There’s an avatar in the break room

By Paul Nolan

It happens more than ever lately. I’ll be reading an article in a magazine or newspaper and a story will be so off-the-wall that I’ll give the cover a double take to see if I’m actually reading The Onion, the satirical tabloid that cracks funny about important news of the day as well as the mundane.

It happened recently while reading an issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. iRobot, the company that gave us the Roomba, the robot vacuum that has sold more than 9 million units, is introducing a “corporate cousin,” the Ava 500. The Ava — short for Avatar — is a wheeled robot designed to autonomously navigate offices and facilitate videoconference calls between workers and their remote colleagues.

Ava is equipped with a high-definition video screen, a camera, some onboard mapping smarts, and Cisco Systems’ TelePresence, a high-end videoconferencing system intended to create the illusion that remote collaborators are sitting across a table from their colleagues.

As iRobot’s Chief Executive Colin Angle explains it, Ava will sit parked in the corner of an office, which it maps on its onboard computer. A worker in another office schedules a videoconference on a laptop or tablet computer and at the appointed time Ava navigates the halls to that worker’s office, using sensors to dodge colleagues.

It all seems like a scene out of “Star Wars.” But I really shouldn’t be surprised that we’re destined to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with avatars. (Do avatars have shoulders?)

It occurred to me while putting this issue’s cover story together  that before the issue could be printed and put in the mail, chances were good that something we report about technology and how it’s used would be outdated.

As a sales or marketing manager (or any leadership position, really), you can’t fret about keeping up with every techno tool that’s introduced. That would be a full-time job itself. You can only keep a close eye on your team’s needs and the solutions that exist to solve those needs, and then determine if there is enough return to warrant the investment.

As Andrew Cadwell of KickStart Alliance states in his article, “As a sales VP or CEO, you must ask yourself when technology becomes a burden rather than a benefit.”