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                      DSS News
                D. J. Power, Editor
        July 29, 2007 -- Vol. 8, No. 15

   A Free Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM
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 Check Jerry Wagner's Reflections on Decision Support at 
                   DSSResources.com

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Featured:

* Ask Dan: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Second
Life for decision support?
* Upcoming Decision Support Related Conferences 
* What's New at DSSResources.COM
* DSS News Headlines

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Ask Dan!

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Second Life for
decision support?

by Dan Power
Editor, DSSResources.com

Multi-user visual simulations are at the leading and bleeding edge
for computerized decision support. The major issues are not related to
if and how the technology will be useful, but rather to timing for
exploring the technology for business applications and which software
platform to use. This column is the third in a three-part series on
multi-user visual simulations and decision support and the focus is on
Second Life (secondlife.com).

Second Life (SL) is "a 3D online digital world imagined, created and
owned by its residents." It is also a controversial, emerging,
exciting platform for multi-user visual simulation and decision
support. Allison Fassin, in a recent Forbes.com article, notes more
than 80 companies have set up some type of operation in Second Life
primarily to "capture eyeballs" of the more than 8 million members.
She discusses some of the problems with using SL for business
purposes. A TIME.com reviewer expressed some additional concerns.

Second Life is the Wild Wild West, Iraq on steroids, Star Trek and
"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982) rolled together. It is
social networking and it is a powerful development environment.

So what are the major advantages of using Second Life for decision
support?

1) Easy access and low cost. The client is a free download like
Firefox or Internet Explorer and people can participate without paying
a membership fee. The client is still evolving and the new voice
client is in testing by the community so the software may need to be
downloaded every few weeks with updates. The software requires a high
speed Internet connection, a fast microprocessor, good video/graphics
card and 512MB or more RAM, and hard drive space for the many files in
the download. The downloads are easy however, Vista seems to work with
SL or use Windows XP or a Mac.

2) Experienced and dedicated designer/builders. A quick visit to SL
showcases the possibilities and the wonders that are still to come.
Second Life has "few restrictions and provides broad and flexible
content authoring experiences for developers". The quantity of
available objects, textures and scripts to reuse is impressive and
designers are available to create custom avatars, buildings and
products. If you can make a rough sketch, a good builder can create a
prototype quickly. With the floor plans and dimensions a builder can
replicate your factory or with enough time an entire city can be
replicated. 

3) Tools and venues for communications-driven decision support. The
tools include streaming video, voice, PowerPoint, agenda and meeting
management tools, chat recorders, and even name tags for avatars. My
recent column (DSS News, 7/15/2007) listed some major venues and
DecisionSupportWorld.com will have resources related to venues with
SLUrl links.

4) A large, dedicated user base. It is currently low cost to "hire"
people/avatars to work for you in Second Life. The pay is in Linden
dollars and you can easily hire employees from more than 50 countries.
The accounting and tax issues are still ambiguous, but I assume the
people are independent contractors. Companies like Manpower are in SL
and can help sort out those issues. SL is an easy way for a company to
"go global". Also, many of the users have great computing skills and
they have learned how to use SL.

5) Impression management and creativity enhancement. Avatars look
like whatever the user wants. I have ordered a custom avatar that
looks a bit more like the real Dan Power. In the future, Leinad
Meriman my SL alter ego will have a much stronger link to me and
although I wish I could use my real name, anonymity has some
advantages for certain types of decision support. Second Life breaks
down some barriers to creative thinking and frees the imagination.
Every time I fly in Second Life I feel like a Superman. It is easy for
me to wear a tailored British suit or designer jeans. I can have hair
in any style or color I want; we can bring in the clowns for a meeting
or we can all wear Star Trek uniforms. Some people are reluctant to
use videoconferencing because of concerns about how they will appear;
with SL, users can consciously manage the impressions they create
during meetings, events and activities.

6) Time compression. A day in Second Life is 4 hours long. People
connect quickly and teleport from venue to venue. SL is operating, the
7/24/365 nature of Second Life can speed up activities and change the
perceptions of time of users.

7) Easy data integration from real life using RSS feeds. The
possibilities for integrating data from various Web sources into
Second Life are expanding rapidly.

8) Encourages active participation and experiential learning. People
experience SL and those experiences impact real life. An SL meeting
can be both enjoyable and memorable. A walk through a proposed factory
can help understand what it will be like when built.

So what are the major disadvantages of using Second Life for
decision support?

1) Learning time and training costs. Company executives are
generally unfamiliar with Second Life and the learning curve requires
at least 8 hours to gain a basic comfort level. A good "real life"
coach can make the learning process much easier for an SL "newbie"
manager. 

2) Distractions are numerous. Second Life is a big virtual space and
much is happening from shopping to sex, from sunning at the beach to
skiing, from dancing under the stars at the Romantic Starlight
Ballroom to a live music performance at the SL synagogue. Some of the
distractions are very pleasant, but they create the possibility that
employees will be playing when they should be working. Also, companies
will need disclaimers and HR needs to review of policies on sexual
harassment.

3) Griefing, pranksters and spam. There are all sorts of crazy
people floating around Second Life with too much time to waste who
devise pranks and nasty activities. From defacing buildings, to
harrassing worshippers at a synagogue or conference attendees. Some of
the conference venues now have security staff or restrict access based
on a land access list. Security of many types is an issue.

4) Technology problems. Some problems include slow responses, lag in
resizing objects, a need to empty cache memory following crashes
(which do happen), a need to update software, and a need for
headphones.

5) Chat is a very slow communication tool. The new voice client will
speed up interaction of people in SL, but chat will still have a use
especially with the automatic translators for multi-language
communication. Voice interaction will be invaluable for SL meetings.

6) Resistance to use. Second Life is not like anything most
executives have experienced and there will be resistance to using this
technology. It is easy to view SL as a game and to overlook the real
world decision support possibilities.

7) SL addiction. Some people have become addicted to using SL and
spend hours on the system and become sleep deprived and neglect real
life activities. Company HR personnel will need to monitor the
behavior and attitudes of employees who are heavy users of tools like
Second Life.

SL can be an effective business tool. According to John Brandon in a
Computerworld article (5/2/2007) on the top business sites in SL,
"What makes the IBM presence even more interesting, though, is what
takes place behind closed doors. Regular 'brainstorming' meetings with
clients have produced interesting ideas, such as a grocer that would
sell items in Second Life and have them delivered to homes, and a fuel
company that would hold regular training sessions for employees --
which would not be open to the public."

The use of Second Life for decision support needs to be carefully
planned. We have much to learn and for this column I conducted some
interviews with active, expert SL participants for some suggestions
and tips on bringing executives to Second Life.

Paul Clevett, aka avatar PaulC Beck, CTO of Hyperstring.net, said "I
think the first thing is that managers need to actually get in and
experience Second Life before judging it; standing on the outside just
doesn't work. I think it is small steps ... try holding a few meetings
and then move on to the more complex stuff. SL is a complicated piece
of software."

Rachel Hawthorn, aka avatar Katrine Fredriksson, is an RL/SL artist
and mixed reality analyst focused on design issues. She is completing
her MFA using SL at Bard College. She argues that for SL to work
businesses goals must be defined. She thinks the "learning curve" is
the major disadvantage. She notes "a strong B2B SL platform is needed
and a RL marketing panel that integrates business solutions with
custom appearance development." She noted, "it is important to make it
easy for executives to get into SL with custom avatars."

Tom Samson, aka avatar Samson Francis, President and CEO Teamwork
Dynamics (http://www.teamworkdynamics.com) focused on the need for SL
technology evangelists in companies to make SL a decision support
environment. Tom is an entrepreneur and was a Partner in a national
accounting firm for more than 12 years. He noted "The first hurdle is
to make it easier to get started in SL. Based on my experiences the
best way to get a new executive into SL is to mentor them through the
learning process based on their individual learning styles. Some want
to do it themselves, some want to have someone help them and then some
want someone to do it for them. I don't believe that IT/HR people are
the best to help an executive get into SL. The most effective teacher
will be a peer who has developed the skills and then helps their
counterpart learn. The most enthusiastic are the young supervisors and
managers who 'discover' the power of new technologies and then use
that knowledge to advance their standing and roles in the company. The
key is to focus on the payback."

Based upon what I have experienced, I am promoting the need for
Second Life "train the trainer workshops" in organizations that want
to use SL for decision support. The workshops should include a mix of
HR, IT and junior executives and the purpose should be skill building
and exploring decision support using Second Life. The idea is to spend
a day with 15-20 key organization players and help them experience SL
and get started, i.e., create an account, customize an avatar, learn
basic skills in walking, flying and using voice communication. During
the day the participants can then realistically explore decision
support possibilities for the organization.

As far as the seven major disadvantages listed above, they are real
and they must be acknowledged. Some of the SL problems will only be
corrected with a specialized client, or more restrictions from Linden
Labs or with a dedicated or restricted simulation environment.
Training and awareness can reduce the impacts of some other
disadvantages. Second Life continues to improve and evolve. The
disadvantages will become less important and less significant.

During the past 2 months, I have concluded that Second Life is a
real phenomenon and a powerful new technology. Managers can exploit
Second Life today for "real world" decision support.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed.

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References

Athavaley, A., "A Job Interview You Don't Have to Show Up For," June
20, 2007, URL
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118229876637841321.html?
mod=hpp_us_editors_picks

Brandon, J., "The top eight corporate sites in Second Life,"
Computerworld, May 02, 2007, URL
http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?
command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9018238&pageNumber=1


Fass, A., "Sex, Pranks and Reality," Forbes.com, 07/02/2007, URL
http://www.forbes.com/home/free_forbes/2007/0702/048.html .

Power, D., "Can multi-user visual simulations provide real world
decision support?" DSS News, Vol. 8, No. 13, July 1, 2007, URL
http://dssresources.com/newsletters/193.php .

Power, D., "What are the best Second Life resources for
communications-driven decision support?" DSS News, Vol. 8, No. 14,
July 15, 2007, URL http://dssresources.com/newsletters/194.php .

Sites to Avoid: Second Life, TIME.com, URL
http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/
0,28804,1638344_1638341_1633628,00.html

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           Check the article by Mark Demarest, 
       "The Information Triad" at DSSResources.com

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Upcoming Decision Support Related Conferences

1. AMCIS 2007, Americas Conference on Information Systems, 
Keystone, CO USA, August 9-12, 2007. SIG DSS mini-tracks.
Check http://www.biz.colostate.edu/amcis07/ .

2. DaWaK 2007, 9th International Conference on Data 
Warehousing and Knowledge Discovery, Regensburg, Germany,
September 3-7, 2007. Check http://www.dexa.org/ .

3. Pre-ICIS SIG DSS Workshop, Sunday, December 9, 2007,
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, papers due Monday August 20, 2007. 
Check release http://dssresources.com/news/2052.php .

4. IFIP TC8/WG8.3 DSS Working Conference, Toulouse, France,
July 1- 4, 2008, papers due November 16, 2007. 
Check release http://dssresources.com/news/2093.php .

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  Link to Dan Power: http://www.linkedin.com/in/danpower

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What's New at DSSResources.COM

07/22/2007 Posted Jerry Wagner Reflections on Decision Support. 
Check the reflections page.

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            Advertise here. Support DSS news!

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DSS News Release Headlines - July 15 - July 27, 2007 
Read them at DSSResources.COM and search the DSS News Archive

07/25/2007 Polycom video conferencing systems first to achieve high
U.S. government security certification.

07/25/2007 Affinity Health Plan selects SASŪ business
intelligence to help make healthier decisions. 

07/24/2007 One of the nation's largest construction management 
firms builds new strategic human resource management system.

07/24/2007 Wells Fargo launches mobile banking - newest way for 
customers to bank anytime, anywhere. 

07/24/2007 LogicManager announces innovative enterprise risk 
management product to address new Sarbanes-Oxley changes. 

07/24/2007 Decision Sciences Corporation and RedPeg Marketing 
captivate audiences with innovative immersive experiential marketing
tour.

07/24/2007 Maritime New Zealand sails full speed ahead with Applix 
for flexible reporting, budgeting and forecasting. 

07/24/2007 Growing Healthcare RFID technologies market set to reach 
$3 Billion by 2012 . 

07/23/2007 Increased use of information technology by California 
physician groups supports better quality of care. 

07/23/2007 Teradata continues to retain No. 1 leadership position in

data warehouse server evaluation model by leading analyst firm. 

07/23/2007 TheraDocŪ technology adopted by two Pennsylvania
Hospitals: Allegheny General Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University 
Hospital. 

07/18/2007 Visible(R) Analyst Workbench to support OMG's Business 
Process Management (BPM) standard. 

07/16/2007 Polycom Proxias application server delivers
next-generation platform for on-demand, rich-media conferencing 
services.

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