Advanced 3D collaboration technologies are being used by government
agencies to enhance training, operations center management, and
research and development. These new solutions deliver greater value
with fewer resources and help public managers shorten cycle times,
reduce costs, make better decisions, and act more rapidly than they
can when using traditional communication and collaboration methods.
This article provides an overview of 3D virtual workspace
technologies and how they enhance and improve intelligence and
decision making for work groups and teams. It also describes
methods for efficiently leveraging remote subject matter experts,
as well as how these solutions enable teams to more thoroughly
analyze information and data in real time to improve training,
troubleshooting, design processes, and ongoing operations.
In addition, theres a discussion of the Naval Undersea Warfare
Centers new virtual Combat Systems Center and how it is evaluating
virtual world technology for training, rapid prototyping,
collaborative design activities, and war gaming. The article
concludes with guidelines and key issues to consider when selecting
and deploying these technologies.
3D Virtual WorkspacesAn Overview
Three-dimensional virtual workspaces gracefully integrate many
existing communication and collaboration technologies into visual
environments that simulate physical work locations, including
conference rooms, offices, project rooms, and operations centers.
The technology also can be used to create virtual replicas of more
specialized facilities, such as the Navys submarine combat center,
a medical ICU facility, or a lights-out data center.
Virtual collaboration technologies support all three communication
styles that people use while working face-to-face: speech, gesture,
and sketch. Together, these styles enable teams in virtual
workspaces to re-create the natural ways they would work together
if they were in the same physical location, and help to establish
trust within newly formed teams.
With advanced collaboration tools, existing computer applications,
data, and assets can be brought into a virtual environment for team
members to interact with in real time. Examples of the types of
existing data or assets that teams or organizations may want to use
include movies, images, publications, manuals, 3D models of
facilities, equipment, and enterprise productivity applications.
Virtual workspaces enable text chat, voice conferencing, and the
ability to collaboratively review and edit a single document,
multiple documents, video, images, and 3D models. These
capabilities are integrated and synchronized to ensure that
everyone in the group is dealing with the same information, which
enables distributed teams to make decisions with higher confidence
and avoid a misunderstanding of any assumptions or information by
More important, 3D technologies also indicate sense of presence
(who is in the room at the present time, who has been there since
the last meeting, and what information is new). In addition, teams
can record meetings so that people unable to attend due to
conflicts or significant time zone differences can replay them on
their own time. Finally, they guarantee the privacy and security of
all information, ensuring compliance with information assurance
Ultimately, advanced collaboration technologies can enable teams to
make faster decisions and take action more rapidly than they could
with traditional methods. They can increase the speed and
efficiency of working, and give users the confidence that they
brought all the right information and people (including subject
matter experts) together at the right time. The outcome of their
deployment is superior results at lower costs than is possible when
using traditional methods.
Using Virtual Collaboration Technologies
The public sector is using virtual collaboration tools to reduce
cycle times, decrease costs, make better decisions, and act
rapidly. Below are examples of how the technologies can be used for
remote training, operations management and administration, and
research and development.
Training in both highly specialized techniques and more general
workflows can benefit immensely from these new approaches. The
tools enable organizations to bring together all necessary
information, data, training modules, and videos into a single
virtual training facility, then assemble team members, managers,
instructors and subject matter experts, regardless of each
individuals physical location.
Specialized training typically includes in-depth instruction on how
to use specific facilities, processes, or systems that are
essential to completing core work requirements. With 3D tools,
teams and individuals can use online training scenarios without
affecting real-world operations or requiring organizations to build
simulated physical environments to train employees on safety and
other situations that only occur rarely.
Virtual world solutions can also be used by organizations to train
employees on general processes and procedures, which can be
especially effective when they must train large numbers of
geographically dispersed workers. Some examples of the need for
large-scale training by public sector employers include the U.S.
Air Force Air Education Training and Command (AETC) and the U.S.
Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). AETC trained more than
259,000 students in FY08. In FY09, TRADOC, which operates 32
schools and centers at 16 Army installations, conducted more than
2,700 courses for some 560,000-plus students.
Workspaces provide a virtual training location where participants
can view the necessary training modules and materials and engage
with trainers in interactive sessions without the need to travel to
another facility. Subject matter experts can record training
presentations to reuse in the future.
In addition, virtual collaboration technologies can be extremely
helpful for managing and administering operations centers, and
coordinating for disaster planning and recovery scenarios.
Operations centers are physical locations where employees and
managers oversee and administer ongoing organizational operations.
Sometimes subject matter experts are consulted on management and
administration matters, either by physically visiting the location
or communicating via email, phone, or web or videoconferencing.
Using virtual 3D operations centers, organizations can bring
together the necessary real-time data feeds, reports, and
information from applications and systems required to run the
operation. In addition, the staff, management, and subject matter
experts required to make ongoing and troubleshooting decisions can
gather from multiple remote locations.
The result is more informed and timely decisions, as well as the
ability for personnel to act more quickly once decisions have been
made. Also, within these virtual centers everything is accessible
in a single location, regardless of the physical location of the
people involved. As a result, management can leverage its time
better across multiple teams and processes, and subject matter
experts can be called on to lend their expertise to more
facilities, even those in remote locations.
Although there are many more potential uses for virtual world
technologies by public organizations, the last example we will
discuss is their use for research and development efforts. The
benefits are significant because virtual solutions enable new and
more efficient ways of working than traditional methods. In
addition to the obvious cost benefits, they enable more agile
development cycles, which include greater flexibility in terms of
design methodologies and options.
With virtual workspaces, dispersed team members can interact on new
systems, buildings, or process designs to simulate multiple
scenarios in a 3D setting. In a physical setting, this process
would not be cost effective or capable of completion within a
reasonable amount of time. Because team members in a virtual world
can interact much earlier in the design cycle, they can detect and
correct design problems sooner, optimize the design process, and
ultimately achieve better results.
Selecting and Deploying Virtual World Technologies
Organizations that want to deploy virtual collaboration
technologies should start with a quick trial that involves a small
group. You need to ensure that the technology selected can meet
objectives. Once the trial is complete, an initial pilot project
should begin. Both the trial and pilot should be hosted by the
technology vendor and offered in a software-as-a-service (SaaS)
model. When the organization decides to expand more broadly, it can
determine whether to continue deploying as a hosted service, move
the installation behind its firewall, or offer both options to
employees, depending on the type of usage.
It is important that all employee demographic groups are able to
use the selected technology easily. The software must be able to
fit within current organizational workflows without significant
process changes. All data and tools used regularly should be
brought into the virtual world effortlessly. In addition, the
solution should make it simple for people to communicate with one
another and include all of the following methods of communication:
talking, texting, showing, sharing, using webcams to show emotions,
gesturing, and sketching.
The economics of the technology, both the return-on-investment
(ROI) and the total cost of ownership (TCO), also need to be
considered. Decreases in travel expenses, improved productivity due
to less time spent traveling, and savings from the reduction of
time required to build or maintain physical assets can be used to
determine ROI. TCO calculations should include
18the cost of the software license and maintenance, any custom
development required to tailor the solution to a companys needs or
to integrate existing data or 3D assets, and the costs to set up
and train employees on the use of the technology.
The vendor that is ultimately chosen should be able to demonstrate
that it can execute reliably, is continuing to innovate, and is
responsive to customers specific needs. The technology should
easily integrate with an organizations existing applications, data,
and digital assets without significant custom development or long
Bottom line: within a day, the software should enable an
organization to get to a first cut that lets them verify whether
the human side of the workflow is working. If it is, then the team
may decide to create additional content or integrate other
elements. The basic idea is to have a virtual environment live from
the start and then be able to easily change or add to properties
over time, if necessary.
Virtual Collaboration for Better, Faster Decisions and
The current challenging economic climate demands that organizations
work more efficiently and achieve shorter cycle times. More
traditional methods of collaborationeither in-person or remoteare
too costly, too time intensive, or both.
Public managers need to figure out new ways to cut operating costs
while ensuring that performance is not affected, and that employees
are properly trained and capable of handling all situations. New
application collaboration solutions can assist them by enabling
onsite and remote staff to communicate more effectively, share
applications and data in real time, and exchange highly accurate
information across distributed teams.
The results from organizations that have already deployed such
technologies are improved training capabilities, more informed and
actionable decision making, and significant cost savings. It is
easy for any organization to get started with a test and pilot to
determine if these new solutions fit their needs.