PARTNERWORLD - IBM executive calls for 'virtual planet'

As virtual business interactions become more the norm, IBM is eager to bring together the different online virtual worlds facilitating such interactions

As companies look to engage in more virtual business interactions, IBM's head of innovation called for more integration between the various online virtual worlds where avatars meet.

Nick Donofrio, executive vice president, innovation and technology at IBM, hopes to encourage the creation of what he termed "a virtual planet" where rival virtual worlds are more interlinked.

"We want to bring all the worlds together in some way," he said Wednesday during his keynote address at IBM's PartnerWorld conference in St. Louis. "Wouldn't that be a blow for freedom?" he added.

IBM will help work to make it possible for a user in one virtual world to take the assets they create in that environment and move them to other worlds, according to Donofrio.

While Linden Research's Second Life is the most popular virtual world, there are alternatives such as Active Worlds and There.

IBM is encouraging its business partners to take more advantage of virtual meetings and training and has set up a special PartnerWorld island in Second Life. Partners can use virtual rooms on the island to meet up with each other and can opt to make those meetings private, according to Ravi Marwaha, general manager, global business partners at IBM. The vendor plans to make more of its Second Life space available to its partners so they can host their own virtual events, he said.

The creation and promotion of a 3-D Internet was one of the 10 potential business opportunities IBM unearthed last year, Donofrio said.

The vendor conducted two 72-hour brainstorming sessions, which it dubbed InnovationJam, involving its staff, partners, customers and academic institutions. More than 150,000 people participated and submitted over 46,000 ideas at the events held in July and September. Donofrio had the task of whittling those ideas down to 10 suggested directions. IBM committed to invest US$100 million in those 10 ideas over a two-year period.

IBM conducted a similar push for ideas specifically from its partner community back in 2004 and is keen to elicit more feedback around how better to serve the needs of its small to midsize business customers, Marwaha said. To help process the ideas, IBM plans to open its ThinkPlace ideas forum to its partners, he added. IBM launched ThinkPlace nearly two years ago as a central online resource to gather ideas.

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