Nine out of ten business forays into virtual worlds fail within 18 months but their impact on organizations could be as big as that of the internet, according to Gartner, Inc. Analysts said that focusing on the technology rather than understanding user requirements is one of the key reasons for failure.
Further reasons for the high failure rate include starting projects for the ‘cool’ factor or because competitors are doing it. Many were closed down or abandoned by a lack of clear objectives and a limited understanding of the demographics, attitudes and expectations of virtual-world communities.
A benefit of virtual worlds is the rich collaboration experience they offer by adding a real-time visual dimension via avatars, so interactions can include emotional information in the "conversations" between individuals, setting them apart from simpler networking applications. They also differentiate themselves from web-based interactions (which can be asynchronous) by requiring both parties to be present at the same time.
The cost of implementing a corporate virtual platform is also marginal, typically from around $50k and trials can start from as little as $5k, which can further motivate companies to experiment with them. It could also save costs from reduced use of expensive videoconferencing facilities and eliminate the need to bring employees from multiple locations and time-zones to a single site, with substantial savings in travel and associated costs and time, thereby also supporting corporate environmental initiatives.
If selecting the virtual world route, organizations have three broad choices: they can enter an existing one (such as Second Life or There.com), create there own public world, or create their own internal, private world.
By 2012, Gartner estimates that 70 per cent of organizations will have established their own private virtual worlds and predicts that these internal worlds will have greater success due to lower expectations, clearer objectives and better constraints.
There is meaningful corporate use of virtual world platforms that organizations can embrace. Gartner said that organizations could start using virtual worlds in role-based scenario-driven training exercises or complex situational simulation. They could be used in training emergency services (such as medical, fire and police) and military/law enforcement services to simulate real-world scenarios, including public order control and medical emergencies. The second phase could involve extended virtual-world deployment to support collaboration and employee interaction to provide a secure, persistent and interactive virtual workspace to allow individuals to interact and improve collaboration. It could then progress to enhance socialization both within and external to the organization and ultimately extend to a broader community that includes supply chain partners and customers.
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