Exploring the disruptive potential of virtual reality in enterprise

The latest surge of interest in virtual reality - fuelled by some exciting new product launches by the likes of LG and Samsung - is gaining the technology a fair amount of media attention and exciting tech aficionados around the globe.

However, the technology is in no way a new phenomenon. Virtual reality, or VR as it is affectionately known, has actually been in existence in some form or another, for around 70 years. It was actually the pioneering computer scientist Jaron Lanier who coined the term ‘virtual reality’ in 1987. Since then we have seen the development of the first simulation device, the first VR headset and the evolution of human-computer interaction.

However before now, virtual reality has never quite been able to match the public expectations surrounding it, as the VR devices introduced in science fiction films and novels were always more hi-tech and impressive than the real thing.

One industry that did however embrace the technology was the gaming world, where ‘virtual reality’ transformed itself into ‘virtual environments’ and developers created immersive games for the likes of Playstation, Xbox and Mac that transported gamers to fictional lands for hours at a time.

Application of VR in enterprise

Fast forward to 2016, and it seems that it isn’t just the gaming community exploring the possibilities of VR, as the world of enterprise is now ready and poised to take advantage of the latest VR technology hitting the market. There are many opportunities for businesses to utilise VR – it has the potential to radically transform production processes, save time and resources and enrich training programmes.

So why is the world of enterprise now beginning to take notice of VR?

One of the deciding factors for this increase in focus towards VR in business has been the transition from server and web based technologies, to mobile. Being able to transport this VR technology around has meant that it can be used in real-time, to help forecast outcomes, predict scenarios and influence decisions. VR is arguably the most advanced influencing tool available to businesses, as it is built to recognise and respond to natural modes of interaction such as gesture and gaze. Because of this, it evokes a powerful empathic reaction in its users as they are forced to look at the ‘bigger picture’, and not just an image on a screen. By giving its users a more all-encompassing world view, VR has the potential to bring teams together and build a shared culture between different offices and locations.

The benefits that VR can offer can be applied to many different industries and business processes. Below we explore some of the key areas of enterprise that are set to profit from the technology:

Employee training

In the next few years, we are likely to see VR integrated further and further into the business training mix. This is because it has the potential to cut costs and simulate real-life situations with impressive accuracy.

In industries where there is an element of real danger to the job, e.g. within the rescue services or in the military, the technology can help to reduce errors and prepare people as best they can for real life scenarios - whilst remaining in a safe and controlled environment. It can also allow professionals to practice complicated and high pressure procedures, without the fear of error. For example, in the healthcare sector, VR is helping to train medics by allowing them to view complicated procedures as many times as they deem necessary. The VR technology provides an accurate and very realistic 3D digital representation of the human body, meaning medics can learn the procedures they must later administer, whilst being able to eliminate all risk from the situation.

Facilitate collaboration

Virtual reality has the ability to cover ground that other mediums of communication such as video messaging have failed to do; it can effectively replace face-to-face interactions.

At present, businesses spend large amounts of money in travel costs shipping people across the country for meetings and conferences. An alternative to this is video conferencing, but often the picture and sound is not up-to-scratch and there is a lack of fluidity. However, virtual reality meetings could provide a personalised alternative to these former modes of communication, as the technology is becoming so convincing that it feels as if you are talking with someone face-to-face.

Ensure great customer experiences

VR opens up a whole host of new ways for customers to interact with products and services. The technology is set to become an important marketing tool in the next few years, at it will enable customers to ‘try before they buy’, like never before. It will enable companies to raise awareness of its products and services and promote its features by offering completely immersive and interactive experiences.

For example, if a customer is interested in comparing two products, such as mobile phones or cars, then VR can be used to conjure-up an accurate model of the two, which can then help the customer compare between them and make an informed decision. Some travel agents are already exploring the potential of the technology as a sales tool, as it can be used to transport customers to a faraway location and give them a realistic experience of what it is like to visit a certain country or holiday resort.

It seems that for the very first time, the latest VR offering may actually be able to live up to expectations, and be able to offer users a completely immersive and entirely believable experience. Although the technology isn’t yet widely available for consumer use, the world of enterprise is beginning to integrate it into the mix; as it has the potential to enrich countless business processes and enhance the customer experience.

For those working within the digital technology industries, these are exciting times, as it is up to us to test drive and experiment with these latest offerings and really push the boundaries of VR technology.

Richard Gregory, co-founder of SAScon

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