The research project will explore how PlayStation 3’s new virtual world – ‘Home’ – can be used as a business environment where senior managers can discuss ideas and collaborate on projects.
The project aims to explore, among other things, how large companies using virtual worlds as a business tool can reduce office space and travel costs as well as diminish the carbon footprint of corporate executives.
Dr Nipan Maniar, the University of Portsmouth academic famous for developing principles of ‘in-game’ learning in computer game environments, will lead the project with University of Portsmouth senior lecturer Manish Malik who is an expert in collaborative technologies.
Leading workplace transition consultants Advanced Workplace Associates have commissioned the research.
The firm’s clients include Microsoft, Merrill Lynch, Ernst and Young and numerous companies in the Financial Services sector with large white collar worker populations – executives from which will take part in the research project starting late February, 2009.
Andrew Mawson, Managing Director of Advanced Workplace Associates, said: “We advise some of the world’s biggest companies on how to tap into the idea of workforce mobility. The idea of one-person, one-desk and fixed office space is constantly being challenged by innovations in communications technologies and, more recently, the fallout from the global financial collapse.”
He said: “Increasingly we are living in a world without borders where workers need to collaborate on a global scale. There are human resources and economic tensions in trying to get so many people in the one place at the one time. Yes, audio and video-conferencing solutions have emerged but the use of virtual worlds may offer the next evolution in overcoming the tyranny of distance – a more realistic and learning-enhanced environment where managers can brainstorm, give presentations, express behaviour and network at a more human level while being continents apart. The concept of personalised avatars and immersed realities takes us a lot further than the common conference call.”
He added: “Working with Dr Maniar and Mr Malik, AWA’s psychologists will record and analyse the behaviours exhibited by participants and their avatars during the trial and its conclusion we will establish participants’ perceptions of the experience, their views on the usefulness of the virtual environments and their ideas on applications where the technology could be used within their organisations.”
Dr Nipan Maniar, the creator of the Culture Shock mobile phone game phenomenon, said:
“There is no doubt that business life of the future will include a greater use of virtual world technologies. There is a global trend towards mobile workforces. In India, for example, 43 per cent of small and medium businesses now have “mobile workforces”. Wireless communications is driving this transformation but the collaborative power of a mobile workforce will be fully realised in virtual world environments. In the current economic climate where renting office space is often the second biggest overhead, it makes good business sense for companies to explore the opportunities and benefits of workforce mobility and using virtual worlds as places to get business done more effectively and at a lesser cost than in the physical world.”
“The PS3 console being used to access a virtual world is interesting as there are strong pointers that gaming environments will increasingly be used for other purposes such as education. I think a strong current example of where we are going is Jamie Oliver’s cook book instruction being delivered via the Nintendo DS Lite. Who’s to say games publishers won’t offer titles related to business and other subject matter where a user could easily cross from a business game learning environment to a real ‘doing’ collaborative environment in a virtual world accessed by the same console? There is also the added advantage of a younger generation who are at ease with these technologies and where learning and doing things in these environments may seem more natural than, say, the classroom or the boardroom.”
Dr Maniar added:
“The concept can even be applied to corporate training and in-house development sessions for senior executives. Why should the execs in New York be the only ones to attend a workshop on improving best practice? Let’s go virtual and include management from Mumbai, Brazil and Beijing. The benefits, including cost, will be substantial by any measure. Over time and on a bigger scale, there are also environmental factors that are compelling with the paring back of the corporate carbon footprint.”
Manish Malik, an expert in Web 2.0 collaborative technologies, said:
“The idea of doing business in virtual world environments is likely to gain ascendancy in coming years driven as much by economic forces as well as the fact that it might offer significant advantages over the status quo of regular business travel and office space costs.”