Recently, leaders at an Australian telecommunications company lamented about the high cost of bringing together some 6,000 employees for an annual training event. Suchin Venkataram, director, Oracle Insight, proposed an immersive alternative: “I suggested they include virtual reality in their training,” he says. “Employees could get the same, or better, training and at less expense than flying everyone to one place.”
Only a few years ago, that suggestion might have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Now, several trends—including declining costs of headsets, improving bandwidth, and cloud computing—are converging to make it feasible for organizations to create and deliver immersive digital experiences that solve real-world problems.
Though it’s still in its early days, virtual reality (VR) technology is gaining traction in nearly every industry, including ecommerce, healthcare, travel, real estate, and manufacturing. Global VR revenue is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of nearly 55%, according to a recent report by Orbis Research. Meanwhile, organizations are exploring, prototyping, and implementing VR technology aimed at improving customer engagement, patient outcomes, employee training, product development, risk management, and more.
“I think this is the moment in history of virtual reality where it is changing gears from being a consumer product to an important technology for enterprise,” says Venkataram, adding that organizations should be open to exploring the possibilities of VR without losing sight of the practicalities. “There has to be a clear benefit, such as driving revenue, or a specific problem that it solves, whether it’s a customer problem or a business problem.”
Immersing Customers, Driving Sales
Certainly, one area where VR holds great promise is in commerce. Merchants have begun using VR and augmented reality to improve the online shopping experience, create deeper emotional connections, and give customers a better feel for what they’re buying in a virtual environment. The upshot: better sales and customer loyalty, and fewer returns.
Among many early adopters, Wayfair uses augmented reality to help customers explore how furniture will look in a room. Alibaba’s “Buy +” lets shoppers wander virtual aisles in computer-generated department stores.
Payscout’s first-to-market VR transaction processing is turning virtual experiences into real revenue. Online car dealers are beginning to offer virtual test drives, and luxury tour operators are giving customers the opportunity to preview high-end travel destinations. Real estate firm Sotheby’s even offers the option of 3D tours and virtual reality tours.
Improving Prototypes and Training
While virtual commerce has the potential to bring a new technology dimension to buying experiences, companies are also looking at how it can drive efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve employee safety and outcomes. In fact, the Orbis Research study indicates that education and training are on track to see the greatest share of VR revenue, reaching $2.2 billion by 2023.
Consider the challenge of training an employee on a complicated piece of equipment, says Ruchir Kalra, senior director, Oracle Insight. With VR, “companies can create a digital twin of this physical machine that mimics the exact physical specifications,” he says. The benefits are lower costs, more comprehensive first-person training and, ultimately, better safety.
Product development is another area rich with opportunity for VR. “If I am developing a new aircraft model, for example, VR prototyping makes it possible to change the design without having to do a physical prototype every time,” says Kalra. “That saves on direct costs and, more importantly, reduces the development timeline.”
Giving Virtual Medicine a Whole New Meaning
Meanwhile, VR has huge implications for healthcare—think surgeon training in VR—and mental health. VR systems are helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder “relearn” how they think about traumatic events, and researchers are looking to VR as a solution for diagnosing and treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In yet another example, VR is being used to help amputees develop the muscles and motor skills they’ll need to use prosthetic limbs, and VR is giving them the opportunity to practice using the limbs in myriad scenarios. The user benefit: patients are ready to use their prosthetics sooner and with more confidence.
The Building Blocks for VR
The possibilities for VR seem endless, to be sure. That said, it’s important for organizations to think about how VR applications will integrate with the rest of their operations. Merchants looking to VR to create better ecommerce experiences, for example, will need to think about how to make built-in transactions in virtual shopping malls and other virtual apps seamless for users.
Similarly, companies exploring VR for other areas, such as product development, need to think about how it fits into the bigger picture of the organization. “The big question is how to link it back to the core operations,” says Kalra. Meanwhile, VR raises still other issues tied to data: how to manage it, how to analyze it and, in some cases, how to think about customer privacy in the virtual world, to name a few. “As applications become more and more complex, the magnitude of data required to do all of these things only increases,” he says.
While the cost of headsets for VR experiences has come down considerably—to the point that they may soon be as ubiquitous as mobile phones—the personalized nature of VR still presents the problem of how to make certain applications, headsets or otherwise, mainstream.
That doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t be thinking about and experimenting with what’s possible. “Maybe it is something that is non-mission critical today,” Kalra notes “but it could have far-reaching implications tomorrow.”
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