A Case Study published by Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life), documents IBM’s use of Second Life to hold a Virtual World Conference and Annual Meeting. The meeting, organized by IBM’s Academy of Technology, brought together 200+ participants from across the globe (virtually) and had an ROI estimated (by IBM) to be $320K.
The $320K is derived from taking initial hard costs of $80K, then factoring in $250K in savings from travel and venue costs and $150K from productivity gains (since attendees participated from their desks – and could presumably do on-the-job tasks while in-world). So that’s ($80K – $250K – $150K) = $320K in total savings.
So that’s the headline story – and what a great story it is. I can understand why the Case Study led with this angle – in this economic environment, any talk of significant cost savings is going to score points with the CMO, CFO, CEO and Board. And while I’m not one to diminish cost savings that’s simultaneously eco-friendly, what excites me most about the ROI equation here is the value add that virtual provides – the headline beneath the headline.
If IBM had convened this meeting at a physical location, I’m sure the event would have been equally valuable – but, at the event’s conclusion, the walls come down and participants leave with some photographs, business cards and memories – and may never be incented to re-gather and collaborate again, aside from the next scheduled (and organized) gathering.
With virtual, however, what IBM discovered was a build it once and reap the continued benefits phenomenon. The island(s) built for this virtual event remain available on an ongoing, 7×24 basis. So, participants who met and collaborated with specific colleagues may want to arrange for follow-on in-world meetings to further brainstorm their ideas together.
Additionally, IBM found a way to leverage the event to support an unrelated gathering – the Academy of Technology’s Annual General Meeting, originally scheduled in Florida. The general meeting moved virtual and included live webcasting and videoconferencing – while leveraging the pre-built island in Second Life to support 120 poster sessions. The beauty with the ROI equation here is that the more IBM can leverage what they’ve already built, the more “R” they generate in “ROI”. And of course, this sort of re-use is eco-friendly.