Joe Little, who works in BP's chief technology office, said the company has identified 3D interactive web and virtual worlds as the breakthrough technology for 2008.
The company is using virtual world environments for strategy planning, global collaboration and anonymous counselling for staff.
Speaking at the Virtual Worlds Europe conference this month, Little said, "BP is engaged in virtual worlds because of our dispersed workforce, team members working on several global projects, periodic travel restrictions, an ageing workforce with a lot of knowledge to impart and a tough graduate market."
By mid-2008 BP executives hope to increase the use of virtual worlds, especially for collaboration, marketing public education, mentoring, learning and development and refining business processes. Other opportunities include using virtual worlds for process safety training and educating consumers in alternative energy concepts, Little said.
Dutch bank ABN Amro is using the virtual world Second Life for recruitment and for one-to-one meetings with prospective employees.
Daan Josephus Jitta, ABN Amro's senior vice-president, direct channels and innovation, said, "The 2D internet is excellent for simple human-machine interaction, but the 3D social internet enables ready human-to-human interaction, or anonymous avatar-to-avatar communication."
He said future uses of virtual worlds would include customer contact, consulting and financial planning. However, financial services would not yet be offered through virtual worlds because of the need to resolve regulatory, ID management and security issues.
Drinks manufacturer Diageo has piloted a Second Life events-based programme to boost creative productivity among its global research and development teams. The teams are using the technology for brainstorming, co-development and training, said Dele Alanda, Diageo's global digital marketing business partner.
However, Dutch drinks group Heineken backed out of Second Life following regulatory uncertainties over the ability of people aged under 21 in the US to view drinks advertisements.