way the immersive internet impacts how we view, store, and recall data. Her regular encounters with members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, a collaborative community in Second Life dedicated to propelling the enterprise use of the immersive internet forward, reveal that people relate better to a visual representation of data.

In fact, she is finding that she and other community members are returning to the space they call ThinkBalm Island to access data such as spreadsheets, charts, and models rather than look for files on their PCs or laptops. The reason: collaborative, 3D data visualization is more engaging. People can collaboratively view, drill into, and manipulate the data as well as discuss it with others. "People gain a quicker, more complete understanding of the data by literally walking through it," Driver says.

It's easy to imagine a day when virtual worlds move from replacing meetings and conferences (the most common use cases) to take the place of central data repositories, creating huge stores of visual information housed in collaborative spaces to nourish creativity and encourage our shared-albeit virtual-experiences.

The next round of innovation must improve the tools we need to create, manage, organize, analyze, discuss, and share content and experiences. Moreover, these new environments must enable us to work in multiple locations (even dimensions) with multiple devices at any time. While traditional office spaces become a luxury and dream teams become ever more dispersed, we can equip our enterprises with an emerging set of applications that not only help employees work effectively anywhere, but that have the potential to empower next-generation collaborative environments and even transform the way we do business.


Companies Featured In This Article

EMC - www.emc.com

Kore Telematics - www.koretelematics.com

Liquid Machines - www.liquidmachines.com

Soonr - www.soonr.com

ThinkBalm - www.thinkbalm.com

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