Use Your Illusion: Living And Working In A Virtual World

Most CIOs feel that the workplace can sometimes get a bit, well, unreal. According to The Conference Board, they ain't seen nothing yet.

John Soat, Contributor

September 11, 2007

3 Min Read

Most CIOs feel that the workplace can sometimes get a bit, well, unreal. According to The Conference Board, they ain't seen nothing yet.The Conference Board is one of the most respected names in business management. When The Conference Board tackles a topic, that means it's a bona fide business concern.

This week the Conference Board weighed in on the subject of virtual worlds. In a new report entitled "Crafting a Strategy for Virtual Worlds: Eight Questions to Ask," the Conference Board tackles the tricky subject of what business managers are supposed to make of the growing use of virtual reality sites like Second Life, Kaneva, and There.

"Although virtual worlds appear to mimic the real world, this is an illusion," said the author of the report, Edward Roche, in a statement (I love that quote). The point he's making is that virtual worlds function according to the rules of the people who put them together, not real-world business rules. That means managers who are looking to do business or get employees involved (or let employees get involved) in virtual worlds need to be aware of how they work: what transactions are allowed, acceptable codes of behavior, and the types of corporate information that can be imported or exported, for example. "For the business community, choosing the right virtual world to use is a crucial decision," Roche said.

Plenty has been written about businesses that are moving into virtual worlds, Second Life in particular. For management, dealing with workers in virtual worlds is becoming more of a reality, as well. IBM workers in Italy are threatening to strike this week in Second Life, though exactly what that means is open to interpretation, according to a blog by my colleague Mary Hayes Weier.

The Conference Board's eight questions concerning virtual reality are mostly (you'll pardon the expression) pragmatic stuff: what's the corporate purpose, who's in charge, how much will it cost, what's the revenue model?

My favorite question is this: "Is IT up to the job?" In other words, will CIOs endorse and support end-users' desire to move into virtual reality, and help management figure out a way to make it work for the benefit of the company and its shareholders? Roche's answer: yes.

"The IT function in most companies is one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated groups," he said. (Amen to that.) "Unfortunately, continual nagging from users and extremely difficult technical challenges tend to make IT resistant to change. Often, a new project is considered little more than another headache. But, ultimately, IT can be counted on to get the job done. Just budget the money and get out of the way."

Love the sentiment. You don't hear that advice bandied about in connection with IT these days -- much less put into practice.

For CIOs, though, a tip: Make sure it's real money, not the virtual stuff.

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