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The Business Case for Virtual Reality

March 12, 2019 by Sam Slater

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VR is not just for gamers. The technology offers immersive experiences that have become increasingly scalable over the years, to the point where businesses are beginning to leverage it. From marketing to retail and even eLearning, virtual reality has become a technology emerging as a powerhouse. 

In 2019, the VR industry is expected to be a $20 billion market. By 2022, that prediction jumps up to $192 billion. We're at the breaking point of a fun tech tool for gamers becoming a genuine business advantage. Is your organization prepared?

Jump in now, and the benefits could be significant. While growing fast, the industry is still in its infancy. Companies who leverage VR have the potential to build a real competitive advantage. This is the business case for VR as a true differentiator.

The Power of Virtual Experiences

You probably know about the core concept: VR describes the ability for users to immerse themselves into content (video or still images) as if they're right there. Headsets pick up motion and movement to show what's essentially a virtualized layer over the real world.

While its close cousin, augmented reality (AR) only modifies that real world, VR replaces it with an entirely simulated environment. 

Currently, and perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest industry leveraging this technology so far is gaming. In fact, services like Playstation VR and Oculus Rift took in a healthy $7 billion chunk of total industry revenue in 2018. Increasingly, though, that piece of the pie is shrinking as businesses are discovering the potential power of virtual experiences.

That's because VR, at its core, addresses something often lost in our increasingly digital world. It allows us to combine our need for real experiences with our constant connectivity through smartphones and other devices. That's difficult to do using nothing but a screen and 2D images. It's much more realistic when the digital world is all around us, and we can actually interact with it. That's why, according to some psychologists, VR experiences can actually become more 'real' than the real world.

Connecting to Stakeholders in a Fragmented Environment

So much for the theoretical allure of virtual reality. Let's bring it back to a business environment. The challenge is clear: you need to be able to connect with your audiences, internally and externally, in a world where digital stimuli are expanding while users are becoming more isolated. Here's how VR can solve both components.

First, and to state the obvious, VR is different. Yes, your potential customers are exposed to thousands of brand messages every day. The vast majority of them won't be virtual or even augmented reality. Similarly, your own employees will respond more favorably to training opportunities, prototypes, and even virtual meetings when designed in this more immersive environment.

Second, the isolation component. Psychologists have studied and written books about the concept of digital isolation, the idea that our ability to have information at our fingertips has limited our interactions with others. VR, on the other hand, offers a potential solution to re-connect with others in a very real sense without having to abdicate our digital connection.

Put differently, VR offers your business the ability to:

  • Break through the clutter
  • Offer immersive experiences
  • Easily scale your communication
  • Provide more connectivity to your brand and communication
  • Leverage data effectively in improving your business.

Each of these deserves further consideration. Each of them can best be explained through detailed use cases of current technology use across a variety of industries.

5 Use Cases of VR Technology Today

When it comes to VR, we're not talking about an isolated trend or even a fad. A variety of industry giants are already leveraging the technology to their advantage. Taking a closer look at their efforts can help you better understand just what the potential of this technology for your company could be.

business developers desiging with VR

1. Marketing Opportunities Through VR Tours

Perhaps the most widely-used application for virtual reality so far has been in marketing. That makes intuitive sense: it's a consumer-facing, exciting new technology. So why not tap into that from a marketing and promotion perspective?

That's why this application deserves further consideration. VR tours allow you to showcase a specific location to your audience, letting them know what to expect without requiring a trip first. These 360-degree VR-enhanced tours have become popular in a number of industries:

  • Real estate, where they have replaced still images of staged homes.
  • Travel, where hotels and destinations alike look to entice future visitors.
  • Healthcare, where hospitals can help patients find their path ahead of the visit.
  • Higher education, where campuses attract potential students who can't make it to a visit day or open house.

That's just to name a few. Examples of these applications are plentiful; our use cases of virtual tours cover many of the industries named above. Through these tours, you're able to highlight your location to your potential customers in a way that makes it easy for them to visualize their spot. 

Recruitment Virtual Tour

2. Training Applications that Revolutionize eLearning

A second common use case that has found application across a variety of industries is connected with your internal audiences. Training remains a crucial challenge for any business requiring skilled labor or even complex on-boarding, but a challenge nonetheless. Shifting attention spans and the inability to connect a hypothetical example to a real-life application can be difficult for both new and experienced employees.

Enter virtual reality, which has emerged in recent years to become a powerful force in this environment. Done right, VR immerses trainees in learning, makes hypothetical scenarios more real, and enables them to learn through interactions. 

Industry giants have begun to recognize that potential. A recent TechRepublic article highlighted how companies like Walmart and UPS now use VR to train their personnel better:

For example, at UPS, new drivers will use VR headsets to simulate city driving conditions during training. And industrial companies are now using AR to help workers identify and fix problems with equipment, in factories or out in the field, Gownder said.

3. Prototyping in Product (and Service) Development

What if you could develop a product without the risk of spending money on a prototype that doesn't stand a chance of working? It can be difficult to visualize complex products based simply on descriptions and concept drawings. VR offers the opportunity to preview the product and its related experiences without adding much more cost.

The benefits are especially evident in complex manufacturing, where firms like Boeing and Ford now use VR to preview new models. Even early vehicle designs, little more than a sketch, can be tested for usability and adaptability in a virtual environment. 

It doesn't end there. In fact, the potential for service businesses is at least as significant. Service businesses, of course, are at a natural disadvantage compared to products because of the instant consumption component. It's difficult to predict what the service experience will be like before it happens.

That's if you don't have VR available to conduct that preview. From experimenting with layouts to testing various decor, the opportunities of virtual space representation can help to expand the concept of prototyping into the service space.

4. Improving Shopper Experiences in Retail

Retail might be the sleeping giant of virtual experiences. The possibilities here are endless, and we're just beginning to uncover them. Take, for example, IKEA Place, an AR app that places furniture you're considering right into your living room. You can visualize what that new couch or coffee table would look like in your living room without even having to leave your house.

That's just one of the many options. Fashion brands have taken to using the technology to allow their customers to 'try on' new looks without having to visit a store or buying them first. Others take online shopping and turn it into an experience that's eerily similar to visiting your local mall.

Data enters the equation in this use case, as well. New headsets allow retailers to track where shoppers are looking as they browse products. The result: modified store layouts based on where the newly found prime real estate ended up. 

5. Life-Saving Applications in Healthcare and Psychology

Finally, healthcare companies are using virtual reality for much more than just marketing or showcasing their premises. The technology has actually been used successfully in a variety of therapies and other health settings.

senior scientist teaching through VR

  • Psychiatrists are using VR to introduce mild versions of phobia to patients, alleviating fears of height, tight spaces, flying, and more.
  • Soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are exposed to environments designed to integrate them back into regular society.
  • Burn victims receive much-needed distractions in virtual environments that involve listening to Paul Simon and throwing snowballs.
  • Aspiring surgeons can use VR to train risk-free on precise operations.
  • Children with autism can undergo cognition training to minimize symptoms and increase their social understanding.

These are just a few of the many opportunities in healthcare. All of them improve, and many of them save lives. Together, they highlight an important truth: this is not just a toy. Applied the right way, VR has the potential to change entire lines of business and even industries.

How Can You Make the Business Case for VR?

All of the above leads to a clear conclusion: virtual reality is not just more than a fad. It has the potential to transform businesses. At the same time, it also requires a major shift in the way things are done. How do you rectify the two?

To be successful, VR has to have a reason for existence within your company specifically. In a comprehensive tutorial, ZDNet broke down just what that business case might look like:

  1. Find a genuine reason to deploy the technology. Simply moving resources to it without an underlying reason is the foundation of many business failures. Instead, find your need first, and make sure that VR actually plays a tangible role in solving that need.
  2. Develop your business case in a real-life scenario. In other words, frame the discussion in terms of what the application would actually look like. Draw on examples like those above. Don't be afraid to call on competitors who are already beginning to use VR. 
  3. Keep budgets in mind. With low-cost headsets like Google Cardboard, VR can cost little. At the same time, some corporations, like Ford, pour millions into the technology. What you can spend for it will direct your efforts and potential direction.
  4. Take security into the equation as early as possible. Cybersecurity remains potentially the biggest threat your business can face. Despite all of the benefits of VR, it also expands your digital footprint. Any business case has to include real considerations of how the data you collect will be kept safe.

These are crucial steps to take as you look to integrate VR into your business environment. But of course, it doesn't end there. From planning to implementation, make no mistake: this is a complex process and one that requires both careful thought and extensive strategy.

The Importance of the Right VR Software

The vast majority of businesses will not have the budget or expertise to build their own virtual environment from the ground up. That means you have to partner with a company that specializes in that aspect to elevate your experience and business practices over time. That, in turn, requires expertise in finding the right partner.

higher ed student using VR

The growth of the industry has led to a natural explosion of VR platform providers. Sifting through the clutter is not always easy. For example, how do you know that your virtual tour software is actually designed to highlight a facility like yours? A provider specializing in higher education may not be as familiar with healthcare environments.

Just as the rest of the implementation requires strategy, so does this step. Once you've built your business case, only extensive discussions with potential partners can help you understand if the fit is right. We'd love to start that conversation on our end. Contact us to learn more about the role we play in the continuing expansion of VR, and how we can work together to make sure your company finds its VR niche.

Topics: Virtual Reality

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