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Augmented and virtual reality make a play for the enterprise

Augmented and virtual reality are breaking out of the consumer space and into the enterprise. Deloitte explains why it's a good time for CIOs to get ready: The Data Mill reports.

Augmented and virtual reality technologies aren't just for gamers. Because they change how users interact with content by creating immersive rather than static experiences, experts at the consultancy Deloitte Digital believe they are poised to invade the enterprise -- and soon.

"Unlike some the previous revolutions we've seen, the cost entry into augmented reality and virtual reality is significantly low. As a result, adoption has happened much more rapidly," Steve Soechtig, who leads teams that develop digital experiences for Deloitte Digital clients, said during a recent webcast.

Augmented reality (AR) layers contextual information over the physical environment via a handheld device or headset. Virtual reality (VR) immerses users in another, sometimes manufactured environment via a headset. The two technologies mainly show up in consumer products, but business use cases do exist and will grow, Deloitte said, as companies become more familiar with the technologies.

AR/VR: Enterprise edition

Indeed, augmented and virtual reality technologies may be better suited for the enterprise than the consumer market, according to Deloitte. Google Glass, an AR technology, for example, raised ire over privacy concerns. But in the enterprise? Employees could apply augmented and virtual reality technology to build rapid virtual prototypes, test materials, and provide training for new employees -- all of which can translate into productivity gains for the organization.

"The greatest level of adoption is around the idea of collaboration," Soechtig said. Teams that aren't in the same physical environment can enter a virtual environment to exchange information and ideas in a way that surpasses two-dimensional video conferencing or even Second Life Enterprise. Nelson Kunkel, design director at Deloitte Digital, described virtualized collaboration as an "empathetic experience," and Soechtig said the technology can "take how we communicate, share ideas and concepts to a completely new level."

For some companies, the new level is standard operating procedure. Ford Motor Company has been using virtual reality internally for years to mock up vehicle designs at the company's Immersion Lab before production begins. Other companies, such as IKEA, are enabling an augmented reality experience for the customer. Using an IKEA catalogue and catalogue app, customers can add virtual furnishings to their bedrooms or kitchens, snap a photo and get a sense for what the items will look like in their homes. And companies such as Audi and Marriott are turning VR headsets over to customers to help them visually sift through their choices for vehicle customizations and virtually travel to other countries, respectively.

Vendors, too, see augmented and virtual reality as an opportunity -- from Google and its yet-to-hit-the-market Google Glass: Enterprise Edition to Facebook and its virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, to Microsoft and its HoloLens, which it describes as neither augmented nor virtual reality, but rather a "mixed reality that lets you enjoy your digital life while staying more connected to the world around you," according to the website. All three companies have eyes on the enterprise.

The role of the CIO

Augmented and virtual reality technology may not be owned by the IT department, but CIOs and senior IT leaders will have to support it. The Deloitte experts highlighted three areas they'll want to consider:

  • Content creation, maintenance and storage. "We're moving beyond static imagery and content to an immersive, in- experience," Soechtig said. "That's a volume content that needs to be created and maintained." In his experience, businesses are starting with more static content superimposed onto the physical environment with the understanding that the content and data maintenance demands will increase as the experience becomes more sophisticated.
  • Bandwidth. Augmented and virtual reality experiences will require more bandwidth than video, according to Soechtig. "Again, you're talking about a more immersive experience that is far more dynamic than simply a video stream," he said. He recommended CIOs prepare for the uptick in bandwidth demand before rolling out an AR or VR project, especially when deploying the technology to remote locations.
  • Integration with legacy systems. Augmented and virtual reality experiences will need to operate in real time, which means systems will have to keep up with hand movements and gestures; otherwise, CIOs risk presenting an awkward -- and off-putting -- experience to the end user, Soechtig said.

"I wouldn't say it's anything surprising or significantly different than what we're faced with when we're introducing any type of experiential interface to our legacy systems," he added. "The one counsel I would offer is that it's a bit more intensive in terms of bandwidth and processing ... because the expectation of true, real-time response is a requirement."

Welcome to The Data Mill, a weekly column devoted to all things data. Heard something newsy (or gossipy)? Email me or find me on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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