Dick Morley drew my attention to this press release from Newswise. Note the comments about the pharmaceuticals industry by graduate student Riley Gaddy: Students Put Web 2.0 Through a Test in Virtual Classroom Newswise — Students from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business worked in synch -- virtually -- with cohorts at North Carolina State University's Jenkins Graduate School of Management this past spring to learn about service innovation without ever leaving their campuses. Instead, they used a collection of Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis and the 3D virtual world Second Life, to hold meetings and collaborate on team projects. Learning to navigate the unchartered territory was one of the goals for the 42 students enrolled in the new course, "Service Innovation Over the Lifecycle," offered jointly for the first time this spring by faculty at both schools. While students adopted new technologies, their professors watched to see how they leveraged the avatar-based environment. The feedback from all involved in the class -- students, companies that provided class projects and the professors -- was good, so plans are to offer the class again in spring 2009. Riley Gaddy, one of the Jenkins Graduate School students, said he and his classmates "could definitely see possibilities for use of the new technologies, particularly beyond the classroom. Just as the Internet has given companies a new channel to interact with customers, I believe the Web 2.0 technologies can add interactivity and engagement that is not currently possible with the current set of company web pages." "I have discovered a lot about how the younger generation uses technology, and what kinds of technologies provide value," explained IU student Linda Rasmussen. "I have already shared my team's business case with my current employer's training department to get them thinking about the advantages." Anne Massey, Dean's Research Professor of Information Systems at Kelly, and Mitzi Montoya, Zelnak Professor of Marketing and Innovation and director of the Service & Product Innovation Initiative at NC State College of Management, created the co-laboratory that included a virtual class supported by Second Life and OnCourse, IU's course management system. "Our goals for this class were to help the students understand the services lifecycle and identify opportunities for service innovation," Montoya said. "The service sector is the dominant driver of today's global economy and emerging technologies are an important part of innovative service offerings." An IBM faculty award to the NC State College of Management supported curriculum development for the Service Innovation Lab portion of the class, during which students worked on projects for two companies that are exploring ways to stimulate service innovation -- Target Corp. and a Fortune 100 financial services firm. The course also gave students "the opportunity to learn and use the new Web 2.0 toolkit, including leading edge technologies like virtual worlds," Massey said. "Today's students need to develop skills that will enable them to be effective collaborators, particularly in the context of technology-enabled 'virtual' teams. "Web 2.0 and 3D virtual worlds offer an emerging platform for collaboration within a company and a new platform for interaction between the company and customer," Massey added. The student teams were tasked with making the business case for delivering a service innovation in Second Life. Throughout the semester, "faculty and students used avatars to meet in Second Life, with the student teams using Webinars, open source document repositories, wikis and other tools to collaborate while working on corporate sponsored projects," Massey said. "The projects encouraged innovative thinking regarding use of virtual worlds like Second Life in a corporate context." The course culminated in a case competition among the teams. "The competition lasted for seven weeks, which is the first of its kind for me," explained Kelley student Prasanna Veeraraghavan. "We had many deliverables which gave our efforts a predefined structure." Rasmussen added, "We really believe that our business case provided a good basis for the client to work from and hope they implement the proposed solution." About the virtual environment, she said, "It was a challenge to present with other team members that we hadn't met -- but we had practice sessions using conference calling and Adobe Connect. It ended up working well." Gaddy, who received his MBA in May from NC State, said he thinks "it will take some time before the general public has enough understanding of these technologies (so that) companies can effectively introduce new services. Many of these applications, especially virtual worlds, have hardware and graphical requirements that many household PCs do not meet. This can lead to frustration on the consumer end and also limit the number of people the service can reach." The class experience, however, enabled him to see the potential for this new technology in the growing services industry. Initially, Gaddy, a senior clinical data scientist with a major pharmaceuticals company, said he did not see "much of a fit between my career in pharmaceuticals and service innovation until I started to understand more about how service innovation can affect businesses. "The pharmaceutical industry is currently undergoing vast changes," he said, "with most of the blockbuster drugs that have fueled the industry either off patent already or coming off in the next four to five years. This will require companies to develop new business models and activities to simply maintain their positions. With the advent of genetic technology, drugs are being developed that are more effective for specific patient populations. In order to identify these populations, companies would be able to develop testing and screening services along with the actual medications." The integration of services and Web 2.0 technologies might also be helpful in responding to another problem facing the healthcare industry -- patient compliance with their medication regimens, he said. "Web 2.0 has been evolving and 3D virtual worlds are rapidly emerging as a way to enable collaboration," Massey said. This innovative virtual class is an outgrowth of research projects that Massey and her NC State counterpart have under way with the support of Xerox and IBM through NC State's College of Management.