VR in the enterprise

Predictions suggest 80% of businesses will invest in VR or AR in the next year, but what are the enterprise use cases? And how do you embark on an enterprise VR project?


Enterprise virtual reality (VR) is no longer a tool of the future, but a product of the present. We’re now seeing a growing number of businesses deploy VR solutions as awareness has grown and demand for such tools has increased.

Research by CCS Insight indicates that almost 80% of businesses are considering an investment in VR or AR (augmented reality) over the next 12 months. Plus, the analyst firm forecasts strong adoption of extended reality (XR) solutions in enterprise over the coming years.

“We predict that over half of medium businesses in advanced economies adopt this technology by 2025,” says Leo Gebbie, CCS Insight senior analyst, wearables and XR.

VR for enterprise training

One of the biggest use cases for VR in the enterprise has been training; starting with health and safety. 

“There can be high costs in failing or creating dangerous scenarios for training, for example around fire. VR allows businesses to replicate dangerous scenarios in a safe environment in order to give staff a realistic, first-hand experience of the challenges they can expect to face in the workplace,” says Tom Symonds, CEO of VR solutions provider Immerse.

This has evolved into using VR to develop soft skills, and today the technology is being used to train employees in everything from sales and cybersecurity through to diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues; where they put staff in the shoes of employees experiencing discrimination.

The Royal Navy and its technology partner QuinetiQ for example, used VR to move more of its sea training onshore. Cost-efficiency was the key ROI for Shell, which used VR to train and assess employees without flying them around the world to train on-location.

“Training is where we see the most value, specifically in diversity and inclusion, and cybersecurity,” says Simeon Quarrie, founder and CEO of VIVIDA, which provides interactive learning experiences. “These areas are often very abstract, or complex and nuanced, meaning traditional training is often quite unengaging or missing the mark. VR can counteract that and make training an experience; something that creates strong feelings, whether that be of fun, empathy or even fear.”  

“I’ll be the first person to admit that it can be difficult to get people excited about training, but delivering it in VR made it much more engaging for staff,” continues Zaheer Ahmad, head of strategic delivery for diversity and inclusion at EY (Ernst & Young). His trial of VR D&I training saw positive results from the start.

“The storytelling really brought the module to life and left a few of our staff quite emotional in a way that other training hasn’t really achieved. I hope that emotive reaction means the training will really stick.”

The COVID effect

Unsurprisingly COVID-19 has accelerated interest and adoption of VR in the workplace. Experts saw a faster life cycle at the beginning of the pandemic as many companies that had been evaluating the technologies for their businesses made quick decisions to deploy them to bridge operational challenges.

“The market shifted from interest in what transformational improvements extended reality can bring, to implementing out-of-the-box technology solutions that keep the lights on and deliver business continuity,” says Angela Ashenden, principal analyst, workplace transformation at CCS Insight.

COVID-19 also highlighted the transformative role of immersive technologies in times of crisis highlights Laura Foster, programme manager for tech and innovation at membership organisation techUK.

“AR/VR technologies were used during the UK Ventilator Challenge, where a consortium of significant UK businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors, worked together to produce medical ventilators for the UK.

“COVID-19’s shown unprecedented levels of innovation and resilience from businesses. It’s opened up the opportunity for deployment in industries that had previously limited adoption of immersive technologies and it will be interesting to see what new markets form in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

Enterprise VR use cases

There's a variety of interesting and cutting-edge use cases emerging with VR, across industries and sectors. For example, a VR model of the Royal Navy's new Type 45 Destroyers was made for crew members to get orientated. This sped up time for people to get ready to go on board.

Gebbie highlights FundamentalVR’s Fundamental Surgery platform, which offers a flight-simulator type experience for trainee doctors, and “we’ve also seen adoption for tasks like product design and demonstrations, allowing multiple people to meet virtually and work together on 3D models”.

But even though we’ve seen adoption of immersive technologies for many years, Foster points out that this is still an emerging technology and the sector is still forming. “In some cases, the technology needs to catch up to the wants of the business case. Businesses that expect hyper-realistic, reactive immersion will need to wait a little longer!”

How to embark on an enterprise VR project

For an enterprise just starting out on its immersive journey, it can be difficult to navigate the wants and needs of a desired use case against the realities of company culture, infrastructure and budget notes Foster. The reality is that AR/VR adoption usually occurs alongside a wider push for digital innovation from key stakeholders rather than in isolation.

“Start by building a team of advocates who understand the opportunities and work on ideas together to develop the strongest value proposition for your company,” she advises. “In the first instance, it could be worthwhile exploring where low barriers of adoption can offer an introduction to immersive technologies.

“However, the wants and needs are going to change from business to business. Take the time to understand what will work best for you. Research industry best practice and reach out to the greater network of immersive technology advocates that are willing to help.”

It’s also critical that businesses determine the value-based business case for their VR investment, rather than just hoping it will prove useful adds Gebbie. “If the technology doesn’t solve a specific problem, it isn’t likely to be worth the time, money or effort required to implement it,” he notes.

The future of VR in the enterprise

Over the next 12-18 months we can expect to see greater improvements in the hardware and software that powers VR and AR.

There are some very exciting developments around facial tracking, taking simple inputs such as the movement of the mouth and eyes to create highly realistic facial expressions. This will allow for a much more nuanced and natural interaction with other people in VR, whether that’s in virtual meetings, team training or collaborative design.

Human-to-avatar interaction is the holy grail, and this space is really accelerating according to Symonds.

“It’s complex as it requires speech to be converted into text which then goes into an algorithm that listens to what the human has said and makes the avatar talk back in real time. The most complex problems to solve are [around] the algorithm itself; which must capture not only what is said but also the intent and emotions, as well as the ability to map all of this to an avatar animation system that can represent non-verbal responses in a realistic manner.

“As with previous technologies, we will also increasingly see tools that allow non-technical people to create VR experiences. So rather than using complex development tools to code, you will be able to produce training experiences directly in VR, reducing the cost and time of development,” he concludes.