SHARE



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Brian Riggs
Brian is a member of Ovum's Enterprise team, tracking emerging trends, technologies, and market dynamics in the unified communications and...
Read Full Bio >>
SHARE



Brian Riggs | August 28, 2017 |

 
   

Avatars & Conferencing: With Virtual Reality It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

Avatars & Conferencing: With Virtual Reality It's Déjà Vu All Over Again I don't see virtual reality taking off for business meetings, and here's why.

I don't see virtual reality taking off for business meetings, and here's why.

July 28 was one for the books because it was the first time I attended a meeting via virtual reality -- or rather, a demo of a meeting via virtual reality. OK, OK... it wasn't really a meeting because I was the only one in the virtual room.

Somebody else was supposed to be there, too, but he couldn't get his avatar working. So I spent my time spraying a virtual super soaker onto a virtual whiteboard and smacking the non-virtual demo guy a few times as my non-virtual hands flailed around. (In other words, this "business meeting" was considerably more productive than most.)

The demo, which took place on the Cisco Live expo floor, was the same as the one presented onstage at Enterprise Connect earlier this year. Same table and coffee cups. Same virtual Spark Board and buddy list. Same disembodied ghost representing the other guy in the room. Same squirt gun. (By the way, I'm now advising clients to equip all their conference rooms with squirt guns.)



Author attending conference via virtual reality at Cisc .... OMG! Is that really how my hair looks in VR goggles? (Photo credit: Dave Michels)

Also the same: the ability for a real person to draw on a real Spark Board in the real world and have it show on the virtual Spark Board in the virtual world. And vice versa. That is very clever, because if this takes off providing a consistent experience for conference participants in and out of the virtual environment will be vital.

But it's not going to take off. Here's why.

Avatars -- Just Like the Movie, Only Not Cool
The problem with virtual reality conferences -- at least of the kind I demoed -- is they're predicated on avatars. And when it comes to avatars, we've walked that road already and learned that it leads nowhere.

Hark back eight or 10 years when we were all agog over virtual world conferencing. Second Life had been promoting its site for business meetings, then introduced virtual world software that enterprises could deploy on their own networks. Cisco set up a virtual environment where its resellers could interact. IBM launched its own collaboration-centric virtual world, where "people can select colleagues from their Lotus Sametime contact list, and then invite them to... meet in a [virtual] boardroom, an auditorium or a collaboration space."

Some of these immersive conferencing services live on, like Immersive Turf and ProtoSphere. Businesses continue to use them, mainly for training and large corporate events. Others were less fortunate. IBM Sametime 3D disappeared long ago, while Avaya Live Engage got the hook late last year.

There are any number of ways to explain why immersive services didn't take the corporate conferencing market by storm. Generally speaking, I think it was a solution without a problem. It aimed to make business meetings more fun by bringing an online gaming experience to the workplace. But it didn't make meetings or employees more productive. Plus, it could be really expensive.

Drilling down a bit, the VoIP quality wasn't all that great. Network issues could cause everything to freeze up for some, but not others. And then there were the avatars. Personally, I found them awkward to use -- everything from dressing them up and picking a hairstyle to memorizing a dozen keyboard commands to wave, point, clap, and make other gestures.

Interacting with others could border on the surreal. Eyes stared blankly, lips didn't move. Maybe there's a generation of employee this really works for, or a type of business meeting that really benefits from an immersive world populated by cartoon cutouts. But I was always like, "I just need 30 minutes with Hank in Marketing to discuss the product launch. I shouldn't have to choose a marionette and learn how to work its strings to do that."

Meetings in virtual reality are the same. Headsets and handheld motion controllers may make it easier to control the avatar and navigate the virtual environment (though there's still a steep learning curve if you're not already familiar with how to use them). But -- whether it's the Bank of Ireland testing AltspaceVR or Studio323 transitioning from video conferences to vTime -- we're back to pretty much the same kind of avatar-based meetings from a decade ago. And avatars -- while maybe fun when playing online games -- are at best a distraction, at worst a hindrance when it comes to your garden variety business meeting.

Cisco, to its credit, recognizes this. At Cisco Live I sat down with one of the Collaboration Technology Group executives, who explained the demo was just that, a demo. It was great to have in the booth. It was great to show on stage. But the company has no real expectation for the Oculus-Spark integration to wind up as a shipping product. At least not in its current form.

VR in the Workplace
Before you classify and dismiss me as a luddite, I need to say there are many great use cases for virtual reality in the workplace. Realtors and hoteliers are finding it extremely useful for property visits. It will be great for retailers letting customers see what, for example, their kitchen remodel will look like. It will be a great way for architects, engineers, surgeons, and others to interact with complex 3D models directly relevant to their work. And communications and collaboration will undoubtedly be part of that.

I also think that emerging technology will completely transform business meetings of the conference room variety. But this won't take the form of cartoon cutouts being pushed through some kind of corporate fantasyland. Instead it will involve mixed reality, 3D meshes, projectors, and holography. But these are years away from finding their ways into orderable products, much less into your conference rooms. In the meantime, I fear we'll need to make do with old-fashioned 2D video conferences.

Follow Brian Riggs on Twitter and Google+!
@brian_riggs
Brian Riggs on Google+





COMMENTS



Enterprise Connect Orlando 2018
March 12-15 | Orlando, FL

Connect with the Entire Enterprise Communications & Collaboration Ecosystem


Stay Up-to-Date: Hear industry visionaries in Keynotes and General Sessions delivering the latest insight on UC, mobility, collaboration and cloud

Grow Your Network: Connect with the largest gathering of enterprise IT and business leaders and influencers

Learn From Industry Leaders: Attend a full range of Conference Sessions, Free Programs and Special Events

Evaluate All Your Options: Engage with 190+ of the leading equipment, software and service providers

Have Fun! Mingle with sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, guest speakers and industry players during evening receptions

Register now with code NOJITTEREB to save $200 Off Advance Rates or get a FREE Expo Pass!

September 20, 2017

Customer experience can make or break your business. But how do you achieve outstanding customer service when you're dealing with outdated organizational structure, lagging technology, dated proces

August 16, 2017

Contact centers have long been at the leading edge of innovation in communications technology, given their promise of measurable ROI and the continual need to optimize customer interactions and sta

July 12, 2017

Enterprises have been migrating Unified Communications & Collaboration applications to datacenters - private clouds - for the past few years. With this move comes the opportunity to leverage da

September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular BlogGeek.me blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.