Doing business online promises to take on a whole new meaning with the launch of IBM’s virtual business centre. Accessible through online virtual world Second Life, the centre is staffed by real IBM sales representatives.
The company recently announced that live sales avatars from Asia Pacific will serve local customers through the virtual centre. These sales representatives, based in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, will also help clients in their respective countries 24 hours a day, five days a week.
IBM Australia Virtual Worlds engineer Chris Yeoh says there are benefits for New Zealand companies conducting international business with IBM.
“If people are online in the evening they can interact live with IBM people in the US or Europe.”
He says conference calls take place at the business centre on a regular basis. Unlike a real conference call, people turn up early to discuss business deals and can message each other while the conference is taking place.
“You can interact in a fuller way with people overseas than email or instant messaging. I’ve certainly met a lot more people from IBM because you literally bump into people wandering around the IBM islands. We can talk about technical information online, but if you want to have confidential discussions you get referred to other means of communications such as a phone call because there is no encryption on Second Life.”
Yeoh says this is an issue Second Life creator Linden Labs needs to work on.
“If they release the source code to the servers that’s something that can be addressed straight away.”
Yeoh says IBM is helping businesses such as US retailer Circuit City, who has a presence at the centre.
“You can have interesting interactions that would be hard to do on a traditional company website, such as displaying an iPod that streams music when your avatar clicks on it. Companies also get side benefits from operating near other people in Second Life as there are virtual malls where real companies operate.”
Businesses can buy a virtual island for US$1600 ($2150). If they are a small business they do not have to buy an entire island, but can purchase part of one. Monthly maintenance fees cost US$300 ($400).
Yeoh demonstrated the centre at the recent IBM Forum conference, which took place in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.