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Virtual Workplace – a 2011-2012 Vision

For those of us that have been through the scars of previous technology and paradigm shifts, it’s always interesting to watch a new cycle evolve. It usually starts with a great bit of fanfare, vision, bold predictions and concerns of “that’s crazy…it’ll never work…why would anyone care about that…??” etc, etc. And then after a little while (usually 12 months), the hype slows down and there are lulls while people get down to the business of creating the actual technology and associated companies. During these lulls, doubt often creeps in and we find out who has actual vision and who is riding the coattails of hype.During the initial lull in any technology cycle, I like to ask the following questions to help me determine if the lull is temporary or potentially permanent.1. Can I explain the benefit of the technology (or vision) in 1-2 sentences, or do I need to ramble through some story?
2. If I can explain it in 1-2 sentences, do semi-technical people understand it, or at least ask good questions to clarify?
3. If this technology was open-sourced, as opposed to being controlled by a single company (or a small number of companies), are there enough interesting aspects to get communities of developers to engage with it?
4. If it’s not happening already, what is going to be the “ah ha” moment when people will actually start valuing it enough to pay for it, or at least associating valid business models with it?
5. If it went away tomorrow, would anyone really miss it within 3-6 months?
So how does all of this relate to the Virtual Workplace? In the simplest terms, the intersection of Virtual Worlds, Business Worlds and Globalized Worlds is creating an inflection point in the marketplace around how people communicate and collaborate. We know the pace at which the Business World is changing. We’re understanding the impact that the Globalized World is having on our day-to-day lives, but what we don’t exactly know is how the virtual aspect of Virtualized Worlds will truly impact the way we interact. This is where the answers to those previous 5 questions will shape markets.I threw out the dates 2011-2012 in the title of the blog post, so let me throw out some predictions of what this Virtualized World might look like around that time frame. ([NOTE: These are personal predictions and should not be considered guidance or forecasting by Cisco).1. Pundits and companies will no longer talk about Virtualized Environments in terms “alternative environments” or “you can do anything you want”, but rather focus their message on the things that are unique to the medium, or an order of magnitude better than previous mediums. For example, I expect someone will come up a next-generation “meeting” environment that combines the trust of Cisco Telepresence, the simplicity of Cisco WebEx, the robust visualization of IBMs Many Eyes, the recommendation engine of Amazon, the social-grid of LInkedIn and the serendipity we see in aspects of Cisco’s Second Life campus.
2. People will stop talking about Virtualized Environments in terms of “avatars”, as the medium becomes much more of a blend between virtual-presence and humanized interaction. Maybe it’ll be simple things like dynamic system movement based on your people or content interactions (so we can stop bumping into walls). Maybe it’s a live webcam feed of your face as you speak to convey actual emotion or trust. But hopefully it evolves to a point where you don’t think about it as a tool to interact with, but rather it seamlessly blends into our daily workflows that are already highly connected.
3. Users won’t have to think about full-blown Virtual Environments like we do today with Second Life or Club Penguin, but rather they will think about grabbing the aspect that is interesting or valuable to them and add it to their world via widget-like applications. For example, the “fly-on-the-wall” widget will let a colleague capture a live virtual engagement and flip it to you as easy as sending an email and you’ll be able to view it on your mobile phone without any new client software.4. Like the telephone system, where interaction with anyone is necessary, Virtual Environments will become the “ah ha” driver to build blended “Inside-the-firewall” and “cloud-computing” environments. As we saw in the examples from Wikinomics, the ability to create environments that allow diverse groups of people to interact will be key for all companies, big and small. The technologies exist to create those environments, and the winning companies will be the ones that unlock the doors that are creating barriers between those paradigms today.
So with those predictions, I wish the blogosphere a happy and healthy Holiday Season, and all the best in 2008!!

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