Virtual Office Scenarios

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

This paper describes a collection of scenarios (or scenario fragments) from the Virtual Office (VO) application domain. This work is part of a larger project, Scaling Object Services Architectures to the Internet, being performed by Object Services and Consulting (OBJS). The overall goal of this project is to enable the rapid construction of Internet-enabled applications for electronic commerce, command and control, and virtual enterprises. As part of the development of this project's scope and content, we have developed related papers describing:

This paper represents the next stage of the process: exploring a wide range of VO scenarios in both military and civilian applications, particularly those that considerably extend activities beyond those that might be imagined to take place in a conventional "office" setting. The intent of describing these scenarios is to:

Based on the domain scenarios in this paper, we have prepared an initial compilation of the technologies required to support such scenarios ("Enabling Technology for Virtual Office Applications"). With this background, we have targeted the area of scaling object service architectures to the Internet, and in particular the problems of organizing distributed information spaces and querying and accessing them, as being key enabling technologies to support extended VO applications. 

Many different activities could potentially be carried on in a VO, and there are a number of different ways to classify them. For example, a recent book by Don Tapscott, The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence (McGraw-Hill, 1996), includes the following categories of activities that could be carried out using advanced digital technologies:

We have included scenarios in this paper based on the assumption that a primary component of a true VO scenario is a great deal of collaborative activity (whether there is a single "office" or organization involved or not). Thus, many electronic commerce scenarios that do not really involve a great deal of collaboration (buying things on the Internet, banking, etc.) have been omitted, even though, for example, such activities might well be carried out within a VO. By similar reasoning, home office scenarios where the person involved is relatively "solo" have also been omitted. As will probably be clear from the scenarios, practically all Internet services could fit into some type of VO scenario. For example, a news feed service would be relevant if it were used, as it might well be, in a VO scenario (e.g., those conducting a military operation might well track open broadcast sources such as CNN). We have also attempted to include scenarios that (a) come from a variety of application areas, (b) extend activities beyond those that might be imagined to take place in a conventional "office" setting, and (c) are relevant to our DARPA sponsors, but which also illustrate key aspects of advanced civilian applications of VO technology. 

In addition to describing the scenarios themselves, comments are occasionally included to point out specific aspects of the technology involved in a scenario, even though identification of technology is the primary subject of the accompanying paper "Enabling Technology for Virtual Office Applications". 

The scenarios described in this paper are organized into the following sections:

The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) scenarios in Section 2 are taken from military applications. Similarly, a number (although not all) of the logistics scenarios that are explicitly described are military in nature. Some readers may question the inclusion of what appear to be strictly military scenarios in the paper, or question their relevance (or at least some of their details) to more general-purpose applications. However, even when the scenarios are military in nature, corresponding situations in other application areas almost always exist, and the scenarios usually represent (sometimes in a particularly focused way) the activities of many civilian enterprises. For example, enterprises besides military ones involve assessing intelligence (e.g., about business conditions and competitors), creating operational and other plans, executing those plans, monitoring progress, and tracking the location of things (e.g., transportation companies must track shipments, trucks, aircraft, and ships). These scenarios thus represent many of the categories of activities cited in the Tapscott book above. 

Similarly, at a more detailed level, one of the scenarios describes night vision and other sensors that could be provided to individual soldiers to, for example, enable them to transmit views of what they see to command and control centers. One might wonder what this sort of equipment has to do with civilian applications in general, and with VO applications in particular. However, a civilian repair technician might wear such a sensor (a portable camera) to enable a remote expert to examine a problem encountered by the technician, and give advice on the spot (such a scenario is described in Section 3.2). Telemedicine (see Section 4) also involves the application of such remote sensors. Disaster relief efforts would benefit from such sensors to provide data to a headquarters and to teams in the field. Moreover, while a conventional office might not normally use portable cameras, videoconferencing applications available today use fixed cameras that are roughly the same size and could, with wireless links, be made portable. 

Finally, in addition to being relevant to both military and civilian applications, all of the technologies involved in these scenarios are potentially part of the suite of technologies that must, together with the information technologies that are the main thrust of our activities, work within the architectures we are developing .

2. C4I-Related Scenarios

The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) scenarios described in this section involve, at a high level of abstraction:

While the idea of an "office" may not seem particularly appropriate in a C4I setting, the concept of a virtual office is highly adaptable to widely varying circumstances and surroundings, and so can be extended to cover not only operations in the (sometimes only relatively!) calm circumstances of a civilian enterprise, but also rapid planning, decision-making, and coordination by officers in vehicles during tactical military operations. 

Advanced VO (and related) technology supports the following key aspects of future C4I applications concepts:

Technically, the scenarios highlight a number of things, including: 

2.1 Force XXI Battle Command

The paper Force XXI Battle Command, by LTG John E. Miller, describes enhanced battle command facilities for the next century. The paper describes the concept of a battlespace: the use of the entire battlefield and the space around it to apply combat power in a way that decisively affects the enemy. This concept includes not only the physical breadth, depth, and height of the battlefield, but also the operational dimensions of time, tempo, depth, and synchronization. Commanders must seek to dominate the enemy in their battlespace through a comprehensive understanding of geography and terrain, available collection assets, and available weapons. Commanders must also integrate other Services', nations', and agencies' assets with their own to apply their combined effects toward a common intended purpose. The concept of battlespace leads to the concept of battlefield visualization: seeing the relationships between enemy forces, friendly forces, the environment, and the desired operational end state in time, space, and purpose. A clear and complete mental image of the commander's entire battlespace is critical to effective mission accomplishment because it drives the entire planning and execution process.

The paper also describes a number of concepts currently being tested as part of the PRAIRIE WARRIOR 95 Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE). Under the Digitized Battle Staff (DBS) model, the commander has a deputy commander and three planning and operations (P&O) teams. Designed to be rapidly deployable, modular, scaleable, and tailorable, the mobile P&O teams handle the current battle, future battle, and sequel to the future battle. Each team works directly with the commander to carry its respective operation from "cradle to grave." Multifunctional staff members engage in cross-team processes and rely on a commander-focused knowledge base, comprehensive decision support tools, and an information exchange system that virtually collocates the staff and external elements. Software capabilities required to support these concepts include:

These capabilities promise great potential in enhancing a commander's ability to visualize the battlefield. Dynamic distributive overlays allow warfighters to transfer operational graphics quickly by digital means without the accompanying "bulky" terrain data. Because all battle staffs will have loaded the same terrain data base on their computers with a standard, mass-produced CD-ROM, they will share a common relevant picture of the battle once they superimpose the transmitted overlay on their terrain base. Terrain visualization and synchronization tools will empower commanders to plan their assigned missions more effectively. 

One of the related demonstrations involves technology to produce a dynamic situation awareness picture of the battlefield. The idea is to equip Army vehicles with GPS receivers and special radios. This will allow the location of these vehicles, to be automatically included in a global picture of the Army ground situation, in order to enhance Situational Awareness. A commander would be presented with a simulated ground picture incorporating both this data and other data. 

A related paper, FOCUSED DISPATCH: The Mounted Piece of Force XXI, by MG Larry R. Jordon, describes FOCUSED DISPATCH, another AWE. This also illustrates the use of advanced VO-related technologies. The paper describes advanced systems that increase the commander's situational awareness. For example, they provide the commander with friendly force information that will help reduce fratricide on the battlefield, make maneuver and fires more precise, and will enable battalion task force commanders to make faster and better decisions on the battlefield. The systems enhance brigade and battalion commanders' ability to see the battlefield from their Battle Command Vehicles (BCVs). From their BCVs, they can query the information provided by these systems to provide better command and control to their subordinate units. A Movement Tracking System also affords commanders increased situational awareness by providing them the position of all their logistics assets. Armed with this information, commanders can quickly match their available logistics assets to meet their most pressing logistics requirements. 

Another related paper, WARRIOR FOCUS: The Emerging Light Infantry, by MG Jay Hendrix, describes WARRIOR FOCUS, another AWE. This describes the linking of digital C2 and "own-the-night" systems vertically and horizontally, which will provide leaders at all levels with greatly improved situational awareness, and a means for transmitting information rapidly and precisely. Commanders, as a result, will be better able to integrate, apply, and focus their combat power in the most effective ways. Further, because these systems allow commanders to "see" the enemy earlier and respond to him more quickly, commanders will be better able to protect their units and make them more survivable. 

Infantrymen participating in the experiment will have many new pieces of equipment that greatly enhance their effectiveness on the battlefield. Several of these new systems allow soldiers and their leaders to communicate critical battlefield information more rapidly and accurately than in the past. The first of these systems is the Dismounted Soldier System Unit (DSSU), a state-of-the-art, hand-held computer that integrates the soldier's video and digital communications. Allowing dismounted soldiers to view and control their DSSUs is their Helmet-Mounted-Display (HMD). Supplementing the DSSU and HMD is the Helmet-Mounted Camera (HMC) that records video snapshots of the tactical situation and can rapidly transmit them to wherever they are needed. Soldiers participating in this AWE have also been provided the Hand-Held Control Unit (HCU), a chest-mounted device that allows them to operate the DSSU which is carried in a pack. Finally, the AN/PRC-139 radio provides digital data and voice communications from a compact and lightweight source. Complementing this digital communications equipment are a number of systems that will allow U.S. light infantry units to dominate any fight that occurs at night, such as thermal sights and night vision goggles. 

Digitization and "own-the-night" capabilities will give light infantry forces the capability to mass their fires more rapidly and accurately. Because leaders will have these technological enhancements at their disposal, they will be able to "see" enemy forces earlier, at greater ranges, and more accurately. As a result, light infantrymen will be able to acquire the enemy at the maximum range of their weapons systems. The digital systems should also increase the speed and accuracy of the information and orders exchanged across all the battlefield operating systems. Additionally, these systems can precisely locate every soldier in a unit, helping commanders better track and maneuver their forces. Finally, soldiers and commanders will have a near "real time" understanding of the tactical situation that will allow them to respond quickly and agilely. 

2.2 Brigade Intelligence Support

The paper Intelligence Support to the Brigade Task Force, by BG Carles W. Thomas, describes new requirements and capabilities related to tactical intelligence support. The paper describes five key capabilities for intelligence at the brigade and battalion level: (1) top-down synthesis, (2) horizontal integration, (3) pull intelligence, (4) bottom-up collection, and (5) common relevant picture.

Before Desert Storm, intelligence was provided to maneuver commanders through a "cascading" architecture in which theater systems fed the corps, corps sensors fed the division, and the division disseminated its intelligence product to the brigades. Restricted communications and extensive processing requirements kept real-time, targetable intelligence from the commanders, who had the shortest reaction times. Moreover, division-level sensors, which could theoretically produce the fidelity and responsiveness needed for the lower-level fighting, were grouped primarily in signals intelligence /electronic warfare (SIGINT/EW) units and were not by themselves accurate enough to support targeting and decision making at these levels.

Top-down synthesis involves each maneuver brigade being assigned a direct support (DS) Military Intelligence (MI) company. This company is a specially designed organization capable of receiving, processing, and correlating direct "top-down" intelligence reporting. Key to this capability is a system that can receive and process acquired information from "vacuum-cleaner-like" sensors, such as broadcast electronic intelligence (ELINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), JSTARS radar Moving Target Indicators, and Synthetic Aperture Radar and video feeds from several echelons of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The MI company also processes information from the division's suite of ground and airborne intelligence and EW (IEW) common sensors. These systems are literally capable of mapping an enemy's radio and radar signature so well that they can be targeted precisely. 

With greater volumes of intelligence flowing directly to the brigade, horizontal integration requires the processing and dissemination of intelligence that supports multiple functions and battlefield operating systems simultaneously (e.g., engineer, aviation, fire support, etc.). This is accomplished today by integrating the All Source Analysis System (ASAS) remote workstation into the entire tactical intelligence structure to include the MI company; the brigade tactical operations center (TOC) and command and control vehicle (C2V); as well as maneuver, aviation, and artillery battalions/task forces. As the Army Battle Command System (ABCS) matures, intelligence-unique capabilities on a common work station will replace the ASAS. The key here is the capacity to move information around in a seamless manner. For example, brigade fire support officers ought to be on a local area network with the ASAS in their respective MI company so that they can view direct UAV video and JSTARS data when and where they need it.

A generation of battalion commanders learned during Desert Storm that a significant volume of intelligence pertinent to their needs existed at higher echelons but was not available to them, at least not when they needed it. Their frustration with this relatively inaccessible system led to a demand for pull intelligence: easier access to information available at these higher echelons--and a measure of control over what intelligence they viewed and how it was presented. Commanders wanted the capability to "pull down" intelligence selectively that supported their specific requirements and timelines. The paper describes the forthcoming test of a concept that integrates digital technologies with a direct broadcast satellite's flexible, high data rate communications. This will enable a task force or battalion commander to reach into the ASAS-Common Ground Station information base at the MI company and "pull" a dynamic and continuous stream of tailored intelligence.

It is not necessary to be in an MI battalion to be a collector of intelligence; tactical collection can be done from anywhere on the battlefield. This is the concept of bottom-up collection. Most product improvements to our combat vehicles and aircraft involve the integration of sensor technologies. Linkage of a Longbow Apache millimeter wave radar with JSTARS Ground Station Module (GSM), and their connection to an ASAS, has already been demonstrated. With digitization, it will be a simple task to link other disparate "collection" systems--e.g., the Long Range Advanced Scout Sensor System (LRAS3) and the Bradley Fire Support Team Vehicle (BFIST) into a common reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance, and target acquisition (RISTA) network. Moreover, management tools are being developed that will display RISTA sensor locations and their respective "fields of view" with similar views from IEW sensors and UAV telemetry. This capability will allow the construction of a dynamically evolving, graphic depiction of the brigade's total reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) capability. This R&S picture can be overlaid on the commander's automated decision support template to synchronize "eyes on" surveillance of named areas of interest (NAIs) and targeted areas of interest (TAIs). The objective of combining all these systems is to achieve a true union of intelligence gained from ground reconnaissance and aviation surveillance systems.

An overarching objective of the Army Battle Command System is to give commanders access to a common relevant picture of the battlefield that is scaleable to their needs. Two components of this capability are particularly important:

This "fly-through and drive-through" capability is also useful in other scenarios. For example, "Digital Maps Keep the Peace" [Government Computer News, July 8, 1996] describes how digital mapping and visualization technologies were used in the Bosnian peace negotiations in Dayton last year. The map data was used in negotiations on the boundaries of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. To let negotiators visualize the boundary lines, the mapping team used PowerScene software from Cambridge Research Associates in McLean, Va. The software combines digital terrain elevation data with satellite imagery to create a 3D landscape over which a user can virtually fly. Using classified high-resolution imagery from U.S. military satellites, the team was able to create a map that showed the exact locations of houses, bridges, and road intersections. PowerScene also allowed negotiators to superimpose evolving versions of the boundaries over the terrain map so that they could fly over every virtual kilometer of the boundary. Earlier in the Balkan conflict, the Air Force used PowerScene to let pilots virtually fly over specific portions of Bosnia before departing on the real sorties over the region.

2.3 Military Engineering

The paper Engineer Force XXI, by LTC Eric Mogren, describes future Army engineer missions and requirements characteristics. Missions include construction operations in support of both combat and OOTW operations (e.g., construction of roads and airfields, base camps, bunkers, fuel and water pipeline systems, construction and disposal of obstacles such as ditches and minefields), and EOD (for unexploded friendly ordnance). 

Military engineers will be particularly involved in dealing with digital topographic data. Updated digital maps, capable of three dimensional and sub-surface terrain analysis, will be downlinked to maneuver data bases as changes are known. They will be locally updated to plot obstacle and enemy force locations, and these updates fed to the overall picture. Construction units' effectiveness can be enhanced by hand-held displays performing cut and fill calculations for horizontal construction. GPS transmitters mounted on conventional construction equipment will continually update these displays to provide real time status of construction projects, both to engineers, and as part of the overall battlefield picture. A combination of these facilities would support construction equipment that provide operators with real time depth and grade on a three dimensional heads up display. At the same time, engineers will be linked to and share the maneuver commander's view of the battlefield. In addition, engineers, like their maneuver counterparts, will share in the real time, line item visibility of repair parts and supplies. 

For conducting mine-related operations, engineers will use remote mine sensing with direct links to digital maps systems is C2 vehicles, and real time digital displays of remotely delivered and other minefield locations, dimensions, and status. Engineers will also monitor ground sensors for detection of enemy heavy earth moving operations (e.g., involved in the construction of defensive positions). Again, this sensor information would be automatically linked into the overall battlefield picture. Lightweight manpack digitization equipment would be provided for light engineers, to support behind-the lines demolition and recon operations. 

2.4 JWID96

The Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration (JWID) 96 scenario involves a crisis involving two hypothetical countries, Korona and Kartuna. Korona, the aggressor, is massing ground troops on its southern border poised to conduct military operations against the northern border of Kartuna. Intelligence indicators project a threat to Kartuna's most holy city, Kalena. The scenario includes four "threads", each of which covers a specific aspect of the operation, and each of which is separately described over the timeline of the scenario. Excerpts from each thread are given below (in temporal sequence, but without specific times indicated), to give a flavor of the sorts of collaboration and data exchange that must be supported. (The various acronyms used in the scenario are not expanded here, in the interest of keeping the presentation relatively short. We hope that the general idea is reasonably clear even without a complete understanding of the acronyms. A list of many of these acronyms is provided as an appendix of the paper identified by the JWID96 scenario hyperlink given above.) 

Crisis Action Planning Op Thread

Intelligence Exchange Op Thread

Total Asset Visibility Op Thread

Theater Missile Defense Op Thread

A Technical Challenges paper included in the JWID96 documents identifies a number of specific VO-related technical requirements and challenges in supporting these activities. 

2.5 Issues in Applying Digital Technology

The paper LAM/Force XXI Writing Requirement, by LTC Michael Vane, describes some potential issues affecting the application of digital technology in the Army. These concerns, and others that have been expressed in a number of places about overburdening individuals (whether soldiers or civilians) with technology, while at the same time under-empowering them, need to be taken into account in defining and developing technology in most applications. Some of these issues include:

In addition to the issues raised in the paper cited above, a wide variety of other issues must be addressed in applying VO technology in both military and civilian applications. For example, provision must be made both to ensure currency and timeliness of data, and to enable appropriate data filtering so as to prevent commanders and troops from being deluged with data. This involves providing tools to, where appropriate, allow staffs (or automatic filters) to "digest" data and provide summaries to higher-level commanders. This also involves allowing recipients of data to specify what data they want, and how/when they want it provided. For example, should any data from a given source be automatically updated as it becomes available, should it be updated on a schedule, or should the recipient simply be notified when new data is available? Should more current data be treated differently from corrections to existing data, and if so, how? How much or what types of change in the data should prompt notification or update? Etc.

Provision must also be made for the (often significant) differences in platforms and communication bandwidths that may exist in these applications, in terms of both what data is provided, and the types of interactions in which it is used. For example, soldiers in the field (or real estate agents in cars) will not necessarily have the same display or processing capabilities as would be available in a headquarters or office. Similarly, communications bandwidth (inbound, outbound, or both) may be degraded (or even lost) under certain field conditions, and provision must be made for adjusting both the data being transmitted, and the patterns of transmission, in such circumstances. Provision must also be made for re-establishing data concurrency (and common situational awareness) when communication is re-established following a loss of communication.

3. Logistics

The logistics-related VO scenarios covered in this section include both military and civilian applications. Straightforward logistics issues covered here include locating material (both in warehouses and in-transit), moving it to where it is needed, and maintenance. In addition, VO technology allows the concept of logistics to extend "further back in the pipeline" to design and develop modifications to existing components, or new components (or configurations of them) as required. For example, VO technology could allow the rapid assembly of distributed teams to build or modify software for specific requirements. This could be done without the need to relocate the team, and with the ability to call upon a much wider base of knowledge and expertise located anywhere in the world. In this case, the concept of "logistics" could be extended to also include, for example, the aircraft design scenario discussed in Section 5. 

3.1 Force XXI Logistics

Several papers describe 21st century Army logistics. Pipeline Vision for Force XXI, by MG Thomas W. Robison, describes "a logistics pipeline in the 21st century Army that will extend combat service support seamlessly from the current strategic level through the operational and tactical levels all the way down to a broken tank at the forward line of own troops (FLOT)." The following excerpts from this paper illustrate the role VO-related capabilities will play in enabling this vision:

Gen. Robison gives further details of some of these concepts in a related paper, Force XXI Combat Service Support. Again, excerpts from the paper illustrate the role VO-related capabilities will play in supporting these concepts:

Excerpts from another paper, Battlefield Distribution for Force XXI, by W4 Daniel C. Parker and Jim Caldwell, amplify on the Battlefield Distribution concept. 

[The paper Leveraging Logistics Technology Toward Force XXI, by LG Johnnie E. Wilson and Roberto Capote, notes that this concept of Total Asset Visibility (TAV) tracks the location, condition, and consignee of supplies and equipment from factory to foxhole. The intransit visibility (ITV) initiative uses radio frequency tags, fixed and handheld detection devices, and computer system links with satellites to track movements of supplies through the distribution system. It provides a complete picture of the activities in the distribution system.]

The paper The Logistics Internet: CSS Automation for Force XXI, by LTC Merle Russ, contains a few narrative scenarios describing logistics applications of VO-related technology. For example: 

A similar scenario might be developed to describe the activities of a "Combat Software Engineer", who sets up and supports deployment of systems in the field. Moreover, unlike physical spare parts, software "parts" could actually be delivered over a Logistics Internet. 

"LAD Answers the big questions" [Government Computer News, May 27, 1996] describes the Army's Logistics Anchor Desk, a single environment for visualizing logistics data pulled from dozens of legacy logistics systems. The system lets logisticians graphically represent asset data. Instead of charts and lists describing the transportation infrastructure of Bosnia, for example, LAD displays a detailed map overlaid with icons representing different types of roads, bridges, rail lines, oil refineries, etc. The data comes from a number of sources: DMA maps, the Army's Military Traffic Management Command for the roads, the DIA and service-specific intelligence activities for up-to-date status on local fuel facilities. Additional data from the services' personnel systems let commanders know the names and specialties of soldiers who will be deployed for a particular contingency. The LAD also allows mission planning; it incorporates modeling tools such as the Knowledge-Based Logistics Planning Shell, which lets users answer questions such as "If I have X troops with Y vehicles, how much food, fuel, and construction material will I need around Tussle, and where are the optimum distribution points for each? Will I have enough engineers? Enough electricians?"

3.2 Civilian Logistics-Related Scenarios

VO technology can support numerous civilian logistics-related scenarios. Numerous commercial firms (such as Federal Express, and other transportation companies) are already using digital technology to track shipments in real-time. Such tracking information can be integrated into other types of planning, to support "just-in-time" delivery of material for manufacturing and other operations. 

Maintenance scenarios are also enhanced with this technology. One such Remote Expert Consultation scenario involves a remote expert consultation on a maintenance problem with a power plant. The power plant operator establishes a video conference to the maintenance center to report a problem with the gas turbine. The dispatcher at the maintenance center checks his knowledge database to find possible solutions or at least the name of an expert who can then be consulted.

In this particular case, the operator reports a problem with a vane of the second propeller of the gas turbine. The database does not give any hint, but the name of a contact person. The dispatcher invites the expert into the conference and explains the problem to him. The expert calls up the construction drawing of the turbine, and they all examine it. 

The second part of the gas turbine, where the high pressure chamber is located, causes the problem. One of the conference participants took over the application control and starts to zoom-in the construction drawing of the turbine. 

To be prepared for the meeting with the remote expert, the power plant operator has made pictures of the dismantled turbine vanes. These are displayed. This gives the expert a chance to identify the type and manufacturer of the vane. He asks for x-ray images. These are provided, along with test reports. 

COBUCO describes an aircraft maintenance scenario that illustrates how communication facilities might be provided to mobile users within a large aircraft maintenance area, and how multimedia services might be provided to the maintenance crew working within this area. Aircraft awaiting maintenance may be parked anywhere within this coverage area.

"Jets and the 'net'" [Computerworld, July 31, 1995] describes how Douglas Aircraft is testing a system to provide on-line maintenance manuals (40,000 pages) for the MD-11 jet over the Internet. There is already experimentation in using computers on jets for Internet access by pilots and maintenance crews. 

"The Ultimate in Portability" [Computerworld Client/Server Journal, August 1995] described how aircraft maintenance workers in a pilot test at Boeing could use portable computers in performing maintenance operations. Using prototype wearable computers developed at Carnegie-Mellon University, the workers crawl over the wings and cockpit wearing 4-pound computers that fit into the small of their backs. On their foreheads, they wear VGA-quality transparent monitors that give them a full field of vision but let them call up 3D diagrams of the cockpit or other airplane mechanisms, request step-by-step instructions on any procedure, and enter data into a remote database, all with voice commands. Repair requests are immediately broadcast by radio to a Boeing logistics computer server, which automatically orders any required parts and can schedule the date and time of the repairs. 

4. Health Care

VO technology is widely understood to be of great potential benefit in both military and civilian health care scenarios. For example, the paper Force XXI Combat Service Support, by MG Thomas W. Robison, describes some aspects of 21st Century Army healthcare requirements. Telemedicine is cited as being particularly important in providing rapid care in the field, since it allows medical personnel providing direct care in the field to be digitally linked with specialized medical expertise at distant medical facilities. This includes both telemonitoring, which allows remote medical personnel to evaluate patient condition, and teleconsultation, which allows interactive consultation to take place based on full voice, video, and data links. 

The paper also describes specialized equipment that plays a role in supporting the immediate treatment of soldiers on the battlefield. For example, the Personnel Status Monitor (PSM) is a wristwatch-like device that transmits a soldier's location and physiological status to his chain of command and, when appropriate, to combat medics. The Medical Digital Assistant (MDA) is a handheld device used to monitor vital signs of casualties from a remote location. 

In describing civilian health care applications of VO technology, the paper Health Care and the NII notes that, in general, national networks would enable all persons and health care providers to access the most recent information about particular medical technologies, clinical treatments, and provider performance. Patient outcome information could be linked to medical treatment data in a variety of settings so that all interested parties could obtain a better understanding of what works in the practice of medicine in the community and where it works best.

In one scenario from that paper: 

In similar scenarios, a nurse or an on-line expert system could act as a filter, to allow physicians to care for more patients, helping the patient to evaluate symptoms, and establishing contact with other medical personnel as required or requested. Videoconferencing or other electronic interaction is particularly useful where it would be best if a patient were monitored less frequently than in a hospital, but more frequently than would be convenient if a visit to doctor's office were necessary. For example, 4% of the US population is diabetic, and must check their blood sugar levels several times daily. However, most of these patients only consult their health care provider once a quarter. According to a ten-year study by the National Institute of Diabetes, if nurses could flag patient data in real time, instead of waiting for periodic updates, diabetics' health risks could be reduced by 75% [Red Herring, Sept. 1996, page 60]). A similar approach would be important in allowing medical personnel to remotely monitor patients to ensure that they take their medication (this has been noted as an important factor in reducing cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis). 

A Microsoft Press Release describes software that will link physicians, pharmacists, and patients via the Internet. Such technology is important because, as smaller health care organizations become part of larger provider networks, there is an increasing need to coordinate information among multiple parties, including hospitals, physician's offices, laboratories and insurance companies. The software will enable physicians to submit prescription orders electronically, reducing the chances of error, and speeding delivery of medication. Pharmacists can notify doctors when they dispense medicine, or they can ask questions about a particular drug therapy, all electronically. Patients who need a prescription refill can request one through e-mail. Pharmacies can develop patient histories that include clinical, prescriptive, disease-state and allergy information. They can then use this information to counsel patients on everything from appropriate exercise and diet regimens to eliminating sources of stress in their lives. 

Such software also creates an online early-warning system for primary-care physicians. If a patient suffers side effects from a medication, a pharmacist can quickly consult a physician online for a change in the prescription. A pharmacist can also notify a physician electronically if a patient is not following dosage instructions. The physician can then change her or his refill instructions online to make future prescriptions contingent on an office visit.

A key aspect of advanced healthcare is online access to each patient's medical history. With a portable electronic medical history, patients can share their medical information with whomever they choose -- doctors, pharmacies, insurance companies -- and can change that access at will. Moreover, the patient's record can be kept up-to-date by the various providers, so that, when care is needed, healthcare providers will have access to complete and accurate information, even when the patient is traveling. Similar technology is also important in a hospital setting, where unnecessary effort is sometimes spent re-determining and re-entering patient information that is already available, or re-performing tests because the results of previous tests cannot be readily located.

The Academic Pathologist gives a narrative of yet another health care scenario made possible by VO technology, by describing a hypothetical day in the life of a pathologist. As the following excerpts from that scenario illustrate, the technology allows the pathologist to: 

track tasks to be performed, with the tasks being dynamically updated

review the medical literature associated with specific cases 

access multimedia patient information online

participate in consultations and conferences with full access to all relevant data

deal with emergencies

5. Miscellaneous Scenarios

In addition to the groupings of application areas covered in the previous sections, there are numerous other application areas in which VO technology could be usefully applied. A selection of scenarios from some of these areas is presented here.


A customer might schedule a videoconference with an advertising agency in order to discuss the latest campaign. The agency creates a conference with the customer and also with a photo agency. Images of the ads could be viewed by all parties. The customer might propose some changes to the photos to be used in the ads. The photo agency could access its image database, and present some suggested alternatives, using queries based on image content, and other characteristics. An accepted photo could be immediately inserted into the ad to be changed, for review by all parties. Photos could also be edited on-line, to make them fit the overall layout, and goals of the customer. 


In one Management Scenario, a manager wants to know how to develop a vision and mission for her team. She accesses an online Leaders/Managers Manual, and searches it on the keyword "vision". She is presented with several options, including:

Insurance Claims

VO technology could considerably simplify insurance claims processing. For example, a ship insurer in Germany might receive a message that one of their insured vessels had been in a collision in the Singapore area. The insurer could set up a videoconference with the harbor police, the ship captain, and the owner to discuss the situation. The location of the collision could be identified to the participants by calling up a harbor map from a GIS system, and locating the collision with a pointer. Digitized photographs of the damage could be displayed to all parties. If desired, a local inspector equipped with highly portable video equipment could provide video (full-motion or still) to show specific views of the damaged area as directed in real-time by the participants in the conference. The owners could call up drawings of the ship, in order to determine if additional parts of the ship should be inspected for damage. The owners of any cargo that might have been affected by the collision could also be brought into the conference immediately, if necessary, or be contacted in a subsequent separate conference. The details of the insurance policy, the information originally used by the underwriters, and other financial data (e.g., the depreciated value of the ship) would also be immediately available. Any necessary forms and reports could be made out on-line and sent to the required agencies electronically. Agreement on compensation could be reached during the videoconference, and the agreement "signed" electronically, and distributed to all necessary parties. 

Aircraft Design

The book by Don Tapscott, The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence (McGraw-Hill, 1996), includes a description of the process behind the design of the Boeing 777 commercial aircraft. This provides an excellent example of design-related Virtual Office activities. The process involved the use of digital design technologies, cross-functional work teams, and advanced manufacturing techniques. Digital design technology reduced or eliminated hand drawings, full-sized metal mockups, and master models. Engineers working together had simultaneous access to every aspect of the design. The design tools' accuracy and three-dimensional capability allowed designers to see whether parts would fit, and, using associated analysis software, how adding new systems altered stress in the structure. The tools included a computer-simulated mechanic that could demonstrate whether a human could get inside a particular area to carry out repairs. Access to the system went beyond Boeing itself to include many of the more than 500 suppliers in a dozen countries. Cross-functional teams were organized around parts of the aircraft rather than according to function. The teams brought together engineering, procurement, manufacturing, operations, customer services, and marketing. The new workgroups also included key representatives from customers. Airline representatives made numerous suggestions, and were particularly helpful on reliability and maintenance aspects of the aircraft. 

The scenario is also suggestive of the potential of VO technology in such applications. For example, further development of the "simulated mechanic" would allow virtual-reality-based walkthroughs or even simulated passenger flights in the aircraft. The ability of VO technology to link cross-functional (and even cross-company) teams together would be a significant contribution to all sorts of design and implementation activities. Because the technology allows participants located anywhere full access not only to other participants, but also to all necessary data, a great deal of flexibility is introduced into design processes. For example, it is easier to gain participation from key people in both design and customer organizations, because they do not need to travel to be involved, and they can participate on an as-needed basis. This is particularly important when multiple customer sites are involved. 

Real Estate Scenario

A Real Estate agency could make use of a number of aspects of VO technology. Agents could visit clients and identify candidate homes through database searches based on client-specified criteria. These criteria could include geographically- or time-based criteria (proximity to schools satisfying specific requirements, within specified commuting times from work) involving searches of geographic and other information. The agent could locate the homes on a customized map display, provide photos and plans, and conduct the clients on video walk-throughs of selected homes. If the client had digitized information about their furniture, etc., this could be superimposed on the views of the home to allow the clients to see what the home would look like with their own furnishings installed. The agent could also provide information on lenders, local utilities and tradespeople (plumbers, carpenters), etc. Videoconferencing would allow the parties to negotiate for services without leaving their homes or places of business. Similar services could be provided remotely for clients over the Internet. This would be particularly helpful for clients who are moving into an area from out-of-town. 


A general contractor could access sub-contractor (carpenter, plumber, electrician, painter, tile-layer, carpet-layer, appliance installer, cabinet-maker, countertop, hvac, etc.) and part-time laborer schedules to find out when they were available, and to know who to book for a given job. S/he could access a supplier's (original source) databases to find out what materials and tools were necessary for specific installations, to get exact specifications as to size, quantity, quality, availability, and local vendors of specific products, and to track shipments of material to know when to expect to be able to do the next step of a job. S/he could also use CAD and virtual reality tools to provide clients with pictures of what the finished job will look like, and to let clients virtually walk through the completed project to determine where switches, lighting, walls, and outlets should be. VO tools could also be used to consult with architects or structural engineers, e.g., to ensure that an existing foundation is adequate (and, if not, to get suggestions on how to shore it up or what alternative materials to use), or to allow the architect or engineer to track 'closeness' of finished job to original plans. The contractor could also use costing tools to determine how much time a particular segment of the job ought to take so as to interleave employees/sub-contractors from job to job and ensure access to labor without undue idle overhead, and use remote database access to check local code specifications for requirements as to material, positioning, inspection, and loading.

Conventional Office Activities

Conventional VO activities include such things as keeping timesheets, monitoring progress, etc. Our company, OBJS, is itself a virtual company. At the beginning of this paper, we noted that we have developed several papers describing our own plans for, and experiences with, VO technology in our own operations. This section briefly describes some of these plans and experiences.

Following years of tradition, we had been using paper timesheets and each submitting separate individual weekly reports. Both procedures were necessary, of course, but much extra time was being spent transferring timesheets (using fax and U.S. mail to preserve signatures), then copying and summarizing paper timesheets into monthly financial reports. Less transfer time was spent on weekly reporting since we could email these to each other electronically, but it was painful to complete monthly reports from weekly ones. 

More recently, we have made incremental changes in these procedures to define schemes that worked much better in a VO. We set up a standard electronic spreadsheet customized to the weeks in the month and including all charge numbers. The spreadsheet summarizes weekly and monthly charges per individual. Early experience is that individuals save time using the spreadsheet and the office manager saves substantial time and makes fewer (no) errors in summarization for the billing and payroll processes. A problem with weekly reports was, we needed to see the big picture, that is, how weekly results added up to monthly accomplishments, and also needed to be able to translate this to monthly reports quickly. To automate this in the virtual office, we have begun to use weekly report templates with standard tasks and color coding of the weekly progress by week so that a month of progress can be seen at a glance and there is no longer a need to collate each week. Next steps for both procedures are: automate aggregation of information across the team (scaling); insure security and survivability of distributed information; support compression; support daily non-intrusive auditability (everyone must record time daily but it is difficult even a central office to guarantee this; agent alerters can remind them to do so); support both connected and disconnected individuals; support extended reporting periods to arbitrary periods of time; and enable query over textual and spreadsheet data.

A further useful enhancement would be a system to manage time recording in a virtual office. The system could keep users up to date on current charge numbers, automatically distribute and collect time records; compress, protect, and timestamp recorded times and ship them to the main office. This would involve interacting with a number of existing tools outside of the spreadsheet application where time is actually collected and manipulated. 

Requirements also exist for authentication and signatures in a virtual office. The concern is how to keep the need for a paper trail (or at least a verifiable one) and signatures from requiring physical movement of people and documents for no reason other than accounting. Between email, faxes, and digital signatures, most of what appears to be required to put together a system to get around this problem is already available in one form or another, although not integrated with data capture tools and applications such as our expense statements, time sheets, or accounting package. One piece seems to be a "Time Stamping Authority" that can reliably and unforgeably timestamp documents that it cannot also read. This appears on the surface to be just an application of digital signatures, but there is more to it than that, since there are issues of trust (whose timestamper do you trust for what?), distribution (to avoid bottlenecks and outages, there must be more than one timestamper, which must then try to keep their times synchronized), accuracy (given clock drift, how close to the correct time are you willing to pay for?). 

Offices also typically involve meetings. We have found that simple electronic communications techniques such as electronic mail can adequately substitute for some types of meetings without necessarily requiring videoconferencing facilities. For example, we have engaged in extensive brainstorming activities on several occasions entirely via electronic mail. Among the advantages of this approach were:

At the same time, there were negative aspects, partly due to today's technology, such as:

(Of course, many of these are issues with face-to-face meetings as well).  

Further discussion of our Virtual Office experiences can be found in our papers "Virtual Office White Paper" and "Electronic Support for Collaboration & Decision Making in OBJS." 

6. Conclusions

This paper has described a collection of scenarios (or scenario fragments), from various application domains, that illustrate the use (or the potential use) of Virtual Office (VO) technology. These scenarios should also be suggestive of other application domains in which this technology might be applied. In general, the scenarios illustrate that VO technology provides a means to empower people both to use their individual skills more effectively, and to collaborate with others in highly effective teams. 

These scenarios also illustrate a wide range of technology requirements. Based on these scenarios, we have prepared an initial compilation of the technologies required to support such scenarios ("Enabling Technology for Virtual Office Applications"). Together, these papers provide a basis for carrying on our further work in the area of scaling object service architectures to the Internet and, in particular, on the problems of organizing distributed information spaces, and querying and accessing them, these being key enabling technologies in supporting extended VO applications. 

Appendix A

A Summary of Information and Activity Types in Virtual Offices

This appendix presents, in outline form, a summary of some of the kinds of information in a generic VO environment, and the types of activities that go on in such a VO. 

A.1 Kinds of information in a VO

A.2 Kinds of activities in a VO

In general, the following kinds of activities go on:

More specifically, a categorization of these activities (for purposes of generating technology requirements) might be as follows:

A.2.1. Basic Information Acquisition, Access, and Interchange 

The focus here is on basic acquisition, access to information already stored within the system, and interchange.

Distributed File/Document System (DFS)

In a distributed environment, as exemplified by a VO, there is a need to provide ease-of-access to the significant body of information within the organization. At the most basic level, this amounts to documents and the activity of document sharing.

Aspects: distribution (communications, internet), file systems, document management

Object Layer(ing) Service (OLS)

In a distributed, heterogeneous VO environment where participants use different applications, and different application versions on different platforms, some means to enable the consistent, transparent exchange of information is required. 

The object-oriented approach is useful here as the objects can represent/render themselves appropriately given the specific environment variables. This may also be handled by client services.

Aspects: distribution (communications, internet), file systems, document management, object services, translators/mediators

Object Query Service (OQS)

As an extension of the DFS, the information stored within a VO may exist across multiple applications, such as databases, mailers, file systems, etc. A single interface should be provided in which to access this information so that users do not have to search through all data warehouses to locate related information. In addition, the information may exist in several forms (text, audio, video, images), so searching should transparently (to the extent possible) allow querying independent of type so searches do not have to be re-stated by the user for each data type that exists. 

Aspects: distribution (communications, internet), file systems, document management, object services, translators/mediators, user interfaces, search engines

A.2.2. Information/Knowledge Management

The focus here is on knowledge management as opposed to simply document/object access/management.

Distributed Information/Knowledge Management

A significant amount of knowledge is generated within a VO environment as described above. Efficient access to this information is imperative for a VO to operate effectively. This information must be managed on several levels:

On Reception:



Intelligent Collaborative Document Environment (ICDE)

The active process of collaboration requires mechanisms to support document sharing, processing, and associated information management (associated with workflow). This covers many activities within a VO as outlined above:

ICDE extends document sharing with intelligent management and sharing of information. ICDE may address such things as:

A.2.3. Assisted Information Processes

The primary focus here is on intelligent assistance associated with the activities within a VO (e.g. information generation, retrieval, and searching)

A.2.3.1. Assisted Information Generation (AIG)

The process of information generation can be aided by information generation assistants (very basic forms of these already exist -- Microsoft calls them wizards). While ICDE above describes primarily passive assistance, the focus of AIG is active participation in the process of generating information. Support for multi-source data/information fusion (automatic or with human interaction) is also included in this category. This is divided into two areas, collaborative (or multi-user), and single-user.

In both cases, there needs to be support for time management: 

Time Management

Time Management is specifically necessary in all cases to track the amount of time spent on all tasks. TM systems must be designed with ease-of-use as a primary goal (e.g. OS-level support, or very lightweight process requirement).

Collaborative Assistance:

Collaborative assistance for users facilitates the generation and run-time management of information. This may take many forms, including managing all types of communications (including conversations, brainstorming, presentations, meetings) and to programming-related collaboration. The type of management may include such things as:

Collaborative assistance may be provided for communications which may be synchronous or asynchronous in time and space.

Single User Assistance:

Perhaps closer to the idea of current wizards, to assist the user in the generation of information associated with a VO (e.g., all communications and programming). This assistance should take into account aspects of operating in a VO as described in other scenarios above.

A.2.3.2. Assisted Information Retrieval (AIR)

Information Reformulation

Knowledge reformulation is the process of taking current knowledge and formatting or restructuring it. This may include reports for example, and can involve data of any type including audio and video (e.g. from presentations, or conferences). Assistance should be available to help facilitate the composition of new material from current knowledge in the system. Like AIG, AIR could be a collaborative or single-user activity.

A.2.3.3. Assisted Information Searching (AIS)

Information Exploration

Information exploration involves the perusal and exploration of information within the VO. This includes searching for information based upon current data models, and the identification of new relationships not currently supported within those models. AIS aids the user in searching by providing the same kind of assistance as in AIG as applicable:

Like AIG, AIS could be a collaborative or single-user activity. 

A.2.3.4. Assisted Information Dissemination (AID)

Information Dissemination

Information dissemination is the process of insuring that information reaches those that need to be aware of it. Information retrieval and searching involve explicit requests for information. Manual information dissemination involves the explicit sending of information to someone who should see it. Assisted information dissemination allows for users to register (or have registered for them) their interest in certain types of information. When this information becomes available, either it will be automatically routed to them, or they will be automatically be notified that it is available. As with the categories above, this could involve either collaborative or single-user interaction in the process. 

This research is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and managed by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory under contract DAAL01-95-C-0112. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, or the United States Government. 

© Copyright 1996 Object Services and Consulting, Inc. Permission is granted to copy this document provided this copyright statement is retained in all copies. Disclaimer: OBJS does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information on this page. 

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Last updated: 1/29/97 fam

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