Avaya is introducing an avatar-based, Second Life-like collaboration environment for businesses.
The company on Feb. 10 unveiled web.alive, a platform that can be hosted by Avaya or housed by businesses on their own infrastructures and in which participants via their personalized avatars create and participate in meetings, conferences and other collaborative scenarios within a virtual environment.
Avaya acquired the technology for web.alive through its $915 million acquisition of bankrupt Nortel Networks' enterprise business unit in December 2009. The genesis for the technology reportedly was a project within Nortel's unit.
The goal of the program is to make collaborative engagements more immersive than simply audio or video communications, according to Brett Shockley, vice president of emerging products and technologies for Avaya.
"Meetings, seminars, classes, and even hallway conversations over the web can now be more social and truly engaging with Avaya web.alive," Shockley said in a statement. "The cutting edge spatial audio and immersive collaboration technology allows our customers to achieve new levels effectiveness in remote collaboration. Avaya web.alive continues Avaya's innovative 'people-first' approach to delivering business collaboration solutions."
Web.alive offers a new 3D audio engine that enables users to better see who is speaking and where they are in the virtual environment, built-in collaboration tools such as desktop sharing and cooperative Web browsing, templates for designing environments, a downloadable SDK (software development kit) to allow users to upload their own content, and analytics to help businesses better refine the experience.
In addition, the program can integrate with a business' existing communications infrastructure via an interface to Avaya's Aura UC (unified communications) platform.
Businesses will be able to get web.alive starting March 1 through either a monthly subscription or by buying the software and installing it on their own servers. Avaya has created a video introduction to web.alive.
Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala was impressed with the Avaya offering when he tried it out as Avaya announced it. In a blog post Feb. 10, Kerravala said creating such a rich environment can contribute to collaborative efforts, though the key is figuring out how to make it improve such efforts.
"What I can envision happening is similar to what happens on web conferences today: People logging in and then ignoring the window while they work on e-mails, talk on the phone or do other work. Simply being in a virtual environment isn't really going to make anyone pay any more or less attention--unless the dynamics of the meeting change," Kerravala wrote. "For example, in the demo, Avaya was presenting a number of slides to me and had slides on different virtual screens. The presenter walked up to the first screen and talked about the slide. When he did that, everyone turned their avatar to focus on that slide. When he walked to the second screen, everyone that was paying attention turned their gaze as well. Anyone that was off doing email would be caught because they were now staring at a blank screen. This allows the speaker to get immediate feedback on who is engaged and who isn't and then call the person out to re-engage in the session. In this case the virtual experience would allow the speaker to get a level of feedback greater than an audio only or audio plus web conference, increasing the effectiveness of the meeting."
He also was pleased to see Avaya taking measures to address one of the drawbacks of virtual conferences and trade shows-hanging around on the telephone for hours while never actually interacting with anyone. Through web.alive, Avaya is trying to make it easier to create ad hoc meetings with people in the virtual environment.
"The ultimate success of web.alive will be based on Avaya's ability to teach their customer base how to integrate the virtual experience into workflow," Kerravala said. "It's an innovative collaborative tool with a lot of potential, but -If you build it, they will come,' it's not. It's more, if you build it, and you host them, and you show them how to use it, then they'll come."