Mark Skilton    Copyright 2019  ©

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Understanding physical-virtual spaces

While the information revolution and the supply chain have seen changes through digitization, in parallel there has been the continual creativity and innovation in technology.  Often it is these conjunctions that have introduced new ideas that in the right circumstances have moved from incremental change to disruptive technology capable of redefining whole markets and new products and services.

In itself the properties of digitization has the ability to change the nature of what is recorded, the speed of information and nature of how information and experience is processed. We will explore these themes in later chapters but as an introduction it is important to put this type of technological ecosystem into perspective.  In our first diagram of technological ecosystems, we have advanced technology engineering transformation that at the center connecting to all other technology ecosystems for the reason is that technological innovation can impact all others.  To illustrate this point, consider how technology innovation such as web telepresence or 3D printing can change existing methods.  One has the ability to connected us in real-time and to communication over wireless or mobile communications to create video images and sound of places and people that could be thousands of kilometres away.  The other enabled digital data defining a virtual object to be entered into a 3D printer to generate a physical object facsimile of the digital representation.  Again, this can be done potentially in any location with the printer either on the ground or in even an orbiting space station, with the right raw materials and communication protocols to understand the digital data model.    What is happening is the moment of time, the temporality is being altered from the physical minutes, hours or days it would have taken to a real-time experience for the person. The spatial awareness and locality location has also shifted from the physical to the virtual as digital technologies can “compress” large scale information about objects and spaces and recreate these digitally.   The concept of what is real? and “realism” is introduced in that objects and experiences can be both physical and virtual. 


Figure 1- 1 The shift of time and space by advanced technology engineering transformations

There are many such examples that enable changes in the way digital information is used and perceived.    They represent a frontier of what is possible and importantly, a way of rethinking and reimaging the boundaries of what is and might be possible.   By its very nature it creates new kinds of technologically enabled ecosystems.







Advanced Technology Transformations




Advanced Technology Engineering Transformations

Examples of advanced technologies

Spatial Awareness – Macro distributed Realism

Virtual digital maps



Spatial Awareness – Micro Distributed Realism

Large scale sensors networks, example, Earthquake early warning systems

Loci of Experience – Physical augmented realism

Virtual reality augmentation 

Loci of Experience -  Virtual augmented realism 

Virtual (Gaming) world such as Second life or digital mall 

Physical to virtual objects creation

Digital social analytics to outcomes, Crowd design

Virtual to physical objects creation

3D printing 

Artificial non-living emulation 

Simulation and complex object analysis , examples include 3D engineering design and biomolecular engineering and generic simulation

Artificial living emulation

Synthetic avatars, voice emulation, artificial intelligence.

Macro Manipulation – Meters, 10’s Meters, Kilometers

Robotics, Mega earth movers,  Deep space communications and controls


Micro Manipulation – Micro, Nao, Pico scale

Wearable tech, Nano tech, Generic engineering 

Transformation through digital-cyber spaces

Spatial field of information view

Spatial transformation is perhaps the simpler of digitalization concepts brought about by the vast scaling of the internet infrastructure architectures and growth of data and connectivity and devices.  The “network effect” is that information across many geographic locations can be digital transmitted to potentially any physical location.  In this sense many physical locations can be virtualized and their information shared simultaneously in any other virtual or physical location. 


This changes or view of view perspective in being able to gain information about many  spaces in one place. This is not just remove transmission of digital pictures but the information and meaning of the content and location itself.  We see this common place every day with Satellite Navigation and combined multi-media broadcasts combining physical and virtual location data into a combined perspective of special orientation.


From a transformational perspective this changes the spatial information field of view from  immediate sensory information of the 1st person viewpoint into the potential to “see” and interact with collective community information. It also enables 3rd person perspectives of a wider information field of view containing. Markets, communities and global events. 


Semantic field of information view


The with spatial information it is now possible to view the set of information relating to a specific context, or meaning, from a combination of different sources of information. The digitization of data has followed a path form physical data to a term called “Metadata” that describes information n about other information.  With digital technologies through sensors and data analytics new forms of metadata about groups of names and activities of communities are collected. Information and their relationships to groups of names and activities or individuals can be generated directly or through analytical inference and future predictions.    A buzz word “Hyperdata” has emerged that describes a even wider set of information perspectives that combines data and information from many local and global sources to enable large scale population samples or whole population analysis.


Semantic mean with such data, metadata and Hyperdata perspectives starts to enable new transformational perspectives in the way digital technologies can contextualize a moment, physically impossible by human capabilities and local senses. 


The semantic information field of view can extent physical information at a contextual situation to include collective intelligence and augmented or artificial intelligence drawing on new forms of semantic data generated in the digital ecosystem.

Temporal information field of view

Temporal transformation is probably the hardest concept to grasp in the present moment of usage sense.

Human existence is to live in the present , the moment of now. Yet we can remember the past and to some extent our immediate future is before us and known. Events and decisions shape how we move from one timeframe to another.


In digitization of information some “strange” potential properties emerge in that we can preserve and record what has happen in the past, predict, and even change the future. This is more than a static picture frame timeline of your of your post on a social network website, for example.  In defining digital content we can create contextual content that continues to co-exist with us in the present now. Videos, discussions and decisions can be preserved and taken with you on mobile devices,  web sites and social networks and “feedback” like a time loop back into the present. Further more, we can simulate future possible outcomes In the term multiplicity – we can simultaneously modulate and create alternative outcome choices.



To some extend this is the long tail economic effect first describe by Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired Magazine (1) where many possible choices and outcomes can be made because of this concurrency of simultaneously “everything is available “ choice.   There are constraints in availability, but this also has profound potential in the ability to  have temporal hindsight and foresight in the present now because of digitization of moments, events and  services. The long tail of availability can also look back at the past consumption behavior and look forward in time to predicted consumption needs and outcomes. 


Convergence of digitization in physical and Virtual space and time


This is not magic,  digitization is significant in its ability to change society and services and experiential existence for humans.  Digital transitions are transmutational in that they don’t just disruptive innovation in the present moment but alter the very fabric of the information space-time relationship of humans to building, places, objects and relationships, past, present, and future.


Transmutation is a complex term given to the topological shape and capability changing characteristic of an environment.  Emerging new technologies will continue to change the boundaries of physical domains and the social and societal connectivity.  They enable the  ability to do things through information assets and solutions that can alter human experience.


Transformation of Physical Workplaces to Virtual Workspaces by Digitization 

These concepts of spatial, temporal and semantic context are important ideas in understand what it means to think digitally.

Digital workspaces are areas within the Digital ecosystem that define specific points of reference for how the digital technologies and information is brought together for a specific context.

Digital workspaces are implementations of PEC models representing space-time STC model interactions.   

Digital workspaces are the building blocks of the digital enterprise. 



The term digital workspace is a useful “unit” to consider in the definition of digital design. We will explore a number of digital workspaces that are patterns that can be observed in the digital ecosystem and digital enterprise.  


Digital Workspace


  • Digital Workspace is defined by physical and virtual data and objects associated with that domain workspace that can work collectively for the ecosystem and enterprise

  • Digital Workspaces span physical, extended, and contextual areas of an ecosystem (PEC).

  • Each digital workspace is defined by spatial—temporal characteristics to enable its context  (STC)





Transformation of Physical Workplaces to Virtual Workspaces by Digitization 

These concepts of spatial, temporal and semantic context are important ideas in understand what it means to think digitally.

Digital workspaces are areas within the Digital ecosystem that define specific points of reference for how the digital technologies and information is brought together for a specific context.

Digital workspaces are implementations of PEC models representing space-time STC model interactions.   

Digital workspaces are the building blocks of the digital enterprise. 

The definition of physical workplaces as virtual workspaces can be based on a number of practical physical considerations.     We can break this down into the immediate human space of reference in considering three types

  • Physical spaces humans  live and work in

  • Transit spaces that humans travel and move between

  • Biological spaces that represent the human body condition and living habitat

Digitization of these spaces creates new virtual workspaces that can change how the physical workplaces function and interact with the human experience. 


Physical Workplaces

These are the contemporary locations, streets, sidewalks, builds, rooms and other physical objects that are the small and larger scale artefacts of the physical world.   Consumable items like food, money, clothes and other temporary objects can all be seen as the things that are present in the living workspace.

Virtual Physical Workspace

A Virtual space of a physical location is the enablement of the physical space with digital technologies such as “smart wall” that can display content or offer touch sensitive interactivity.    Physical locations can be connected such, for example in a web Teleconference remote locations can be shared as if they were in the same physical location.

Transit Workplaces

Objects are also not static, cars, planes and trains are physically moveable and are such as the same as fixed artefacts other that they has additional properties that are “on the move”.

Virtual Transit Workspaces

The connected car is an example of a transit space that may have GPS and other remote connectivity to provide information and entertainment while on the move.

Biological Workplaces

The human body has many biological subsystems.  The organs, the respiratory, nervous, muscular, skeletal, and many others represent the biological “systems platform.” The human conditional also has emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and cultural essence of being. Biological systems can be treated as another “space” that are manifest in the real physical world. The social collectiveness of groups, communities, and organizations also represent a kind of biological, living space.

Biological living systems can be taken to include more than a human centric perspective but also the ecological environment we live in.    Animals. Insects, plants, rivers, forests, land, sea, atmosphere and the  biosphere that encompass the planet.

Virtual Biological Workspaces

At human body level, the use of implants to augment organs and monitor health such as heart pace makers to artificial limbs to microchip implants.  Wearable technology can externally augment wellbeing of human health to fashion and lifestyle accessories seen in eyewear, wrist bands and smart clothing.  Advances in organ regeneration and generic engineering suggest new frontiers of what is possible in augmented human medical condition and lifestyles.   


Technology in the Workplace


The digital revolution we have seen on the information, operating models and advanced technologies has the potential to reshape the very spaces we live and work in. A fifth important technological ecosystem view is that of the digital workplace.

There have been four changes affecting the ways physical workplaces have the potential to gain immersive new experiential systems:

  • Sensors and actuators that measure and affect outcomes in the physical environment

  • Interactions and visualizations of information about the environment

  • Social spaces that represent the personal private and public personas

  • Contextual spaces that define the moment of an event and action in the present, past and future


Figure 1- 2 Technology in the Workplace

Firstly, a range of sensors from heat, light, movement, sound and many others can be placed into rooms, building , cars and city places and venues.  These devices can passively or actively collect and process signals that can be transmitted remotely to a platform in a mobile device, or a room or build management system or a moving vehicle.  Secondly, the form in which humans can interact with and visualize this information is now potentially multifarious.  A nice rhyming phase to catch this concept is  “IO’s, Tabs, Pads, Boards, Spaces and Places” that refer to the size of the form factor of the device you can interact with. These can range from hand held and wearable mobile devices of 10 centimeters or less; to tablets and wall mounted screens to large crowd boards and spaces for “live” advertizing and event communications.  Large stadium and concert events can have very large scale place screens for mass visual communications.  These capabilities combine to thirdly enable different types of social space gathering on-line and off-line from information social meetings to formal enterprise working groups and marketplaces.  Together then create the potential for tactile, verbal and augmented feedback that can enhance workplace.



Design of Digital Workspaces

Digital workspaces as we have seen are connected spaces in a digital ecosystem.

The physical enterprise is a commercial organization that can be constructed from the physical, transitional and human spaces.     The physical objects, rooms and buildings of the enterprise, the transport and traffic networks between the organization and its markets. The human capital and skills that represent the enterprise and its partners and customers. 

There are potentially many digital workspaces that can form from the digitization of these physical, transit and biological spaces.

We will focus on six major patterns of digital workspaces in the digital enterprise.

  • Object workspace

  • Room and Facility workspace

  • Personal workspace and Business community workspace

  • Travel and in transition workspace

  • Contextual relationship workspace

  • Knowledge workspace


Definitions of Digital workspaces

Object Workspace

An entity that can be defines with content and function.  Objects Can be material physical such as a chair, cup or wall or virtual digital objects such music content or digital book.   Objects can be non-living and living.

Examples of PEC model objects Workspace -  physical objects in a kitchen, cooker, plates, forks, cups, food items, brink items, fridge, kettle

Examples of STC model objects Workspace –  the information on cooking recipes or fridge reordering can be virtually connected to digital services. Virtual objects can be used such as 3D printing of objects to and from physical locations


Room/ Facility Workspace

The physical walls, floors and objects within a room space. A building made up of rooms and floors.  Rooms and facilities can be private owned or public place facilities such as municipal services, parks, swimming pools  and libraries.   Rooms and buildings can also be virtual if connected remotely to other rooms and  buildings as a connected virtual workspace, for example a simultaneous webcast of a concert theatre product on an online gaming event and viewing audience community.

Examples of PEC model room/facility Workspace– Living room spaces, corridors, the building structure, the collection of buildings in a shopping mall, a set of factory complex facilities.   Collections of facilities that are managed as a unit.

Examples of STC model room/facility Workspace – Visualization screens mounted on walls to display information.  The air conditioning system and heating control system for automated room ambient environment control.

Personal Workspace/ Business Community Workspace

The personal private and public set of information and connected for individuals or a collection of individuals.  This may include a commercial relationship that represent a business trading community.

A human body can be regarded as a collection of systems, a community as it were of subsystems that together function as a human body.

Example of PEC model personal and business community Workspace -  a personal set of social connections, a business trading community in a supply chain network. A set of buildings and business units that represent a city community space.

Example of STC model personal and business community Workspace – wearable technology to monitor wellbeing for medical research collecting information across a community of patients. A social network of personal friends or a marketplace of consumers and sellers.

Travel, In-Transit Workspace

Whereas rooms and facilities may be considered as fixed, physically non-moving assets, other assets such as vehicles and transportation network infrastructure such as roads, railways. shipping ports and airports represent a combination of facilities and moving transit spaces.  These physically movable spaces may also be digitized and follow the human user and connectivity as they physical move from one location to another.

Example of PEC model travel and In-Transit Workspace-  a personal set of social connections, a business trading community in a supply chain network.

Example of STC model personal and business community – wearable technology to monitor wellbeing for medical research collecting information across a community of patients. A social network of personal friends or a marketplace of consumers and sellers.

Contextual Workspace

A contextual workspace where the products and services are specifically tailored to the needs of the situation at that time and location. Context workspaces have a feedback loop that collected information, analyzed and then makes decisions and feedback to the context of the situation. Context workspaces can be passive or active in the way the collect and feedback a specific response to a situation.  Passive, being not visual or perceived by the Human, and active, involved the Human user who is aware of the context action.

Example of PEC Model Contextual Workspace – A set of food produce displayed by category in a retail store. A Book sections in a physical library offering genres.  A concierge service at a hotel reception desk.  An Information Service center in a City center.

Example of STC Model Contextual Workspace – An on-line book recommendations service. A GPS satellite navigation planner using real-time road traffic adjustments.  A body health feedback sensor providing real-time alerts on movement exercise. An automated alarm system for intruder alert that may notify authorities automatically through geolocation monitoring and alerts.  An interactive art display that has touch sensors to active different displays.

Knowledge Workspace

The information about an object, place, or person that provides awareness and insight into the condition and nature of the objects and locations. 

Example of PEC Model Knowledge Workspace -  Information manuals on use of TV devices for channel and services selection setup.   A set of photographs about a person.  A register of attendees for a concert music event.  A engineering design schematic drawing.

Example of STC Model Knowledge Workspace – A digital brand with associated products and social media activity about the brand.  A set of shared wiki pages for collaborative knowledge sharing and employee development. A set of open source code downloads and coding development by a crowd sourced community.  A set of recommendations and rating online about a restaurant and its service.  

Together these workspaces represent a combination of many different types of digitization experiences to be found across industries and markets.    The digital enterprise is a construction of these workspaces, the building out of the connected systems and physical locations into ways that create new value networks. 

Digital workspaces as Digital platforms


A building for example can have objects, chairs, tables, and other artifacts, in rooms. The building may be part of a set of buildings, walk ways, roads and municipal facilities such as street lighting, traffic management and community services  that together may represent of village, town, or whole city.  Inside the build there can be objects that themselves can connect to other objects in the same building or virtually to other objects in other buildings create a virtual workspace across physical buildings.  The buildings and the wider location and resources could connect with other cities and location services as a wider ecosystem of communities and collaborations. 

These can be considered as areas that digital workspaces can connect and build together into a set of physical and virtual services. In building our digital enterprise we describe this as constructing digital workspaces that together represent the operation of the enterprise.

Digital workspaces can be used to define how the digital enterprise is built by connecting physical spaces in the enterprise and the wider ecosystem. It supports market-making activities through the creation of digital business models that work using these workspaces to connect physical and virtual objects, locations and in transport between location.       


This is the “big idea” of digitization and how digital ecosystems and the digital economy will work in the future.   Digital workspaces move beyond the idea of User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX)  into considering how Digital Workspaces are constructed so that users, customers and the enterprise work as a digital business. 

Digital workspaces are digital platforms that support a multi-layered set of capabilities that are specific to each enterprise.   We list some examples of digital technologies that can be used to construct these digital workspaces.

In the next chapters we will look at real case studies of how organizations have used digital technologies to build their digital enterprise.


Digital Workspace platform

Examples of digital technologies enabling this digital work space





  • Crowd Knowledge – example. Wikipedia

  • Real time metrics dashboard

  • Multi-device data synchronization
    Augmented communication library – context of past activity and associations

  • Live Personal profile , lookup
    Bio Image search and knowledge access

  • Co-innovation

  • 2D-3D Design Visualization

  • Location Information support e.g.
    Nearest stock , person, assistance


Digital Workspace platform

Examples of digital technologies enabling this digital work space


  • Automated identity recognition

  • Location /Local knowledge access

  • Ideation, co-creation

  • Preference based communication routing

  • Location Information support e.g.
    Nearest stock , person, assistance

  • Location Information support e.g.
    Nearest stock , person, assistance

  • Integrated work and user/device

  • Knowledge augmentation 
    “did you know…?”



Digital Workspace platform

Examples of digital technologies enabling this digital work space


  • Travel Platforms

  • Package Transit Tracking , Transport Management Platforms

  • Workflow management

  • Transport event feeds

  • Real time performance management

  • Smart  connected Transport scheduling

  • Intelligent Vehicle Sensors

  • Inter-Network seamless Identity Management

  • Real time Sourcing / Supply chain integration

  • Internetwork integration e.g. Wireless-Bluetooth



Digital Workspace platform

Examples of digital technologies enabling this digital work space


  • Personal Platforms

  • Community Platforms
    Smart City Energy Grid

  • Community Information Grids

  • Real time Office/location Activity

  • Voice commands

  • Physical Projection to Multi user eye synchronization
    auto zoom/in out and location

  • Real time voice language translation

  • Real time living space ambient living

  • Smart Room –object environment integration

  • Internetwork automated transfer

  • Information Personalization-
    own viewpoint

  • Bio signature scanning

  • Furniture Space sharing

  • Smart energy management

  • Integrated real time diary-work scheduler

  • Real-time multi-party work orchestration

  • Crowd Source - Ideation



Digital Workspace platform

Examples of digital technologies enabling this digital work space


  • Room Platforms

  • Facility Platforms

  • Wall, Surface gesture integration

  • Transparent Surface Projection

  • Virtual Whiteboard

  • Object Physical Virtual Animation

  • Solar Energy, Home Grid

  • Wide angle group projection, social interaction

  • Spatial augmentation , Virtual Room

  • Virtual Location collaboration

  • 3D Movement sensor

  • 3D stereoscopic measurement and digitization

  • Object to Surface projection – interconnectivity
    - Virtual model adjustment, input

  • Automatic proximity on/off sensing – body /location /lighting /touch

  • Room Embedded Physical sensors

  • Office Surfaces Information



Digital Workspace platform

Examples of digital technologies enabling this digital work space


  • Wearables, Devices

  • Appliance / spare component specification

  • Low Carbon Materials

  • Integrated Object classification and semantic awareness Search

  • Multi-purpose device – dynamic use
    applications in context

  • Flexible substrate displays
    on physical objects e.g. electronic paper, Smart Cup

  • Physical/Virtual object Integration

  • -Tablet /work device to Virtual Projection Device Integration

  • Accelerometer sensors

  • Physical object Bio Sensing  example:  Cup

  • Multi-form factor modality support

  • Life Sciences Integration

  • Transport / item Identity specification tags

  • Movement 3-axis gyroscope sensors

  • Conduction battery charging

  • Product cluster information

  • CMB Contact Memory Buttons

  • NFC, QR, RFID Tags



The next technological era


The development of digital workspaces is part of a continuing evolution of technology over the past decades.  The earlier ideas of technology and internet network centric connectivity created a human-centric technology vision. Information could pass between the “four walls” of the organization to external entities and social networks.

But in a mere decade or less, this era is now long past, we have an explosion of digital data and connectivity with mobile devices and sensors that are ushering in a new technological era of immersive connected spaces.   The early innocence of the information economy has given way to a new reality that on the horizon promises new forms of digital intelligence. The human is no-longer the center of the digital universe.  Devices, sensors and smart machines play a role in creating a multiplicity of physical and digital experiences that we are only just starting to see this possibilities.


1.  Adapted from Building Digital Ecosystem Architectures – a guide to enterprise architecting digital technologies in the digital enterprise – Palgrave macmillan 2015 Author Mark Skilton.