Five ways your company can get business value out of virtual reality

Virtual reality technology is coming into its own and bringing with it some valuable uses for businesses. Here are five ways your organization can take advantage.
Written by Conner Forrest, Contributor

Google's Cardboard is a cheap way your company can begin experimenting with VR.

Image: James Martin/CNET

Virtual reality is moving out of the living room and into the corporate office. There are a variety of use cases for businesses wanting to use VR to improve how teams function and bring products to market in more powerful ways.

Successfully integrating VR in business takes time and focus. If you think you're up to the challenge, here are five ways your organization can take advantage of VR technology.

1. Project collaboration

In creating new virtual 'spaces', VR also gives users the ability to work together and collaborate within those spaces. No longer will remote workers need to struggle through screen sharing to point out an issue in a project or explain what they're working on.

"Imagine a videoconference in which you can look around and see avatars of your colleagues, all exploring a model, prototype, or scientific visualization together," said Michael Grabowski, an associate professor at Manhattan College who studies VR. "You all can be immersed within the design and virtually test or reconfigure the model."

While this is a potential use case, it will be limited by the number of people who can actually access the system, especially in the early days. However, as the cost of VR hardware drops, its potential as a business collaboration tool grows.

2. Team communication

Similar to collaboration, but perhaps a more viable option given the present capabilities of the technology, is VR as a communication enhancement. It won't eliminate your ability to goof off during conference calls, but it can make them feel more 'real', since you'll be able to read facial expressions and see your colleagues.

"If I'm in a business environment, telepresence conferencing where I can see colleagues represented around a virtual conference table will be much better than a Google Hangout or Skype call," said Sunny Dhillon, a VC with Signia Venture Partners, who invests in VR. "Feeling like I can share the virtual world with my friends and communicate effectively within it is key for helping VR scale," said Dhillon.

3. Marketing and storytelling

One of the most accessible forms of VR -- although some would contend whether it truly is VR -- is 360 video. With cheap (sometimes free) hardware like the Google Cardboard or Viewmaster, and platforms like YouTube supporting 360 video, it makes a great option to tell your company's story. At CES 2016, for example, there were companies who couldn't afford huge booths but built virtual experiences to show off their products and invited conference attendees to step into them and then talk with company representatives about what they saw.

SEE: Virtual reality faces five hurdles to justify the CES buzz

"[VR is] a new user interface and platform that will allow a creative company to express themselves in ways that were not available before," said Gartner's Brian Blau. "We will see video games, 360-degree video and interactive movies, and other storytelling vehicles."

Additionally, Dhillon said, it will make a great opportunity to stream events like sports and concerts, or even your company's conferences. However, it presents a great opportunity for smaller-scale use cases as well. Consider the Savannah College of Art and Design, which sent its own branded cardboard viewer to prospective students to give them a 360-degree tour of the campus. Consider ways your business can effectively use low-cost viewers and 360 video or photos to entice new customers or close a deal.

"Today's advertisements have already begun to focus on telling a story, rather than pushing a hard sell, and VR takes it one step further by enabling viewers to actually walk through and experience that story," said Abi Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit.

4. Training

Onboarding is another critical component of a good VR strategy. The ability to move within a space and 'interact' with objects without any potential risks can help train up workers for assembly lines as well as prepare doctors for surgery, for example.

"VR could be used for many other training scenarios that require using equipment that may not be in the same location, or equipment that is too difficult or not available, or even equipment that has yet to be deployed," Blau said.

5. Prototyping

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize the resulting product of a project you're working on, especially when you're dealing with hardware. In designing a new product or physical process, VR can provide a safe space to test and prototype new designs before committing to them.

"Ford has already begun to adopt this as a tool, allowing engineers to virtually climb inside a new car design, rather than rely on expensive full-size clay models," Mandelbaum said. "VR also has the potential to shift the way customers personalize their own cars or even clothes. Imagine being able to step into a virtual experience of your planned home."

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