The New World of Collaboration

Convergence Corner

The New World of Collaboration

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  April 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

One of the key drivers of business success is the degree to which employees are encouraged to collaborate. In fact, the ability to collaborate effectively can be the difference between a world-class organization and an also-ran. Collaboration not only helps in developing best-in-class strategies and ideas, but it also creates a sense of camaraderie and ownership among team members.

It’s easy when all your employees sit under one roof. But, with the growth of distributed workforces, collaboration becomes as much a technology question as a corporate mantra. For multi-site businesses or those with remote workers, collaboration requires an investment in technology that will enable a convenient collaborative environment (that’s not to imply that single-location businesses would not benefit from the same technologies).

I recently had a chance to talk to Ron Burns, CTO at ProtonMedia, which has developed a tool to drive collaboration in enterprise environments. The product, called ProtoSphere, is a 3D virtual environment that can be used to enhance sales calls, corporate meetings, training and educational exercises, or one-on-one meetings.

“Where people have typically made a call from a conference room, we have made the call the room,” explains Burns. “Instead of meetings being based on scheduled times, we are enabling persistent collaboration.”

The idea is that every time you dial into a call, you enter into a virtual environment, instantly adding the ability to share information, data, and documents with your colleagues, partners, or customers. Certainly, there are a number of very good content sharing systems available today, but the virtual environment adds the personal presence that gives the feeling of closer interactivity. Despite the advances in communication technology, there still is no substitute for face-to-face communication, and the avatar-based experience delivered by ProtoSphere adds that element to the experience.

I’m not 100 percent sold on the idea, but I do believe in collaboration as a facilitator of success, and ProtoSphere has a number of easy-to-use features that make collaboration simple and allow users to leverage those features they find most useful at any time. Some of my favorite features include:

·         3D data visualization, which was developed initially for displaying medial imagery, but can be used to display any kind of data table, including the ability to sort and filter data on the fly;

·         search capability for indentifying any stored content, including documents and blogs, which can then be shared with other participants on a presentation board;

·         moving between conference calls/rooms while leaving the legacy of your communications in the original room;

·         text chat, gesturing, and customizable avatars, creating a uniquely personalized experience; and

·         integrated social network profiles.

Burns says the company will also add a webcam option in the future, and is also in talks with telepresence vendors to integrate high-end videoconferencing to the solution.

But even with voice and text communication, virtual collaboration settings offer an enhanced meeting experience for a wide range of applications, ranging from daily one-on-one meetings to larger virtual conference sessions and classrooms. (It can support auditorium-style presentations for up to 250 participants.)

In fact, results from a user experience survey indicate that 100 percent of respondents said they would attend another ProtoSphere event. That figure speaks for itself.

Virtual environments are still in their early stages, though there are several similar solutions already on the market (though my experience is Protoshpere is extremely user friendly), and it will take some time before they become mainstream. However, forward-thinking businesses looking to enhance their internal and external collaboration capabilities will quickly realize the benefits from their investments.

Once users begin using the platform, they will quickly find its features can be leveraged in many daily activities, enabling them to develop closer, more personal relationships with colleagues, partners, and clients. For anyone interested in giving ProtoSphere a test drive, the company offers a trial download from its website, I encourage you to try it out.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi