BT and Unilever size up virtual worlds

Businesses such as BT and Unilever have begun exploring the use of virtual world technology like that used by Second Life to see if it has worth inside the enterprise.

Businesses such as BT and Unilever have begun exploring the use of virtual world technology like that used by Second Life to see if it has worth inside the enterprise.

Kat Dawe, IT project manager at Unilever, said the company is evaluating the use of virtual worlds for conferencing global teams who work across different time zones.

"We are experimenting. Virtual worlds are not a proven way of working for us. We do not have a great deal of capability in virtual world technology internally. What we first want to determine is if virtual world technology can deliver better ways of working for our global teams."

Dawe said Unilever already uses high definition video conferencing but said virtual worlds could help with conferencing much larger groups of employees and make sharing information during meetings easier.

BT said it was also experimenting with virtual worlds, but had gone a stage further by launching an actual application. Ivan Croxford, Head of Market Development at BT Retail, said the company had built a "Dragon's Den" style virtual island, where BT employees could pitch new business ideas to senior management.

"Pitching was traditionally done as a regular meeting face to face. What we found using a virtual world was discussions with senior managers were more relaxed and put candidates at ease."

Croxford said it was best to start virtual world IT projects on a small scale, for example, two users meeting in a virtual world, before moving on to larger projects where IT managers could encounter resistence.

Forrester analyst Erica Driver said in a report that resistence to using virtual worlds in business mirrors the hesitancy some companies had towards taking web site development seriously. She said that virtual worlds or "3D styled websites" which provide a much richer experience will take off as internet speeds increase.

"It is easy to poke fun at Second Life and pooh-pooh the whole idea. But by contrast in 1990, the web that we take for granted today seemed unbelievable and unachievable."

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