Collaboration Simulations: Think Big - InformationWeek
09:53 AM
Dan Keldsen
Dan Keldsen
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Collaboration Simulations: Think Big

Stop messing around with "the pains of collaborating on a meeting agenda" and other trivial stuff. Take a lesson from those planning for mining disasters.

I've seen business and technology initiatives alike run straight off the rails. It happens when the "business focus" is something as vague as "being better at collaboration" or "being more efficient" or "being better at handling risk" or "being more innovative." Likewise, it's dangerous for companies to apply a platform or application in hopes of finding a problem to solve.

To be successful in tying together business strategy with technology solutions, we need to get to very, very specific outcomes. Which is why I found a session I recently attended at the Dassault Systemes customer conference in Las Vegas to be so interesting. (Disclosure: Dassault is a client of my firm, Human 1.0.)

The speaker was Richard Unger, who works for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Office of Mine Safety and Health Research. Unger's job, and the mission of his organization, is to avert mine disasters--and to end those disasters that do happen as quickly and safely as possible--through thorough safety training. It's worth considering what we can learn from such extreme collaboration situations, and stop messing around with "the pains of collaborating on a meeting agenda" that are embarrassingly trivial and meaningless by comparison.

Training for mining disasters used to happen above ground, in full daylight, with printed instructions and props that served as wall supports, equipment, shafts, electrical lines, and other "lifelines" that might guide miners back to the surface. In short, the simulation was absolutely unlike the real incidents which they were planning for.

You see, in a mining disaster all power goes out (both by design and because of the nature of these accidents), so you're plunged into darkness, frequently surrounded by dense smoke. And in an actively volatile mine, you can't assume a single explosion is the end of the accident. Attempting to run for safety can plunge miners into an open pit, or into an area of the mine with highly explosive coal dust in the air, or one with gas pockets that are deadly to breathe or prone to explode.

It's the sort of scenario just begging for a way to simulate safely so that the normal instincts to run away or freeze in the face of danger don't take over.

Safety Is A Team Effort

This is where NIOSH's immersive and collaborative Mine Rescue and Escape Training facility comes in, and what ties in well with the core of human behavior that we focus on at Human 1.0. The facility can hold a full mining team, with virtual reality headgear, to simulate the pitch blackness of mines, with only the simulated headlamps illuminating the environment.

It brings the sort of immersive VR work I was playing around with in the early 1990s as a grad student at the University of Texas, Austin, into the direct hands of miners who, while they're comfortable with heavy machinery and dangerous climates, aren't all that forgiving of high-tech tools and wouldn't typically have reason to use 3-D virtual environments.

What I love about this collaboration scenario is that:

• It emphasizes teamwork, a critical element of effective collaboration that's so often missing. It's the safe functioning of the team, not just individuals, that will bring home trapped miners--sooner rather than later. No teamwork = catastrophic failure.

• This virtual environment is far more immersive than the average "online collaboration space." And while this technology could be repurposed for general meetings, as fans of Second Life might prefer, the real power is using immersion to precisely simulate the dangerous environment without introducing any of the risks of the real environment.

• It acknowledges the natural human behaviors that surface both in everyday life and in extraordinarily dangerous times. By giving miners and support personnel a chance to work through dangerous operations in a safe environment, they have a chance to master their normal bodily/mental reactions.

As you consider the collaboration scenarios and environments you're building for your company, are you thinking about the most serious problems or opportunities you could be tackling? Without a vision for the really big rocks in your way, you'll never get to the epic win of collaborative technologies.

Let's face it: Only the geekiest of us think that micro-blogging or real-time, multi-person editing of a glorified Word doc is the raison d'etre of collaborative innovation. Think Big, and drill down--or find another opportunity to make a noticeable difference to your business.

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User Rank: Apprentice
12/5/2011 | 8:19:56 PM
re: Collaboration Simulations: Think Big
Sometimes it's easy to think big, like a driving simulator
but other times, it is more challenging. What would you do to improve -- say, the annual IT process for setting application support budgets -- that involves immersive collaboration? It's easier to imagine working with *things* in a virtual or augmented reality way. It's harder to imagine working with *numbers* in a VR way, especially when those numbers aren't modeling something tangible (like oil company seismic data, or production of steel ingots).
Project Collaboration
Project Collaboration,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2011 | 11:41:20 AM
re: Collaboration Simulations: Think Big
Great article, I do indeed believe in virtual project room.
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