Digital Space Virtual Worlds

A Case Study: An Insurance Company Virtual Headquarters (VHQ)

Over the past 18 months, Digital Space has been working on the conception and construction of a "virtual headquarters" help desk and insurance sales environment for a European health insurance company. This project has recently entered live internal client test and is being prepared for deployment to the insured customer base. Project History In September 1998 Digital Space was approached by a health insurance company based in Europe, to develop a facility on the Internet using Active Worlds, a virtual worlds technology. Being an international company, based in a small country, they were also aware that international communication with their customers was still mostly limited to costly telephone calls and the use of email and postal mail.

Company staff in front of the elevator shaft in the main foyer

Project Goals

Due to the international nature of the company's activities and the need for strong communication links with the customer that this type of insurance demands, The company felt that the development of a Virtual Worlds facility should be in the form of a Virtual Headquarters. Rather than seeing this just as a marketing tool, The company wanted the facility to allow visitors to experience the next best thing to visiting the physical offices the company.

The goals of the VHQ were as follows: ·       
Give customers the feeling of physical presence and personal service ·       
Allow dissemination of information relating to company products ·       
Allow lectures on medical subjects to be given to customers ·       
Enable customers to communicate with Service Officers on a one-to-one basis ·       
Add to the existing reputation of company as an efficient and innovative company  

The Solution

The choice of Activeworlds as a suitable platform was based on its availability on the Internet using a low bandwidth connection, its suitability to run on a typical home PC and its ability to provide a rich user-defined 3-d environment at a relatively low cost.  Above all, Activeworlds offered an exciting next step approach to Internet technology, providing 3d spaces that could be shared by users in real-time.

View of the central elevator shaft on the first floor

From the outset the VHQ was seen as less of a computer based project and more of an architectural and customer relations exercise. The company employed Digital Space to develop the facility because of their experience in integrating state of the art 3D solutions, database engineering and architectural design skills into one package.
The Design The architectural brief was to develop an innovative virtual 3-d building identifiable as a prestigious architectural icon. Two architects were employed to design the facility and it was decided to mimic real-life building metaphors to a large extent, as experience shows that users generally prefer virtual environments to be familiar.  The company's existing offices in Copenhagen were not used as a model for the VHQ as the existing structure was considered to be inappropriate for modelling in a virtual environment.  It was also seen as an opportunity to develop a prestigious design that, in the real world, would be prohibitively expensive to build.

Examples of sketches developed during the design process

Prior to working on the 3D modelling, design sketches were developed and presented to the client for discussion and approval.  The next stage was the creation of working drawings that could be interpreted and turned into 3D models by an international team of 3D modellers and assembled "in-world". The project, from inception to completion, took about three months.

The Use of Bots A major part of the brief was for the development of bots (programmed agents) that do various tasks from greeting visitors to delivering lectures on relevant medical issues and product updates. For example, on the top floor of the VHQ is an auditorium where a lecture bot gives a lecture on a medical subject of interest. The lecture is continuous and restarts itself every ten minutes. Currently running is a lecture on heart disease that was prepared by one of the doctors employed by the company. The lecture is delivered by the bot in a timed sequence while at the same time a large screen at the front of the auditorium displays synchronised slides. A useful bot function, specifically aimed at international clients, is the ability for users to tell the lecture bot to deliver its lecture in a language of their choice.  Although this does not effect the slide presentation, the actual text of the lecture can be delivered to each person that is present in a different language.

The Lecture Bot delivering a lecture on the Prevention of Heart Disease

Customer Communications

One of the main reasons that the company employed Virtual Worlds technology as an adjunct to its current Internet web site was in order to encourage more tangible, informative and real-time communication between staff and customers. For example a Service Officer would be able to conduct an interview in a specially designated virtual meeting room while at the same time display a PowerPoint type presentation on a screen or on an associated web page.
Another requirement was for a customer who enters the facility to be able to call a Service Officer for some help, at any time of day or night. A facility involving linking mobile phone text message function with specific objects in the building would enable a customer to click an object with a mouse, which would immediately alert the relevant department at the company via mobile telephone. As the company operates a 24/7 emergency department this would ensure the customer does not have to wait more than a few minutes in order to get attention.

The company doctor's avatar pictured during the staff trial in February 2000

Project Status Since the VHQ was completed there has been considerable testing of the facility from within the company, culminating in a staff trial in February, 2000. This was designed to elicit views relating to the efficacy of the VHQ prior to launch to customers. A customer trial based on a selected customer pool of twenty is planned for April 2000. Visiting the World Visiting the company's Virtual Headquarters World. PleaseContact Us if you would like a tour of this innovative environment. And feel free to join our mailing list for news about upcoming Digital Space products or events. the VHQ World was presented live by the Digital Space team at the Delphi Group Conference on Corporate Portals in London U.K. during the executive retreat on April 17th, 2000.