VR: From The Matrix to the workplace

Deloitte’s CTO explains why virtual reality is no longer reserved for Hollywood, but is on its way to becoming a workplace necessity with real, measurable value.

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Virtual reality and augmented reality are far from new innovations. But while these technologies have existed for decades, some believe they’re now in a position to disrupt a number of industries.

Deloitte’s annual Tech Trends 2016 report, for one, suggests that virtual reality and augmented reality will take centre stage in the workplaces of the near future.

“It’s getting a lot more horsepower from a lot of different players, versus the niche investments and capabilities of before,” said Bill Briggs, chief technology officer of Deloitte Consulting and lead author of the report. “We finally decided to christen it as a topic that you need to think about within the next two to four months because it’s exactly that: from looming potential to real abject and measurable value.”

One of the key drivers of its evolution toward becoming a common workplace necessity, explains Briggs, is consumer demand. Virtual reality consumer products developed in recent years as well as innovations in smartphone-based VR technology are dropping the price point and speeding innovation in the field.

“A few years ago, to do a high-res feed of a physical environment, it would take a rig like they used to film The Matrix — very expensive custom gear that specialists would come in to work on,” he said. “Now we’re hitting the sweet spot where tools to capture and render that environment are ready and available.”

Now that VR and AR are no longer reserved for Hollywood, they are poised to make a strong impact in the corporate world, said Briggs.

“We’re seeing early interest in energy, oil and gas and industrial equipment manufacturers,” said Briggs, adding that those industries have clearer return on investment opportunities and more capital to invest in early technologies.

As the price continues to drop, however, he imagines VR and AR making their way into other areas as well, from manufacturing to healthcare, hospitality, government and any industry with a field component.

With this technological revolution, however, comes many questions that are yet to be answered, many technological hurdles that are yet to be overcome and a few remaining concerns that are yet to be addressed.

“The integration piece is huge, and with AR there’s a bit of work [that needs to be done] to have enough usable context in the environment around you to do realistic scenarios,” said Briggs. With digital identity and security, we’re at the point where we can do facial recognition, which could be used with concierge services (that knows a customer’s history, preferences and lifetime values). But is that an opt-in? Or is that something that happens behind the scenes?

Inputs too are unique, explains Briggs, which will pose challenges similar to those brought on by the evolution of keyboard and mouse controls for the PC to the tap and swipe controls of the smartphone.

“The best thing is to start experimenting and prototyping,” he said. “You can’t take it from the lens of how we’ve traditionally done this process, how we’ve traditionally shaped this workflow, how we’ve traditionally engaged this customer, and think about it incrementally. You need to imagine how it could and should be done.”

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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