Virtual Relay in a German Company

© Photo Fraunhofer FIT

The Summer Olympics inspired Bayer Business Services (BBS), a German company with 89 offices worldwide, with an exciting idea: A symbolic baton travels round the earth, from one office to the next, from employee to employee, and gathers greetings, ideas, or stories in a multimedia album that is open to the company staff worldwide. Under the banner "We are a people company, be part of if", the project was to build bridges between the BBS offices, enhance social interaction and thus improve communication within the organization.

Fraunhofer FIT was commissioned with the conceptual design and technical realization of this project. The main challenge initially was how to motivate the company staff worldwide to be spectators and symbolic runners in the relay, i.e. to contribute to the album. Focusing on the latter, we decided to translate the idea of a symbolic baton into a tangible tool that is an attractive piece of technology and at the same time makes it easy to create messages for the album. For the hardware we settled on a VAIO ultra-mobile PC from Sony. With its weight of less than 500 grams it can easily be taken around and handed from one contributor to the next. It provides full Internet connectivity by WLAN, offers a microphone, a camera, a keyboard, and a touchscreen. The Baton application that we developed starts automatically as soon as the VAIO is turned on. It is optimized to enable non-specialist users to create short multimedia or text messages.

In regular intervals the finalized messages are uploaded to a shared workspace that delivers the contributions to the web page of the relay.

The design of the relay page was guided by three goals: To illustrate the global presence of Bayer Business Services, to represent the geographical and chronological course of the relay, and to provide easy access to the collection of messages. We use the classical world map to visualize the distribution of BBS offices. An orange dot in the map represents an office. The blue magnifier glasses in the map indicate that staff from these offices contributed to the relay and published messages. The timeline below the map helps to access contributions from a particular period of the relay. The lower left window lists the titles of all messages published so far, grouped by modality, or the titles of the subset of messages selected by clicking a magnifier glass or a time slice in the top half of the page. When a user selects a title in the left window, the message is shown on the right.

The relay was started in July 2008 at the summer party of Bayer Business Services in Berlin. By the end of the year staff from twenty-five offices had contributed to the relay. The messages by the employees presenting themselves and their colleagues, the business focus of their office, local or regional highlights already are a very impressive collection of facets of a global company. Six months after the project start demand for the Baton is still lively. Comments by the staff confirm that the virtual relay has indeed enhanced social interaction within Bayer Business Services.