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Dan Power

Greetings to all of my friends who work in the area of computerized decision support. This blog is a way for me to share stories from my encounters related to decision support, to comment on industry events, and to comment on other blogger's comments, especially those of my friends on the Business Intelligence Network. I'll try to state my opinions clearly and provide an old professor's perspective on how computers and information technology are changing the world. Decision making has always been my focus, and it will be in this blog as well. Your comments, feedback and questions are welcomed.

About the author >

Daniel J. "Dan" Power is a Professor of Information Systems and Management at the College of Business Administration at the University of Northern Iowa and the editor of DSSResources.com, the Web-based knowledge repository about computerized systems that support decision making; the editor of PlanningSkills.com; and the editor of DSS News, a bi-weekly e-newsletter. Dr. Power's research interests include the design and development of decision support systems and how these systems impact individual and organizational decision behavior.

Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Dan's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

March 2008 Archives

Recently I received approval at my university, University of Northern Iowa, to teach an experimental course called vBusiness Entrepreneurial Strategy using Linden Lab's Second Life virtual world. My BI friends know how busy I am so I am planning to get help from my new friends in Second Life. We all have much to learn about operating and conducting business in a virtual world. The 3 credit course starts Tuesday, May 13 and meets for 7 weeks on Tuesdays and Thursday from 2pm-3:15pm PDT. Following each lecture/discussion workshop, students will take a tour, make a site visit, conduct an interview and/or meet with their mentor. The course includes writing a vBusiness Plan that must be reviewed and approved, executing it for 6 weeks and writing an analysis of the vBusiness successes, challenges and results. Final projects are due August 1, 2008.

My students will be virtual business owners. They will experience operating a business in Second Life and they may have a real life link. For example, a student might sell Iowa post cards or memorabilia in Second Life and also offer to mail a post card from Iowa in real life with the sender's message for a fee and collect the payment in Second Life in the local exchange called Lindens.

What does this project have to do with decision support? Students will need to use the Second Life reporting tools and find software to track visitors. Also, they will use and perhaps create decision support tools. In general, I think innovative decision support will help vBusinesses succeed.

So what are the keys to entrepreneuring in a virtual world? I am still learning so this is a preliminary list:

1. Relationships are the key to success in a virtual business, so find a global network of partners, build customer relationships using a Second Life group. Give people who help a stake in your success. Always remember a virtual world is a complex social network. Participate and build a friends list!

2. Target a customer/product niche that can be identified. Know who will buy from you, why and when? A virtual world allows extensive segmentation, just make sure the niche is large enough to generate sufficient revenue.

3. Keep focused on 2-3 short range goals. Virtual worlds are changing rapidly as the technology improves. Get in quick, sell what you can, move on or grow. Remember franchising and formula facilities. Help newcomers.

4. Prepare a written business plan like you would for any start-up business. vBusiness is real business. Your goal is to make money. Make a plan!

5. A vBusiness should operate 24/7/365. Automate some operations, but in many cases you need to staff globally to keep the traffic coming. Find and hire people who have social networks and who are in different time zones.

6. Reward the people who make your vBusiness a success. Consider franchising or bonuses. Virtual worlds are expanding and good friends who help make a business a success are the future of any vBusiness. Strive to create stable relationships in the fast changing virtual world.

7. Start-up is reasonably inexpensive in a virtual world like Second Life, but cash management is important. The medium of exchange, Lindens, fluctuates and taking money "out of the game" may be difficult. Project cash needs and have a plan to get cash in and out. Good accounting and forecasting is still needed in a vBusiness!

8. Find a competitive edge or advantage that you can exploit. The vBusiness advantage may be a "hard to imitate" inworld product or service, quick response with delivery of real world solutions, entertainment tie-ins with copyrighted materials or ... ? let your imagination guide you to new sources of sustainable advantage. Everything in a virtual world is not free and easy to copy. Learn about permissions and ownership in virtual worlds.

9. Take calculated risks and be prepared to bail out if serious loses occur. Business in a virtual world remains fragile and problematic for some goods and services. Just because you can show a product to people in a virtual world doesn't mean there will be a real world or in world demand. Also, prices are generally low for products in virtual worlds. Of course once the product is created, production costs are also very low. The time spent creating a virtual product is a "sunk cost" so price accordingly. Premium pricing only works if the product is hard to imitate.

10. Change, adaptability and uncertainty are the reality of vBusiness. Entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on a virtual world marketplace need to learn about the rapidly changing market and become part of the relevant "community" targeted for the product or service. A day is 4 hours long in Second Life and sometimes it seems that given the global audience, one day in Real Life is six days of change in Second Life.

Contact me if you want more information on vBusiness Entrepreneuring.


Posted March 30, 2008 1:50 PM
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There is much angst and trepidation about moving real life business activities into virtual worlds like Linden Labs' Second Life. Why? The unknown, mixed press stories, large start up time to learn the "ropes", griefing/harrassing behavior, work place distractions, Internet addictions and pornography including virtual sex. Despite these very real concerns, virtual worlds and the 3D Internet are here to stay and will become more pervasive. So what should adventurous people in the business intelligence/decision support community do? How can you get on top of the 3D wave? I think a good starting point is attending the upcoming vBusiness Expo, April 24-27 in Second Life. Virtual Business opportunities including decision support are numerous. Our imaginations, our personal discipline and our intellectual capabilities are the only barriers.

What is the vBusiness Expo? The conference aims to cover 4 key areas: 1) Virtual Workplace, 2) Virtual Education, 3) Virtual Marketing, and 4) Virtual Commerce. Check http://cleverzebra.com/vbusiness/expo .

vBusiness Expo Day 1: The Virtual Workplace. "Virtual worlds are being used as a collaborative environment, as well as a distance management tool and for employee education. The virtual workplace discussions, panels, interviews and lectures will focus on sharing ideas, and broadening knowledge of how virtual environments can be used by companies as collaborative work spaces and viable alternatives to carbon heavy travel."

vBusiness Expo Day 2: Virtual Marketing. "In many ways marketers are still feeling their way in virtual worlds. We’re only just getting started, and there’s a long road ahead."

vBusiness Expo Day 3: Virtual Commerce. "The promise that virtual worlds hold for commerce is exciting and full of possibilities. Day three of the vBusiness Expo will look at how companies are using virtual worlds to sell real goods and services. We’ll discuss the technicalities of setting up shop in a virtual world, study how others are experimenting in the space and debate the future impact virtual worlds will have on retail."

vBusiness Expo Day 4: Virtual Education. "There are already over 150 universities represented in Second Life and like the virtual workplace, education is an area where we can already see clear and measurable benefits for organizations."

The sponsor of vBusiness Expo is Clever Zebra. Clever Zebra is a virtual company. According to the Web site, "We live and work in virtual worlds, and in fact have never met in the physical world. We operate from the US, Canada and Denmark. Our 'office' is a connection to the 3D web. The company was founded on the principle of promoting virtual worlds as a platform for business. Our ongoing goal is to make it easy and inexpensive for companies to work in virtual environments. We do this by providing the buildings, code and tools needed by organizations for free, and adding value through optional paid services." The movers and shakers of Clever Zebra are Caleb Booker, Jenn Lortz, Josh Eikenberry and Nick Wilson. In Second Life known respectively as Onder Skall, Jenn Hienrichs, Lordfly Digeridoo and 57 Miles.

I am attending the vBusiness Expo and I am presenting a session on "What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Second Life for decision support?" Hope to see all of my decision support friends in Second Life. If you need help, email me power@dssresources.com . If you can't make the Expo, visit me in Virtual Iowa (IowaMetaverse.com) or at Decision Support World Headquarters (DecisionSupportWorld.com).


Posted March 22, 2008 12:46 PM
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Most of my friends in the decision support community know I live in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In my opinion, Cedar Falls is a very liveable place in the Cedar River valley of Iowa. I was born and raised about 10 miles from where I now live in the neighboring city of Waterloo. The State of Iowa has been the home of my family, parents, grandparents and great grandparents for more than 125 years. Iowa is called the heartland of the USA. Looking at a map shows that Iowa is the fertile land between two great American rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri. So Iowa is a great place to call home and because of my attachment to Iowa, I recently started a new venture to promote my home State. My goal is also to do some fun things in addition to my Decision Support World research projects in the virtual world of Second Life. My new venture is called Iowa Metaverse, Inc., a Nonprofit Iowa 501(c)(3) corporation.

If you do or have lived in Iowa, want to live in Iowa, have good friends in Iowa or want a great place to visit, join the Second Life group called Iowa and visit Iowa in Second Life. As I mentioned in my last blog post my plan is to use Virtual Iowa to explore location decisions by individuals and organizations, vacation decisions by individuals and college choice decisions. I will also enjoy being in both the real Iowa and Virtual Iowa.

So I will explore if a virtual world experience can impact human choice behaviors. Much of the Web content has been about providing information. My sense is that riding a bike in Virtual Iowa will encourage some people to come to the real Iowa for a "real" bike ride. Also, experiencing a College or plant facility in a virtual world may impact intentions regarding the real place.

Now I need to figure out how to design and specify requirements for the 3D user interface that will be Iowa. A 3D space of 512 meters by 512 meters is more complex to design than a Website and certainly much more complex than a single Web page.

I keep very busy and multi-task and the metaverse helps me tremendously.

For more information about Virtual Iowa, contact:

Daniel J. Power aka Leinad Meriman
email: power@iowametaverse.com


Posted March 16, 2008 6:29 PM
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My week has been very busy and productive. Using Second Life leverages my time and my global connections. On March 3, 2008 a DecisionSupportWorld.com video went "live" on the net. It is narrated by me, Dan Power aka Leinad Meriman, and it was produced by Selby Evans aka Thinkerer Melville. Selby was a Professor of Psychology at Texas Christian University for many years until he retired and he continues to do independent consulting in behavioral research and on the use of Second Life for Decision Support. Follow the links:

Video on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OksmgCsYeZ4 (5 minutes 45 seconds)

Video on Blip. tv -- the wmv version:

http://blip.tv/file/get/ThinkererMelville-DecisionSupportWorld334.wmv

The video is a tour hosted by my avatar of Decision Support World (DSW) headquarters in Linden Labs' Second Life.

Decision Support World (DSW) also hosted Decision Support Workshop #9 on Friday, March 7, 2008 at 11 am PST. The host was George Kurtz aka Butch Dae on the topic "3D Mindmaps: SL Developments". Avatar Goedeke Messmer discussed programming issues for an inworld tool. The workshop was at TechTalk@SL Discussion Center.

DSS Workshop #10 will be on "Active Spatial Immersion Meeting Tools for Second Life" with presenter Julio Cesar Molina, Graduate Student at the Technical University of Eindhoven, on Friday, March 14 at 11am PST. Join us.

My newest project is Iowa Metaverse, Inc. (http://iowametaverse.com/). Iowa Metaverse, Inc. is a Nonprofit Iowa 501(c)(3) corporation. The mission and purposes of Iowa Metaverse, Inc. are educational and charitable. The specific mission is to develop and operate regions, islands and servers in and for virtual worlds, what has been called the the metaverse. Iowa Metaverse attempts to educate and inform people with regard to economic opportunity in the State of Iowa, to living in and relocating to the State of Iowa and opportunities for visiting and tourism in the State of Iowa. When appropriate Iowa Metaverse, Inc. will help other States and regions requiring aid in such projects.

Metaverse comes from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash. The term is widely used to describe the vision behind current work on fully immersive 3D virtual spaces like Linden Labs' Second Life or There.com. In these environments, people interact as avatars with each other, both socially and economically, and sometimes with software agents in a cyber space, that uses the metaphor of the real world, but without its physical limitations.

Iowa Metaverse, Inc. now has its first island in Second Life called Iowa. I am trying to use virtual worlds technologies to help people make specific decisions about locating plants and offices, tourist destinations and even where to live and work.

For more information on Iowa Metaverse, Inc., contact me:

Daniel Power, Executive Director
906 Barnett Dr.
Cedar Falls, IA 50613
(319) 266-8007

Visit Iowa in Second Life:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Iowa/129/122/27

Now I have 2 computers and 2 monitors on my desk linked by a program called Synergy. One mouse and keyboard works with both systems. I just drag the cursor from one screen to another. My multitasking has moved to a new level.


Posted March 9, 2008 11:01 AM
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Over the past 25 years, almost all of my consulting has been the result of referrals. But I have a full-time teaching job, so I do very little consulting. I have not really had to market my services or cultivate referral networks. In general, my teaching duties, my writing and my web sites have kept me very busy for the past 13 years. Prior to 1995, I was an administrator at the University and did not really do any consulting for those 6 years. The few projects I do a year are related to identifying/evaluating software, training or research. Currently, I am only looking for virtual world related decision support consulting.

So this blog posting is not about me. Rather I want to offer some independent advice for those folks who might be in the market looking for professional help related to building, buying, designing or evaluating decision support systems.

First, I think any company with sales over USD $50 million needs annual independent advice for the Information Technology folks and management on decision support. This should be a check up and visit with a general practitioner. It is better to talk to people like Claudia Imhoff, Colin White and Jill Dyché routinely rather than waiting until you have a problem. The very large companies seem to be the worst offenders, the IT folks seem convinced they can "doctor" themselves or just attend conferences like Teradata or TDWI.

Second, hire the smartest generalist you can find and let that person get to know your company. A good consultant needs to become familiar with the "client" environment. Develop an ongoing relationship with the consultant that emphasizes candor.

Third, when you have specific projects, get advice on staffing internally versus hiring contract or specialist consultants. Don't always assume the professionals at the vendor are the best or the worst people to work with. Sort out what is best for the project and the ongoing development and maintenance of the system.

Fourth, when in doubt get a second opinion. A significant decision support investment should be worth some up front investment in advice. Please check with my colleagues on the Business Intelligence Network™ when you need, want, should want or might want expert decision support advice. Also, attend conferences and meet the people who talk about decision support, analytics and business intelligence. In general, get referrals and references. Hire the best person you can afford.


Posted March 2, 2008 4:32 PM
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