Numerous resources detail how VR/AR solutions are not only changing the way that enterprise organizations are approaching training but in how these solutions are making a positive impact on the bottom line. There’s data that explains how utilizing VR/AR to support training makes sense, so why isn’t this type of training everywhere? What are the stumbling blocks that prevent adoption? These were just some of the questions that were discussed during the “Using VR and AR in Training” session at the VR/AR Summit in Vancouver.
Jeff Meador, founder of JMXR and co-chair the VR/AR Association’s training committee, moderated the panel and made sure to focus on specific questions related to challenges with adoption, hardware choices and what it means to allow organizations to use VR/AR to make better decisions. Doing so isn’t just about meeting people where they are but in going even further to help stakeholders see and recognize the opportunity that the technology represents.
“One of the biggest challenges that we have to constantly work through and address is tied to the perception that all of this is hard,” said John Blackmon, CTO and Co-Founder of Trivantis. “They think the solutions we’re talking about are five years in the future. They don’t realize that it’s here today.”
That reality is something Blackmon demonstrated in an earlier session, where he showed how it was possible to create, publish and deliver interactive experiences in under an hour. That immediate impact is something all of the panelists mentioned as being important because many companies believe adoption will take too long or that their workers won’t use the solution. Once these users get a VR/AR solution in their hands though, not only do the vast majority of them pick it up right away but they also begin exploring other opportunities.
For companies like Trivantis and Avatar Partners, creating a proof of concept is doable, but what does it mean to go beyond that for a client or potential client? Typically, the reason VR/AR training solutions don’t go any further is because the initial inquiries don’t consider the impact all the way down to individual users and managers. They don’t consider all of the different people and departments that will be impacted by this kind of training. Is the IT department included? How will a purchase impact the budget? If there’s one person that can say “no” to moving forward with this type of new training program they will, which is why the process needs to be as inclusive as possible.
“You can’t just be focused on the proof of concept,” said James Williams, Chief Innovation Officer at Avatar Partners. “You have to be thinking about how it’s going to impact the rest of the company. A certain VR/AR training solution might be perfect for one division but that might not solve another division’s pain points. If you don’t address that you can turn a possible client into an adversary.”
To mitigate some of these issues Blackmon mentioned that he tries to identify someone that can be a champion for the technology in an organization and then work with them to get others to buy into the concept. An internal champion can pull others into the idea. They can help entire teams visualize what the technology can do and how it can make an impact. That understanding allows stakeholders to get everyone from users to c-level executives involved, which is where considerations related to ROI become a factor. Even if c-level stakeholders don’t fully understand the technology that bottom-line impact is something they can see and build on.
“A CEO might not understand technology, but they understand numbers,” said David Moreno from VirtualWare. “Ultimately though, it needs to be simple and easy to use. So maybe you have the ROI case but then you define the business case and applications for users. If the people down the line don’t see how their life will be better, then they’ll fight it.”
Even for companies that believe in and are looking to actively adopt a VR/AR training solution, conversations about doing so can’t be focused solely on the technology. A training solution that utilizes VR/AR can’t just be about the solution itself but in how it creates or improves training processes and an end result.
Everyone needs to recognize that there are parts of established processes where AR won’t work. In most cases, a solution needs to be a blended approach of AR, VR and traditional approaches that are already out there. VR/AR training solutions can supplement, rather than replace, established practices. That often requires a different mindset along with an understanding of why PDFs in VR aren’t a great fit. People often need to think differently, and that’s as much about psychology as it is technology. That said, technology is still a major factor.
“We’re focusing on real-time VR,” said Daniel Seidl from Innoactive. “We built our product inside of Unity so it’s fast to get up and running. People usually want to know how fast they can get things going because they’re training new people to do certain jobs and any downtime impacts their efficiency. So we’re changing expectations around what that training process and downtime should look like.”
Efficiency is directly related to costs of VR/AR solutions both in the short term and long term. It’s easy to get people excited about a given solution, but how much is it going to cost? Users don’t want to pay the same price over and over. Effective solutions need to factor in how assets can be reused or how content can be easily added so that the overall cost is going down and it’s not the same cost per unit at the beginning.
Sometimes those costs can be mitigated and Seidl mentioned two German airports are co-investing in a VR/AR training solution. They’re already envisioning how what they create could not only be rolled out elsewhere but also monetized.
Measuring how many people are using solutions like these is important and what sort of hardware they have to use to do so is also essential to consider. Solution providers often get considerable pushback when it comes to hardware choices, both because of a fear that whatever is purchased will be quickly outdated and because IT departments have typically never dealt with hardware like the HoloLens.
“We love the HoloLens, but in many cases you can’t take it out into the field because it’s not going to meet safety specifications or be practical,” said Williams. “So you have to utilize something someone is already using, like a tablet. You have to tie these solutions into what someone already has and that an IT department is already directly supporting. That can lead to something bigger, eventually.”
Potential users are sometimes uncomfortable with solutions like the HoloLens, but such notions are changing as the workforce changes. New people are coming into businesses without the standard skillsets they used to have which means they need to be taught a lot more of the basics than previous generations. Additionally, many SME’s are retiring. Both of these elements are factoring into the VR/AR solutions that companies are looking to adopt, as they’re solutions that will help preserve the institutional knowledge of those retiring SME’s while also being better suited to a workforce that is more comfortable and familiar with VR/AR training solutions that they’ll have encountered in school.
Comfortability with the technology is a factor in terms of how both VR and AR solutions complement one another because training programs don’t need to take an “either/or” approach. VR training is often best to prepare someone for a given job or task, while AR can be better suited for on the job training. The benefits of both can be evident and powerful, but what the panel wanted to underscore more than anything else was that these solutions aren’t about the potential or possibilities of tomorrow but the reality of today.
“This isn’t the future, because it’s happening now,” Meador said to end the session. “If you haven’t started, you’re late to the party.”