A $10 Million Investment In SecondLife from IBM is the Latest Push to Build V-Business

IBM employees in Second Life at a break-out session after a keynote address.

I’m not sure if this post is about SecondLife, Innovation, Co-Creation or all of the above.  Read on and you can decide.  This past Summer, IBM conducted the latest in it’s series of “Innovation Jams“.  The “Jam”was conducted online over the course of 72 hours.  During that time, every IBM employee was invited to join in a candid, broad-ranging exploration of enterprise-wide issues, challenges and opportunities.  IBMers were asked to post ideas on specific issues and topics, build upon the ideas of others and rate the ideas that had the greatest potential to transform their company.  Everyone — from the CEO to a college intern fresh off campus — had a say in the matter, and this time, they invited customers to participate. 

IBM pledged to invest $100 million on the best ideas to come out of the Jam.  One of the four markets explored was called “Going Places” and it focused on topics such as travel, transportation, and virtual experiences.  I participated in the discussion and being fascinated with Secondlife, I spent most of my time in this area of the forum.  The discussion around virtual worlds and SecondLife in particular was enthusiastic and there were apparently enough good ideas to convince IBM to put 10% of the kitty into developing a presence in SecondLife.  

Reuters has a story up about IBM’s continued push into Second Life and other virtual worlds: IBM accelerates push into 3D virtual worlds

IBM has embraced Second Life to an extent unmatched by any other major company — it has more than 230 employees spending time in-world, and it owns some half-dozen islands.  Some are open to the public, but most are private, with restricted access for the public.  In the Reuters article, Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Palmisano (photo & Second Life avatar to the right) talks about these efforts:

Big Blue has already established the biggest Second Life presence of any Fortune 500 company. It is also looking to build a 3D intranet where its clients will be able to discuss sensitive business information.”

 According to the article, he will be meeting with “in-world” employees on one of IBM’s private Second Life islands on November 14th after a real world town hall meeting with 7,000 employees in China.

So far in Second Life, IBM has set up a simulation of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, using data that tracks the position of the ball to re-enact points several seconds after they happen.  It has also held virtual events such as an IBM alumni reunion.

IBM has it’s very own “multiverse evangelists”.  IBM created these visionary positions within the company to go out and preach the virtues of virtual worlds to their customers and to the world(s).  These evangelists recently detailed IBM’s Second Life activities in another Reuter’s article:  IBM eyes move into Second Life ‘v-business’

Seeing how they practically coined the word “e-commerce”, you have to think they are serious about this emerging v-business.  Sam Palmisano is quoted in the article as saying,

We always ask the question, ‘if you knew 20 years ago what you know about the Web today, what would you do differently?’” Sandy Kearney, IBM’s director of emerging 3-D Internet and virtual business, told Reuters in a Second Life interview.

The Web took decades. This will likely take half that time.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Vice President, Technical Strategy and Innovation, IBM Corporation wrote about IBM’s efforts in virtual space in his blog with:

Transforming Business through Virtual Worlds Capabilities – it’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

In his blog article, Irving Wladawsky-Berger writes,

About two years ago, a study conducted by the IBM Academy of Technology concluded that technologies and capabilities from the gaming world would have a very strong impact on all aspects of IT, and made a number of recommendations for follow-on activities, which we have proceeded to implement.” 

Irving goes into great detail in his blog about how IBM is entering virtual space, and what they are finding out about doing business in virtual space.  It’s well worth the read!

The one thing that has always defined IBM is that they are pretty good at being the middleman, the broker between disparate systems.  If you are an IT Director, and you have a mix of hardware and software systems, IBM can come in and help you to get it all working and talking together.  There’s a very revealing quote in the latest Reuters article on 3D virtual worlds, and I truly think this exposes the (virtual) space where IBM wants to dominate:

A spokesman for IBM said its goals go far beyond Second Life, although it currently has its largest virtual world presence there, and that the company eventually wants to see all multiverses integrated into a seamless whole.

That seems to be the core strategy with IBM and v-business, to be the glue for all of the virtual worlds that may emerge.  We will never have a single all encompassing virtual world controlled by a single corporation, it’s just not going to happen, and it’s never happened in the past with any other technology.  Do you think that maybe a few IBM employees have a copy of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash on their office bookshelves.  Can you say “Metaverse”?  Hardware is dead; look at the sell off of IBM’s flagship ThinkPad division to China.  This is the future direction for IBM, and an extension of what they already do very well.

Irving closes out his blog entry with this observation: 

So, here we are in 2006, once more facing a set of fledgling technologies and capabilities — massively multiplayer online games and virtual worlds – that are already being used by many millions out there.  Once more we have the very strong feeling that this will have a huge impact on business, society and our personal lives, although none of us can quite predict what that impact will be.  It will be fascinating to see where this ride takes us in the future.”

Fascinating Indeed! 

Credit where credit is due:  Parts of this post were taken from a fellow WordPress blogger here: http://pacificrimx.wordpress.com/2006/11/11/ibm-cool/


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