“Can we talk about how to overcome the technical challenges of getting external users through our firewall to attend sessions hosted on our internal web conferencing platform?”
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That was the question that so rudely interrupted a discussion on Second Life as a conferencing platform during the “Conferencing and the Multimedia Web” session that I moderated at VoiceCon a few weeks ago. Here I was, moderating a discussion among a group of senior product managers for leading collaboration companies, and one of our audience members had the audacity to interject a real operational issue into our discussion of futuristic trends and services.
Surely there’s a lesson in this for all of us. Sometimes we get out in front of our industry a little bit too much. While we love discussing developments around Facebook, Second Life, and and the Apple iPhone, the reality is that the enterprise world is just a bit more grounded. In fact in my discussions with enterprises we hear a lot of the same refrains over and over again: “how do I pay for this?” “how do I adapt my organization to put together a cohesive Unified Communications strategy?” “what is the clear and concise business benefit?” “how do I address performance, security and compliance concerns?” “who manages these things?”
Those discussions aren’t usually as much “fun” as talking about avatars, ubiquitous social networking sites, and virtual reality, but the real reality is that those are the challenges facing real-world companies led by real-world managers.
This isn’t the first time that VoiceCon has served as a useful grounding mechanism. At the March event I spoke to a couple of enterprise telecom managers about their views toward unified communications, the typical response was “we’ll worry about that after we figure out how to air condition our wiring closets.” For them, the challenge of addressing heat dissipation issues as they rolled out line power for Ethernet phones was the more pressing concern.
The challenge then is to figure out how to address these operational and tactical issues now, while also tying the next generation of collaboration and communication tools into real-world issues. If something like Second Life is ever going to take off in the enterprise, it will only be once a critical mass is established of users who understand how Second Life can help solve real-world problems. Yes, it’s not as fun as the continued “Is the Apple iPhone an enterprise device” discussions, but when you have these discussions, keep in mind that the audience is probably tuning out so they can check their e-mail on their BlackBerry’s.