In this month of April 2020, it is impossible not to mention the advantages of enabling remote collaboration in the time of Covid-19. Anything that can help protect people and slow the spread of the virus is of interest. But I do not want to paint this new technology with that brush. After all, in the middle of the panic, companies like Zoom emerged and pushed hard for their products, and almost immediately raised huge concerns regarding privacy and security. So associating with a pandemic as a solution is both inappropriate and simply unadvisable. If something should be useful today, it should also be in a year, when this concern is hopefully behind us.
As a result, in this article, I will be focusing on what Virtual Reality (VR) can offer today. The road ahead and the opportunities already available. There are already multiple use cases available in an enterprise setting that I will describe further below: new opportunities for meetings, workshops, design review and more.
A Growing Market
VR as a market is still in its infancy with adoption still slowed down by a significant barrier to entry from a hardware perspective and a software offering that pales in comparison with traditional platforms, such as computers, laptops, or mobiles.
Enthusiasts have found some of the most unique and innovative experiences since the rise of smart devices on VR platforms, but the initial cost, the space required to setup a VR environment and the very real problem of VR sickness (similar to motion sickness) that new user experience when the conditions are not set up properly, all contribute to making VR a tough sell for the larger public. Coupled with the fact that most VR software has to be experienced in order to appreciate its quality, it has been a really difficult sell for a lot of customers, including enthusiasts, and companies. Bottom line, most headsets still cost a pretty penny, and the high end also requires to be paired with a beefy computer that most people, and definitely most companies, won’t be able to justify.
However, VR is currently growing month over month as some of the heavy players are releasing models with affordable prices for the public and enterprise adoption is made easier with the addition of Mobile Device Management (MDM) support. You can now find more and more headsets that are “all in one” solutions, where you do not need a computer and the headset is therefore untethered. This is a game changer because VR is a technology that needs to be experienced to really appreciate. It is very much a “seeing is believing” type of scenario, and anything that makes it easy to share that experience makes it that much faster to spread awareness and interest in the technology. This new bread of VR device that can be deployed anywhere makes it easy to get started, but also to showcase what VR can really do.
Putting aside options such as the various phone VR experiences, that are basically strapping a phone to your face, there are several alternatives available that offer the full VR experience for a reasonable price with no tethering to a computer.
The flagship for this new format is clearly the Oculus Quest. With an asking price around 600€ in Europe, this headset is an all in one solution. It offers the 6 degrees of freedom movement that you want from modern VR, two controllers with advanced functionality, and is currently the platform where Oculus is experimenting the most with new features, such as hands tracking, which allows you to use your hands as controllers directly.
From a user perspective, it is easily the most affordable way to experience the full range of what VR has to offer, and the extreme portability makes it easy to bring along in order to share a VR experience with friends or colleagues.
The Real Opportunity
This is of course what interests us the most here, the enterprise application of VR. What Oculus Quest has achieved is making VR as accessible a tool to companies as any other mobile device. With an enterprise specific offer that allows full MDM of the device, as well as full developer mode access in order to load up software that is not delivered through Oculus’ store, the Quest Enterprise is basically offering the same flexibility as a smartphone, but at a slightly higher price of 1000€.
But why would VR be worth investing in considering the limitations mentioned at the start of this article? Very simply put, the Wild West nature of VR today is the opportunity. We have now just past the point where the hardware is getting stable. To give an analogy, we are now past the first few iPhones and Android phones, and are getting to the point where we know what a smartphone is and should be able to do. Now is the time when the software offering will explode.
I will quickly go over the different business applications that VR offers, but I also want to talk about the general state of things in the VR space at the moment. There are new business tools being released on VR all the time right now. Some of them are more gadgets than real breakthroughs, but a few have not only shown incredible promise, but can already be put to use to improve collaboration, especially in remote scenarios.
One of the most impressive ones I have seen and tested is Glue. It is “a virtual extension of your workplace.” They create virtual spaces where dispersed teams can connect together to learn, share, plan and create. Glue is a platform, in the sense that it supports integration to cloud environments, CAD data that can be shared and manipulated, multimedia presentations, as well as pretty much anything you might need to run a workshop (virtual whiteboards, post-its etc…). They allow their customers to create custom environments that fit their needs and the needs of their teams. And this is only one of the many new tool suits that are appearing on VR platforms.
What Can Be Done?
After an initial investigation of what VR can bring to the table in an enterprise setting, I came to the following use cases:
Pros shared across all cases:
Cons shared across all cases:
Using Skype, Hangout or other is perfectly functional, but VR offers the possibility of creating virtual meeting rooms where everything is saved, meaning that meetings can have an easier permanent record. It is also the closest thing to a face to face meeting, without having to organize costly travel arrangements. Finally, it is actually much better when it comes to forcing the participants to be really present in the meeting. Multitasking while in a VR headset is just not that easy, making it that much easier to keep everyone invested.
Everyone who has had to run a workshop (be it design, production, or way of working related) remotely knows how much more difficult it is to get things done without being in the same physical space. Of course, it is possible to set up video conferences, having moderators keep everyone working together and respecting speaking priorities so that the video feed does not get out of hand, but it is a pretty poor alternative.
In VR however, we have all the advantages of a shared space, plus some nice additional bonuses. No need to spend 15 min taking pictures of the results of the workshop, saving all the post-its, reconvening at a later date in “hopefully” the same room. Everything is saved in the virtual space, preserved so you can review the results, or resume the work. Groups can be formed and work in the same space without interfering with each other since the sound can be split very easily, and of course, we can get everyone to work together without having to fly anyone across the globe.
VR also allows us to experience objects at their real scale, which can be incredibly important when working with products where size matters (such as vehicles).
Sometimes, it is important to understand fully the size of what you are training with. But it is not always possible to organize a training session with the real thing. If you are training to be a mechanic for example, having a good understanding of just how big a long haul truck’s engine really is is vital. Of course, training with the real thing cannot be fully replaced, but a lot of training is already done digitally today. Putting the trainee in a VR environment where they feel like they actually interact with their subject has shown to improve the information retention quite a bit in the scenarios I have seen at Volvo AB for example.
VR Design and Design Review:
There is an essential step in product design when you go from conceptual to physical evaluation. This step can be very costly if the initial review of the conceptual phase looks promising, but once the product is built, you realize there is a major issue that must be fixed. VR allows you to add one crucial step in the design verification phase. It allows you to see the product as it will appear once it becomes a real object, but without having to build it. The cost saving potential is obvious from that angle already, and this is exactly why companies like Volvo Cars have adopted a high end VR design review method that allows them to check down to the texture of the leatherwork they are adding to the upholstery of their cars.
An important side benefit to this process is that once the design review is done, any comments, notes, corrections necessary can be added to the original design file in the VR environment, making it that much easier to share feedback with the designers.
Sales is an interesting world due to the fact that it walks the line between traditional pitch and innovative techniques. VR can bring a new twist to an established formula, putting the customer in an environment that they would not be able to experience otherwise, while not taking over from the traditional sales experience. It is purely an added bonus for the sales team if they want to leverage it, and as a result, it is wide open for experimentation.
VR Team Bonding:
This one is more leaning on what VR has been built for so far: Entertainment. According to the market leader in this arena, Valve, there are currently between 1.5 and 2 million devices in the hands of the public. It is easy to dismiss the entertaining side of VR as off topic for companies, but it is so important to keep in mind that a team that feels good together is a team that works well together. The advantage of having VR headsets available for a team that is spread over the globe is that those devices can work as the tools they are initially acquired for, and the relaxing and fun entertainment devices they are as well. For no additional investment, you can hit two birds with one stone, which is a very nice added bonus.
Where Are We Now?
VR is still in its early phase, that is unquestionable. But the potential it shows is exceptional. For the first time since the rise of smartphones, are we seeing a new form of technology coming that could disrupt the way we work forever. It is exciting, but also hard to predict. The hardware is getting to the point where it is easy to start experimenting, with a small entry fee, a reliable level of performance, and a lot of flexibility. The software side right now looks like a American West in the 1800s, vast and full of promises, but also, fairly untamed.
I think now is the best time to dive into VR and not only find what works best for your company, but contribute to setting up the standards that will guide the ways of working in VR in the next decade. After all, the early successes will be the ones that everyone looks at and follows, and right now, that story is still waiting to be written.
Do you want to know more? Do not hesitate to reach out and contact me if you want to ask any questions or ask for a demo. We can set up live demos with the portable Oculus Quest headset.
Econnectivity is a supplier of high quality Enterprise Mobility services located in Gothenburg, Sweden. Our misson is to make sure our customers realize the business benefits from their investments in Enterprise Mobility
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