Setting Up Shop on Second Life

An online universe opens up a virtual world of possibilities for businesses, including consultancies, to interact with their clients
Nov 02, 2007


Claus Nehmzow, a virtual world consultant
The PA Consulting Group has offices all around the world, but its newest location is out of this world altogether.

Second Life, the online 3-D virtual world, is where PA decided to hang out another shingle last year and construct a stunning futuristic (albeit artificial) office building (see image). In doing so, they were the first consultancy in Second Lifeā€”but by no means the first big business. As of last month, 50 other corporations had a presence on Second Life, like Sony, BMG, Adidas, the BBC, Reebok, Reuters, Sun Microsystems, AOL and Warner Bros. And they were joined by a total "resident" population of more than 10 million, according to Second Life.

What is it?

His avatar John Manguru
If you have never visited Second Life, a virtual world might evoke hallucinatory images of a computer-generated, gaming environment. And you would not be entirely wrong. However, while an avatar (the persona you adopt on joining) can fly and perform magic in Second Life, there are no points, no winners or losers, and no strategies to employ. The sole purpose, according to the company, is enjoyment. Avatars (and there are tens of thousands of them "in" Second Life at any given time) can spend their time shopping (Armani recently opened a store), taking courses (Harvard Law School conducts some its classes), attending concerts (The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, one of London's oldest symphony orchestras gives performances), relating to other avatars, and, of course, conducting business.

Where is pharma in all of this?

Several pharma companies have shown interest in PA's online site, according to Dan Walsh, a member of PA Consulting Group's management team and head of the firm's life sciences and healthcare practice. "We are starting to talk to different companies about how Second Life can be used for R&D collaborations. Virtual conferencing on special topics is an obvious use for it."

Life on other planets
David Winigrad, president of The Hal Lewis Group, takes it a step further. He claims consultants are amiss if they don't expose their clients to such sites. In an interview in this issue of CONSULTANTS CONFIDENTIAL he says: "We are doing our clients a disservice if we aren't actively considering the implications of emerging communication channels like YouTube, text messaging, instant messaging, virtual worlds like Second Life and others that we haven't even imagined yet."

Further, Winigrad stresses that "pharmaceutical companies who don't recognize that such technology has completely changed the paradigm that once governed the way they communicate with physicians and other stakeholders will be putting their futures at stake."

In an attempt then to find out more about what Second Life has to offer a consultancy, we contacted Claus Nehmzow, a specialist in consulting in virtual worlds. He is also a member of PA's management group and leads their thinking on participatory media and virtual worlds. With 25 years of experience in strategic and IT consulting, he has worked with large corporations as well as small VC-backed innovative start-ups.

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