Virtual Reality for the Enterprise

If you associate VR only with gaming, you might be missing out on valuable enterprise applications.

Virtually reality has come a long way in recent years, but many people still have a hard time taking it seriously. While industries such as retail and entertainment are recognizing the value that VR could add to their consumer-targeted offerings, relatively few enterprises have considered how the technology could enhance their own operations. All that could be changing, with a range of enterprise-friendly VR innovations and applications arriving on the scene.

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New Applications for AR and VR

It is perhaps understandable that many remain skeptical about virtual reality. Compared with the promise of the original VR hype back in the 90s, the technology itself was often disappointing. And while the tech has improved a great deal recently, it is still largely associated with gaming and escapism. Nevertheless, more serious uses for VR have started to emerge, including applications that treat mental health disorders.

Meanwhile, VR’s less-immersive sibling, augmented reality, has started to find broader adoption. The retail sector has found some ingenious consumer-grade uses for AR and it has even become valuable in manufacturing and construction. Now, it increasingly appears that full-on, headset-wearing virtual reality will soon be coming to an enterprise near you, courtesy of some fascinating new innovations.

The Virtual Enterprise

Deloitte recently reported that, in spite of ongoing skepticism, momentum is building for enterprise use of AR and VR. According to Deloitte’s research, 52 companies in the Fortune 500 are testing or have deployed AR/VR solutions. Many are using headsets and smart glasses to provide hands-free access to information and enable collaboration. VR is also being used to create immersive training experiences, enhance data analysis and revolutionize product design.

Product design could be where virtual reality really comes into its own. VR presents the possibility of product designers creating three-dimensional digital prototypes. This could lead to huge cost and time savings (by bypassing the need for physical prototypes) and enable design decisions being based on more realistic tests. These techniques are already being explored in some enterprises—for example, NASA is using AR/VR to design the next Mars Rover.

Productive Reality and Standalone Virtual Reality

The use of VR and AR in enterprise scenarios demands a whole new mindset regarding these immersive technologies. A recent IoT for All article proposed the term productive reality as a way of describing “where digital and virtual worlds converge to create our most productive environments for getting into a state of flow.” The article also laid out some intriguing use cases for telepresence and “the screen-less office”.

Productive reality and the screen-less office may seem like major paradigm shifts—but there’s more. Another recent article, from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), flagged up a growing interest in “standalone virtual reality”. VR/AR as we know it generally relies on and enhances the experience provided by desktop computers or mobile devices. With standalone VR, the headset is able to operate and provide value independently.

Arguably, standalone represents the point at which VR becomes something that is worth investing in because of its inherent value. At this point, immersive tech is not an add-on and it’s certainly not a gimmick. The ISACA article implies that the relative affordability and ease of use associated with standalone could lead to a significantly increased adoption of VR, if organizations and individuals can be convinced of the value the tech offers.

While that remains a big if, increased adoption and investment already suggests that enterprises are finally coming to understand the huge potential VR holds.

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Samuel Macklin
By Samuel Macklin | April 16, 2018