There has never been a more exciting time for business executives to embrace extended reality and propel their companies into the future. Extended reality (“XR”) is the umbrella term for immersive technologies such as augmented reality (“AR”), virtual reality (“VR”), mixed reality (“MR”), and other forms of alternate, expanded, or immersive reality applications, including those not yet invented. While XR is generally contemplated as a vehicle for gaming, a recent survey conducted by Perkins Coie LLP and the XR Association indicates that forward-thinking executives in non-immersive technology industries should be thinking about how to use XR to maximize their respective outcomes. This article briefly highlights why executives who may not already be utilizing XR in their business should consider the potential benefits of XR for everything from training and developing their workforce to engaging customers through immersive experiences.
Increased Investment: Growth and Expansion of Applications
Executives can spot trends by following the money, and the increased investment in the XR space—particularly in areas other than gaming, such as workforce innovation and training, e-commerce applications, and others—suggest that forward-thinking executives will soon be affected by immersive technologies. Last year, investors in the XR space dramatically increased the amount of money they put into immersive technology, exceeding predictions for the industry. In fact, Q4 2018 saw the value of global venture capital deals spike to $1.7 billion—three times the value for that same time period in the previous year. Investment rose over 50% between 2017 and 2018, from more than $2.5 billion in 2017 to $3.8 billion in 2018. Further, 9 out of 10 survey respondents believe that XR is an inescapable feature of the future, predicting that “by the year 2025, immersive technologies of XR—including augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality—will be as ubiquitous as mobile devices.”
While investment in XR gaming continues to dominate the XR industry, the space is maturing, and interest in other sectors is growing rapidly. While most survey respondents predicted, as in previous years, that gaming will also lead XR industry investments over the next year, many are also predicting that the healthcare and medical devices sector will have high levels of XR investment. However, interest in the varied applications of XR appears to be growing as well, and an increasing number of respondents also indicated that they expect higher levels of XR investment in the education, military and defense, and manufacturing and automotive sectors. The point is that investment in XR is rapidly increasing, which will result in more applications for connecting and collaborating with employees, vendors, partners, and customers.
Use Cases: Training, Collaboration, Development, Learning and Other Benefits
Survey respondents indicated that workforce development is a key opportunity for XR, with 78% of respondents agreeing that XR is highly applicable to workforce development. Most of the ways that companies currently use XR related to workforce development involve employee training in industries such as healthcare, education, or manufacturing. While employee training is not as flashy as—and subsequently less publicized than—other uses of XR (such as the wildly popular augmented-reality game Pokémon Go) the use of XR in workforce development, experiential learning, or work situations requiring access to real-time information can lower costs and increase employee engagement, which can increase long-term productivity.
Respondents believe that XR’s applications in workforce development will be varied; they believe that workforce development benefits of XR include real-time access to information, training that mirrors real-life experiences, enhanced creativity in product design and development, and collaboration among geographically scattered employees. Some industries, such as energy, industrial manufacturing, and construction, have already embraced XR applications in workforce development. Other applications, such as medical training for students, retail training, and outside sales representative training, are currently being explored. Most in the XR space think of training as the most relevant application of XR in workforce development. For example, flight simulations have been around for decades to train pilots. XR innovators think that similar applications may soon become commonplace in the training of future surgeons (who might use XR to practice tricky surgeries), military operatives in combat situations, or employees who work in other potentially dangerous environments. A report by Accenture suggests that this experiential training can “significantly improve the skills and retention rates” of the workforce.
Beyond workforce development and training, XR has many applications for consumer-facing industries, such as e-commerce. XR has the potential to completely overhaul e-commerce and retail more generally, as consumers can use XR to enter virtual showrooms or try new products before purchasing them. Consumers can visualize how furniture might look in their living room, try out different flooring or tiling for home improvement projects, see how clothing will fit, or virtually tailor clothes. The sky is the limit for applications of XR; a company’s vision is its only limiting factor.
A Younger, More Tech-Savvy Workforce
Many executives may be reticent to embrace XR technology, especially those who are uncomfortable with new technology or immersive experiences generally. Given that millennials will soon make up a majority of the talent pool and job market, however, companies may find that cutting-edge technology is a boon rather than a bane. A previous study on technology in the workplace found that 82% of millennials indicate that workplace technology influences what jobs they would take. While 42% of millennials would quit a job with substandard technology, a substantial majority (77%) of millennials would be willing to use AR/VR products as part of their work. All of this suggests that corporate adoption of XR technology could benefit workplaces in the long term, as millennials begin to dominate the workforce.
In sum, there are several reasons why forward-thinking executives may want to consider entertaining the application of XR for their business. First, XR is coming. Investment and development have never been higher and do not show signs of stopping. Companies that don’t want to get left behind or stuck in the past are quickly adopting XR applications and leveraging XR in ways that best suit their business needs. Second, XR innovation in workforce development, education, and other areas is making serious inroads. This rapid development in content and applications further indicates that the time is ripe for companies to utilize XR. Finally, a younger, more technologically savvy workforce and consumer base are increasingly demanding cutting-edge technology. Soon both consumers and the available workforce will begin to expect technologically advanced experiences and training programs. If you haven’t yet thought about incorporating XR into your business plan, now is a good time to start.
Written by Kirk A. Soderquist. Co-authors Kevin Morrissey and Genevieve Urban are associates in Perkins Coie’s Palo Alto and Seattle offices, respectively.
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