Building a business case for virtual reality

Early enterprise adopters look to VR as a cost-saving tool for training, virtual tours and product demos. Here’s what you need to know before taking the plunge.

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After years of hype and failed promises, virtual reality is finally taking off — and showing up in some interesting places.

In April, viewers around the world had virtual front-row seats to the first live-stream operation using an app created by Medical Realities. Doctors, medical students and others watched the surgery in real time, with 360-degree control over their vantage points — as though they were right there in the operating room.

The live stream showcased the potential of VR to educate, train and transport people to places that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. That potential is piquing the curiosity of corporate marketers who see VR as an opportunity to whet consumer appetites.

Sure, the early beneficiaries of virtual reality toys and tools will be gamers, but that doesn’t mean enterprises will be left out. In fact, the number of companies planning to include virtual reality in their businesses is up 375 per cent this year compared to last, according to Fortune Magazine. In the most recent round of corporate earnings reports, almost 40 companies — including the New York Times, GoPro and furniture-seller Wayfair — highlighted virtual reality as a part of their business plans.

Who’s doing what: Companies around the globe are dabbling in VR, hoping to prove the business case. In Ontario, a motorcycle and snowmobile dealership lets customers virtually test drive its vehicles without leaving the showroom. Cadillac, meanwhile, is looking to cut the fat when it converts some of its dealerships into virtual showrooms. And the New York Times is pushing VR content through an app that lets users experience what it’s like to climb the outside of a skyscraper or swim through a shipwreck.

Training is a huge untapped market for virtual reality, says Alan Smithson, co-founder and CEO of MetaVrse, a Toronto firm offering VR live streaming and branding services to the events industry.

“(Companies) want to be able to train their staff from thousands of miles away and not have to fly a trainer out there to meet with them. It’s very basic and very boring but saves them a ton of money,” Smithson said during a presentation at the VRTO conference in Toronto in June.

Proceed with caution: It’s tempting to jump into sexy new technology with both feet, but Deloitte says enterprises need to clearly understand the return on their investment — soft or hard — before taking the plunge.

“Any company considering marketing via VR imagery should consider the cost of making this content available to consumers. For example, travel companies wanting to create VR brochures should assess how much filming and playback in VR may cost relative to current marketing approaches.”

Lock it down: CIOs who want to embrace virtual technology also need to understand the inherent security threats, says Bob Hoogenboom, a professor of forensic business studies at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands.

“Sterner actions must be taken to manage cyber security risks, and to invest in core safeguards,” he said. “With the increased use of VR, it is even more crucial to ensure that everyone in an organization can understand these measures, how they operate and how to work safely within them.”

Photo courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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