“The Bureaucratic Class” isn’t what is holding back Second Life

Posted by gminks in second life | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

I just got my new issue of T&D in the mail yesterday. Since I have turned in my final report for this semester, I was able to read through some of the articles.

One that caught my eye was by Anders Gronstedt. The title of the article is “All Aboard! The Web 3D Train Is Leaving the Station“, and it’s about how the future of learning development is all about doing. He even gives a nice shout-out about my company’s use of podcasts and vodcasts.

I knew I was going to have to write a post when I saw the section in the article labeled “The bureaucratic class”.  After mentioning that over two thirds of companies block social networking sites, and even more companies than that block Second Life, he goes on to make this suggestion to learning professionals:

For this reason, it’s critical that you don’t let your legal or IT departments intimidate you. The bureaucratic class in your company—in IT, legal, human resources, and other functions—are frequently vested in the status quo instead of change, in the past rather than the future, and in preventing mistakes instead of creating opportunities. If left unchecked, they can suck the life out of a company and frighten away a generation of digital natives.

Seriously? First of all, let’s talk a little bit about Second Life. In my experience, it’s not an application that can be integrated into an enterprise environment. I tried, our IT team has tried. The administrative overload of using this application is incredible, not to mention the resources needed to build and maintain learning environments in Second Life. Maybe this is the REAL reason so many companies block Second Life from their networks.

Secondly, to introduce these collaborative tools into a work environment takes lots of collaborating, convincing, educating, and patience. Using these tools in many environments requires a cultural shift in the way people use, share, and seek information, and you will have to build lots of bridges to convince everyone to start funding and supporting these tools. Alienating functional groups such as IT or HR by treating them as the enemy is not going to help with any bridge building efforts that will give you the buy-in needed to get everyone on this 3D Train.

Just to be clear, I’m not in any way discouraging the use of new collaborative tools. I believe the use of these tools have to be tied back to the business. This means the benefits of these tools must be greater than the cost of supporting them.

Am I the only one who thinks we should try and ally with groups like IT and HR?

8 Responses to “The Bureaucratic Class” isn’t what is holding back Second Life

  1. Mollybob says:

    It is really important to me as someone who introduces social technologies from HR that our IT department support and understand what we are doing. I know that HR and IT historically think about things like social networking very differently, but that relationship is pretty key. We can get such good results when we all work together.

    I also agree with your comments about benefits – just because Second Life isn’t right for you doesn’t mean that it’s not right for everyone, although I note your statements about time intensiveness. It’s all about selecting the most appropriate tool and method for the job.

  2. John Zurovchak says:

    G – You make some good points regarding keeping IT and HR as allies in the exploration of these new technologies for learning. You mentioned in particular that you have a good relationship with IT and that you have worked with them to investigate the value of Second Life. We have made initial attempts as well in our company and my experience has largely been the same – IT was interested and helpful, but at this point the learning curve is so steep that we are making very little headway in using the SL environment.

    That being said, I do understand the point that the author is making in that sometimes IT and HR can be a bit overly cautious. Rather than subvert them, however, it seems a better strategy to educate them and ally with them. If such efforts fail, then perhaps it may be best to forge ahead in any way possible.

  3. Many companies are already using virtual worlds to bring together distributed teams that are dispersed around the globe. Added costs? The purpose for using Second Life is to reduce travel and training budgets, collaborate more, use free interactive white boards and other tools (video, chat, hare docs, etc.) that are costly and quickly obsolete in the real world. Not only that, by communicating via an avatar, team members take for constructive risks and participate more .. so more voices get into the mix. I see a lot of benefits to using virtual worlds for corporate business, and many are doing so now. With SL, all one needs is their laptop (standard professional gear these days) and an Internet connection (very accessible also).

    I do find that administrations are more vested in not “rocking the boat” and lingering with traditional ways to be safe. But that paradigm must be shifted away from 20th century to 21st century if companies (and professionals) are to survive competitively in a globalized market and the new Conceptual Age rather than the old Information Age.

  4. MadKat97 says:

    “You were right from your side, and I was right from mine” — Bob Dylan.

    The bureaucratic class in most organizations _is_ invested in the status quo (if it ain’t broke…). And they will suck the life out of you, if you’re not careful. That said, in order to effect the change you’re looking for, you have to convince the BC at least to not block your efforts (notice I didn’t say support). Sometime the best you can do is follow or get out of the way.

    From the outside: any 3rd party service (like Second Life) that can’t guarantee a certain amount of bandwidth and level of service to an organization or an event will not be supported at the enterprise level. Enterprise level services need to “just work”, with a minimum overhead. Your solution may be brilliant, but if it’s hard to use and dog slow, it will not catch on.

  5. gminks says:

    Frank, I wish it were as easy as having a laptop + internet access. It’s not. Anything virtual is tied to something physical. The laptops must meet minimum requirements. The network must be able to provide a minimum amount of bandwidth. You need to know where to poke holes in the corporate firewall.

    This is just to *access* SecondLife. Beyond this you still need solid instructional design to be able to provide consistent, repeatable training.

  6. Anders Gronstedt says:

    I agree completely with you Gina about the importance of partnerships. I wrote my dissertation and a book about integrated communications, focusing on how to bring functional disciplines together for a common purpose. However, the way you’re describing your “partnership” where you ask your IT department about virtual worlds and they say NO, proves my point. If you and your IT leaders were serious about a partnership, you would be deep into pilots with thousands of people in virtual worlds like your competitors Sun and IBM are. Sun Microsystems has employees, partners and customers by the thousands in Second Life and their own Wonderland platform and IBM has over 20,000 employees in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

    Don’t kid yourself, when the biggest disruptive learning technology of our life time is dismissed with “it can’t be integrated into an enterprise environment,” and “the administrative overload of using this application is incredible,” that’s the voice of the bureaucratic class speaking down to you. The same arguments could easily have been made against the Internet when it was new. You would immediately recognize how miss informed these arguments are if you were allowed to join your industry colleagues at events like Gronstedt Group’s Train for Success every week in Second Life. When your IT and legal folks keep learning professionals and learners sequestered behind a Berlin Wall, locking you out of the vibrant conversations and experimentations that are happening in Second Life and other virtual worlds platforms, you don’t have a partnership and you will get about as much cultural change and innovation as you saw in East Germany.

    I’m a huge fan of your company and mention EMC as a podcasting and vodcasting innovation leader every time I speak on the conference circuit. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will become a leader in innovative uses of virtual worlds as well. EMC has already had several successful recruitment fairs in Second Life and a behind the firewall pilot with the RealXtend. Introducing new collaborative tools requires a true partnership where your IT department works with you in giving people access to play, pilot and test the new tools.

  7. gminks says:

    Thanks for your feedback Anders. I guess I am looking at this from a more technical viewpoint (technology based and instructional design based).

    Instructional design based: What we design has to be tied back to our business needs, or we won’t be able to secure the resources needed to implement the design. We need to be able to account for the resources required not only to create a new space, but also to maintain this space. We have to be able to obtain buy-in from these other groups (Charlie put it well in his comment), which you can’t do if you look at them as the enemy.

    Technology based: one huge issue with implementing SL seems to be that in order for an IT department to support it, they would have to use significant network administration resources to provide access through the firewall. This is because of the way the SL environment is presented to a computer logging into the world. Our IT guys know this, and would love to work around it, but there’s not alot of support from the providers of the SL service. The way i see it, if you are offering some sort of cloud service and you want it to be adopted in an enterprise environment, that service has to work reliably out of the box.

    It’s not as easy as saying we’re behind Berlin Wall because of some “bureaucratic class”. Many companies have regulatory, security, or compliance reasons to block services from their firewall. If it becomes a resource-intensive process to access a service through the firewall, most likely that service will remain blocked. IMO that is what is happening with SL.

  8. Pingback: Virtual worlds and the bureaucratic class « No there there

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