eXtended reality

Rise of enterprise eXtended reality

The IMF called the COVID-19 crisis ‘unlike any other’, where economic growth of advanced economies was projected to be negative or near zero. Here’s a quick summary of CXO’s (and their businesses’) biggest challenges during the pandemic:

The five biggest challenges that CXOs are facing due to the pandemic

Businesses are grappling with slowing global supply chains. This affects sales and production growth, meaning a subsequent dive with opportunities for partnerships and growth. The flattened or negative growth market results in lesser manpower and resources to work with, which further affects productivity. At the other end of the spectrum, consumer behaviour has irrevocably changed, including the ways in which people shop, consume education, travel etc.

In trying to meet these challenges, leaders are crafting comprehensive business continuity plans that include what’s known as the ‘pandemic-proof infrastructure’.

Pandemic or crisis-proof infrastructure is characterised by contactless, hygienic, location agnostic, remote and/or virtual working environments. Such a setup will help business leaders:

  • Adapt to and upgrade work environments to better suit the new normal.
  • Onboard new and old employees into a new work environment.
  • Better understand and work with quickly evolving business and customer priorities.

Can eXtended Reality (XR) crisis-proof workplaces?

Today, XR tech has progressed from Gartner’s hype cycle to become a mature technology ready for business consumption. IDC’s prediction of global AR/VR spending to reach $136.9 billion by 2024 will contribute to accelerated XR adoption.

Additionally, we’ve also witnessed XR expanding beyond the consumer (gaming) industry into the enterprise segment. According to Digi-Capital, “Enterprise VR active users are beginning to reach critical mass in the training vertical…Enterprise VR training company, Strivr partnered with Walmart to roll out 17,000 Oculus Go headsets loaded with its software to 4,700 stores and 1 million employees, as well as Verizon using it to train 22,000 employees across the US.”

XR tech can simulate physical environments in immersive, virtual ones, thus creating a life-like experience. This is helping organizations’ workforce collaborate across remote locations, building on the ‘Work From Anywhere’ norm. Similarly, XR can also be an efficient medium for remote upskilling of a large workforce.

Enterprise XR (EXR) goes mainstream

According to Unity3D, “the surge in demand in…enterprise…VR will bring a new wave of investments and, therefore, more startups and innovation in the space. Another recent HBR Analytic Services study stated, XR is “…a key part of enterprise digital transformation initiatives. It is emerging as an important tool to improve employee productivity, training, and customer service.” However, “most senior executives don’t have a good grasp of the technology and are not articulating a clear vision for it, even though they see it as critical to their success.”

The top five things to consider when business leaders embark on their maiden Enterprise XR journeys:

  1. Enterprise Integration: EXR solutions have to integrate with various enterprise systems from Identity and Access Management (IAM) to Enterprise risk management (ERM) to (Customer Relationship Management) CRM and other proprietary services. They have to comply with organizational standards, processes and policies by integrating with Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions. Additionally, EXR solutions should allow for a consistent user experience (and design) across an organization’s systems as a priority – e.g. a single sign across websites, mobile or desktop apps.
  2. XR Content management: Conversations around XR content (like what’s used in gaming) are largely focused on the consumption stage i.e. the visualization and immersive quality of the content. However, the journey begins earlier, at the generation and publication stages, where EXR is yet to make significant progress. It’s ideal for Enterprise XR to support entire (XR) content management pipelines – from generating multi-format communique leveraging CAD, CAM, 3D Model, 360° videos etc. This ensures proactive and seamless integration across media platforms/channels. It also encourages efficient accessibility, publishing and managing of the content.
  3. Customizations: EXR adoption will grow when solutions are software and hardware agnostic and are customizable to the needs of enterprises. For instance, EXR has to be compatible with software apps and web services running on cloud, on-premise, on hybrid setups, and with evolving infrastructure. Enterprise XR adoption benefits from a vibrant partner ecosystem as that guarantees integration with a variety of devices, development tools and frameworks like Unity, Unreal, Vuforia, etc, alongside industry-leading components like Google ARCore, Apple ARKit, MRTK, etc. EXR also expects interoperability to enable existing mobile and web apps with XR, and this helps in leveraging existing investments.
  4. Monetizing solutions: EXR solutions can be a critical use case with measurable ROI. Organizations can implement turn-key XR solutions for remote assistance, guided workflow, and training; remote data visualization, design collaboration and compliances, etc. These solutions can be monetized by offering them to wider industrial usages. For example –  holo|one for workflow management, and Upscale for onboarding and re-skilling the workforce.
  1. Standardization: TheEnterprise XR space should implement software development’s best practices like Agile principles, leveraging open source, etc. Standardization matters because there are a multitude of tooling and tech stacks used for EXR solutions. XR adds extra dimensions and enables more human senses to experience reality. Photo-realistics visual designs, spatial sound, navigation physics, and interactions with gestures and voice are few of them. Enterprises need to re-think from requirement collection, to design, development and testing of XR software. While XR has the potential to reorient the enterprise environment, enterprises do face multiple challenges with the XR development lifecycle.

By Kuldeep Singh, Head of XR Practice, and Raju Kandaswamy, Lead Consultant, ThoughtWorks, India

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