Interview: Why VR is “Transforming the World of Business”

September 17, 2017

Sandra Bergmeir

Thank you Jeff Haden for this great interview with WorldViz CEO Andrew Beall about why Virtual Reality is “transforming the world of business.”

Author: Jeff Haden, published on LinkedIn, September 21, 2017

Forget Mobile Phones: VR Will Be the Next Great Connectivity and Collaboration Platform

Listen to the hype and it seems like every new technology will someday transform the world of business.

And then there are the technologies that already are transforming the world of business.

Virtual Reality is one of those technologies. While uses in gaming and entertainment tend to draw the most attention, use of VR in enterprises – and in small businesses, too – will change the way companies design products, collaborate, conduct training…

A company at the forefront of VR business use is WorldViz, provider of turnkey interactive visualization and simulation solutions. These include systems for platform and application development, motion tracking, design, and scalable software and hardware solutions.

Intel Capital made it possible for me to speak with WorldViz co-founder and CEO/CTO Andrew Beall about how Virtual Reality will help transform the way large and small companies do business.

Unless I’m wrong, you’ve gone from almost a provider of sophisticated tools to a very customer-facing company.

That’s partly true. We’re now fifteen years into the VR game. But even today we have the same focus: Building VR tools for business, for the scientific community, and for enterprises.

When we first started the company it was heavily focused on academic science, so we worked closely with universities and research labs. We’ve maintained that very tech-centric focus as a developer tools provider, and that has carried us through the doors of Fortune 500 companies.  

But what really matters is that VR is about to change the way businesses operate. We’ve created products that help improve product design and training… and now we’ve released Vizible, a collaboration solution. Our goal was to create a solution that anyone familiar with Microsoft Office could use to conduct training, make presentations to customers, hold meetings… it’s like a cross between PowerPoint and GoToMeeting.

That’s where we’re seeing a real shift in VR use.

Why expand your offerings to broader-based applications? Were you concerned that you’d get spread too thin?

Everything we do is driven by our customers. Our customers want to give their employees the best tools they can. They want to make people more efficient. They want to make it easier to connect with customers and their own offices, to make proposals, to land contracts… businesses are often driven by meetings, and VR can definitely make meetings more effective.

Plus, we’ve been challenged for years to create tools that allow for better collaboration. Think of it as “social VR,” like collaborative virtual networks.  Connecting people is increasingly more necessary and meaningful. Imagine a tool like Facebook with VR; it wouldn’t just be a hangout, it could be a targeted human loop application.

I know you’ve heard this before… but I’ve tried a few VR headsets and, well, they can wear you out.

Consumer interest has driven, and will continue to drive, the development of great VR headsets. Another factor is connectivity. 4G still has some amount of latency. But it also depends on what you’re doing with VR.

If I’m holding a VR meeting, latency isn’t normally a problem. And the beauty of using VR for meetings and collaborations is that I can be in one meeting now, and two minutes later I can “be” in another meeting at another location.

As 5G becomes widely available, the sub-latency should decrease to the point where you can’t detect any latency at all. That will only improve the experience, especially if you’re dealing with something like sports training, or viewing a piece of fast-moving machinery – that’s where 5G will make a huge difference.

And don’t forget, connectivity and bandwidth will shorten prep time. When you join me, you might have to download all the heavy lifting assets like models, textures, etc., and get them local. If you didn’t log in five or 10 minutes early, you might find yourself in a holding pattern. 5G will also help with that.

But the other side of an improved experience is better software, better platforms, and better tools – which are things we’re constantly working on.

I’m surprised VR hasn’t been more widely adopted.

As crazy as the rate of invention is, a huge factor is the discovery and rediscovery of how complex human sensory systems are.

Faster tracking devices, higher resolutions, etc. – those things are the signal. What also matters is how you tell the story and how you keep a person psychologically engaged. How we understand speech, how we form emotional reactions… those are tough problems that go beyond simply technological answers.

This isn’t just engineering. There’s a human in the loop, and there’s a lot we as an industry don’t know yet about making VR work well for humans.

Give me an example of what you mean.

Say you travel to meet with a customer. While you can use VR to create a presentation or simulation that knocks the socks off your customer – far more easily than you could with any other tool – the catch is that when you’re present in person as an avatar, you can respond to nonverbal cues. If I see you looking at me and not my slides, I know it’s time to move on to the next slide. If you ask a question or look puzzled, I can jump out of order.

So, the key to making VR work for the humans in the loop is creating software that lets the professionals who use it tell their story the way they best tell it. The tool can’t create any limiting factor; the tool must enhance the user’s capabilities and experience.

Where do you see the adoption rate gaining significant traction?

We’re following a model that would not be too different than a Salesforce-type model: Provide a front-end that takes you into the front lines of every company by helping the people who aren’t programmers make more sales, connect better with customers, etc. We’re excited about already onboarding Fortune 1000’s for the use Vizible as we speak. Their successes naturally will lead to expanding to broader applications.  

In fact, our plan for 2019 is to release an API.

Five years from now, we want to be the leading communication/collaboration platform. VR headsets will become the next popular means of communicating. The same way that smart coms have slipped into our pocket, we’ll have a hybrid of a headset with constant connectivity.

That seems fantastical now… but look at what mobile devices have become.

After all, the ability to connect with other people in as meaningful a manner as possible is what everyone wants.

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