Tech leaders met commercial leaders recently at an Odgers Berndtson event to explore the world of virtual and augmented reality: ‘Virtual Worlds. Real Opportunities.’
The guest list deliberately brought together technology innovators with business leaders at a time when companies are waking up to a technology already beginning to re-write the rules of engagement and interaction, whether it’s with consumers, or within organisations.
On the evening, a number of hands-on demos brought the possibilities of Virtual and Augmented Reality to life. It was a rare opportunity to train like a prospective knee surgeon in a virtual simulation or to take a wander through a long-lost Bank of England building.
Presentations from industry leaders offered further glimpses of VR/AR’s potential. And emphasised that this is not some stand-alone technological advance, but inextricably connected with developments in deep learning, artificial intelligence and big data.
Disruption and challenge
So, what are the key opportunities for VR/AR disruption?
On the evening, David Weinstein of NVIDIA showed one vivid example. HoloDeck solves the problem of highly-skilled automotive designers seeking to collaborate from several places across the globe on a single project.
Through a VR platform, geographical barriers are removed. The whole team is brought together in one virtual world, working ‘side-by-side’ in real-time, getting immediate visual, voice, and gestural feedback from one another. Development timelines are shortened as the whole creative process is sped up.
VR collaboration could also extend to ensuring that, for example, conference calls and board meetings aren’t prisoners of time or place, and become much more like face-to-face encounters.
Meanwhile, out in the consumer world, brands like Lowe’s Home Improvement are leading the fightback against the ‘Amazonisation’ of the retail landscape. Their ‘HoloRooms’, where customers can see what a home makeover actually looks like, have turned in-store buying into a rich, immersive, and memorable, experience.
Slow or go?
If the potential of VR/AR is now increasingly well-defined, the associated skills and leadership challenges are fast-emerging. Unmet, those challenges will put a brake on just how fast we can benefit from this technology.
Firstly, there is a need for leaders who fully understand the power of immersive technology and how it can transform their business and sector. Then, they have to be capable of inspiring their corporate team to commit time and resources to VR/AR projects.
Secondly, to turn those plans into reality, there’s a requirement for the very highest-level technologists. These computer vision engineers, for example, are a rare commodity, and highly-sought-after.
In the right places
“Right now, there is a perfect storm of demand for skills and leadership outstripping supply, as commercial applications of VR/AR technology begin to accelerate,” explains Michael Drew, Head of the Technology Practice at Odgers Berndtson.
“We see CIOs and CDOs with a mandate to drive transformation being limited by the scarcity of talent in this emerging technology environment. Our advice to companies seeking to embrace VR and AR is to think globally and remove geographical barriers to hire the best people irrespective of location.
“Events like the one we hosted at Audi City in London are important, not just to raise awareness of the technology, but to create the kind of eco-system that connects up technology innovators with the businesses leaders who are ultimately going to make something like VR/AR a widespread commercial application.”
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