Unified Communications Featured Article

Protosphere: Collaborative Meetings and Training Events in a Virtual, 3D World

September 27, 2011

Unproductive meetings. We love to hate them. But, they are a reality of business life—right?

ProtonMedia, a company that began life about 10 years ago as a custom e-learning shop, takes a different view. It’s shaking things up with innovative collaborative tools to help meetings and corporate trainings more productive and more fun.

“What we offer is a mashup of social production, social media, unified communications, learning, and a 3D virtual environment,” explained Ron Burns, ProtonMedia’s CEO, during a unified communications video interview at ITEXPO West 2011 in Austin, Texas.

This mashup is called ProtoSphere, and it’s a collaborative and learning environment for enterprises, using virtual 3D “rooms,” each of which is actually an always-on (persistent) Microsoft Lync conference call. Each room is also connected to SharePoint, adding collaborative depth to the virtual conferencing end-point. 

“Meetings alone are not real collaboration,” noted Burns during the video interview. “But a lot of our work lives are time-bound events, like conference calls and learning sessions.”

The idea behind ProtoSphere is to make those time-bound events more fun and collaborative, and to share developments with colleagues. When a meeting in a virtual 3D room is over, all the ‘artifacts of learning’ are left behind for others to see and work with. Team members can come in and out of these spaces over time, to see what happened and add their own input. 

In these virtual 3D rooms, each person is represented by an avatar (which can move from room to room, thanks to use of SharePoint Server 2010 Expertise Location Finder tied to Lync contact cards), which Burns said tends to make the environment more attractive to employees than traditional video conferencing. Not everyone wants to be on camera all day, especially if they’re working remotely. Avatars never have a bad hair day.

An early version of ProtoSphere was released in 2006, and since then ProtonMedia has been busy enhancing the system—upgrading the VoIP audio quality, for example. The Lync version debuted about 18 months ago.

In essence, what ProtonMedia has done is combine e-learning ideas with unified communications and collaboration, creating something entirely new—and pretty compelling—in the process.

“Unified communications is a hard concept to sell,” Burns said during the video interview. “It’s typically sold at the IT level. But one of the effects of the Great Recession is that IT is gone in some respects. So our value proposition is really to the line leaders; people like the vice president of sales operations.”

For those types of stakeholders, Burns said, there are real and compelling reasons to consider a solution like ProtoSphere. Training budgets have been slashed, but sales staff still need to be trained even if there’s no money for events or travel.  

“ProtoSphere creates a high value context for unified communications,” Burns said. “Our position is ‘unified learning.’”

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO East 2012, taking place Feb. 1-3, 2012 in Miami, Fla. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.



Mae Kowalke is a unified communications contributor. She is Manager of Stories at Neundorfer, Inc., a cleantech company in Northeast Ohio. She has more than 10 years experience in journalism, marketing and communications, and has a passion for new tech gadgets. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell




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