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AR/VR - are we ready to move from innovation to transformation?
By Adrian Leu, CEO, Inition
Roy Amara’s dictum that we tend to overestimate the effect of (those) technologies in the short term and underestimate them in the long run, has never been more prescient. We are still witnessing generation 1.0 (or shall we say 0.1?). So, every project we do, has a bi-lateral perspective: what can be done now and what can be achieved in the future. Any long-term roadmap proves to be very difficult on the quick sands of fast changing development.
So our first step is to educate our clients in what works now and how it might evolve in 1-2 years - a horizon that we can envisage, approximately. We also encourage our clients to share the business issues they need to solve. We ask a lot of “whys”. This sweet spot is where ideas and solutions take shape. We often start with a minimum viable project (MVP) to prove the concept and validate the ideas.
Almost every project has three main components: content creation (creativity), supporting technologies (hardware) and practical applications (software).
Content production still has the feeling of a “cottage industry” market, which at some point will see some consolidation. Prices are still high due to the bespoke nature of creating content. Commoditisation of this is imminent, but the key differentiation will be the story line constructed involving immersive power of those technologies. Content creation is the main component of pricing for any project that involves immersive technology, but the most important one to get right. A confusing factor for clients when faced with such a variety of costs from different players.
Hardware development is moving at a pace, driven by investment and segregated into different ecosystems created around the major players. As developers, we would certainly welcome less walled gardens and more openness. This would offer more scope and variety in the deployment of projects.
Companies need to explore and integrate the experiential value that they bring in the workplace and understand how to build a service around it
We currently suggest hardware dovetailing with our clients needs: quality, portability, price, ease of use and accessibility. It must of course suit the ultimate end purpose, which varies greatly.
The realm of practical application is vast, ranging from training to games, marketing to sales help, internal or external comms to HR onboarding. It’s hard to ignore the number of training focus VR applications that seem to crop up almost every day. A real good fit for a medium which is otherwise subtractive, in the sense that its visual stimuli “hacks” your brain and senses into believing that you are in a different place. While this could be a problem for using it while doing other things (think walking with a headset on - NO!), it’s also its main strength in terms of convincing someone that they are a in a situation that needs their input.
The business model can differ too with the type of project and the client. Not every client can afford a high one-off cost especially if they don’t immediately have a measurable ROI. Hence, we do explore other models with different clients, which can range from revenue sharing to licensing and pay per play.
A component that is very often missing is a concrete way of measuring the outcomes and ROI of those experiences. New tools and technologies for measuring the emotional valence of an immersive experience are cropping up. We are using those to give our clients not only a passive way of measuring what their customers are going through when put inside a training environment for example but also, the capability of tailoring the content to fit a certain goal, as expressed through emotional quotient. Such measurements can also validate the different types of interaction that work in such environments.
There is also a misunderstanding of the fact that the visual aspect of those technologies is the pinnacle of the development. However, other senses need to be involved if we want those to create worlds that are sensed the way we sense our existing physical ones. Haptics technologies, sound/ audio, olfactive senses need to be involved too. There is a lot of work being done in the haptic space at the moment.
It is our firm belief that the current developments in immersive technologies like AR and VR really represent the next evolution of the screen displays and that the users will finally be able to somehow be independent of those and be present in their physical world while augmented it with the virtually stored artefacts that are conceptually and contextually relevant to their position, application or even emotional state. We are still a long way away from that however, it’s good to place a stick in the ground.
A lot of experiences with such immersive technologies have initially been driven by the CMOs and their marketing departments. Where those will align with the requirements of the CIOs and IT departments is in integrating such projects and their underlying technologies with the rest of the workflow systems that an organisation already relies on. AR/VR represent an enticing frontend way to capture the customer’s attention, but benefit will only come from a two-way data movement between those systems and the more traditional backend systems like CRM, CMS, asset management systems etc. Moreover, the continuous cycle of data transfer can increase and augment the quality of the stored information.
We advise our clients to explore more than just a one-off, localised experience and try to understand how those technologies can change the business workflow, save time and/or money, augment existing data or create a new business model for their companies. Incremental improvements, while good to have, do not provide enough ROI to make those technologies worthwhile. Evolutionary step changes need to be sought through, even if the development is done in a gradual way.
To move from the realm of innovation to one of transformation, companies need to explore and integrate the experiential value that they bring in the workplace and understand how to build a service around it.Experiences that tangibly serve the customer drive deeper brand engagement. Products with added service layers drive positive experience, value, and loyalty.
Product becomes service, and in turn, service becomes experience. Maybe sometimes we get this the wrong way round?