Reality bites, or so the famous phrase would have us believe. In the world of business, the realities of product development, systems management and advanced modeling can bite as well, unless they can be improved in some way.
One of the hottest items at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month was virtual reality (VR), led by companies like Oculus Rift, Sony and Apple. While much of the focus was on the technology’s applications in gaming and consumer markets, a few people are starting to look at it as a serious business tool.
One of them is Sean Jacobsohn, a member of Norwest Venture Partners, who sees VR as yet another means to make the enterprise more productive, quite possibly leading to an entirely new level of market disruption once the current trends of virtualization, cloud computing and mobility have run their course. Jacobsohn notes that research firms like Juniper say about 3 million VR devices will ship this year, with a possible 10-fold increase by 2020. Fields as diverse as real estate, manufacturing and medical training/modeling have already been bitten by the VR bug, and the possibilities for advancement are endless – literally, anything that can be seen, touched and heard can be replicated and even enhanced by VR.
It is important to remember that while IT will not own the VR initiatives that arise in the enterprise, it will have to support them, says SearchCIO.com’s Nicole Laskowski. This will likely fuel development in a number of key aspects of data infrastructure, such as content creation, maintenance and storage, as well as greater bandwidth and improved integration with legacy systems. VR rests on real-time performance, and depending on the level of detail required it can place an extraordinary burden on available resources. In order to provide a positive experience from the start, these capabilities will have to be bumped up in advance. Otherwise, disillusionment among the knowledge workforce could set in, and the enterprise could lose a competitive advantage to organizations that can mount a successful implementation.
Already, some developers are planning for a time when VR is not the exception in the typical enterprise work day but the rule. Envelope VR founder Bob Berry says the state of the technology today is equivalent to the pre-Windows DOS days of the PC. As it matures, VR will start to encapsulate (or envelope) the entire development process, including run-time and coding console simulations. In this way, entire products can be created in fully immersive 3-D environments, rather than today’s predominantly 2-D development processes with perhaps a little VR for testing and simulation. The company’s current offering, the Envelope Virtual Environment (EVE), is available on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive platforms.
But while virtual reality may be a little far off for many organizations, augmented reality (AR) just might be the answer to a number of pressing issues, says IDC’s Tom Mainelli. In much the same way that the PC was an improvement over the typewriter, AR deployed on various wearable devices can provide a similar boost to productivity, although it’s hard to see how until you’ve tried it. In many fields, such as health care, design, logistics and service delivery, AR is already starting to replace smartphones and tablets as the primary means of communication. The key issue going forward is whether hardware developers like Google can overcome the anxiety that earlier versions of wearable devices engendered, even to the point where it becomes uncool not to have AR glasses, headset or the like.
The idea of entire workforces engaging one another via graphic simulation is a bit unnerving, and is fraught with security, privacy and reliability issues, not to mention questions of common courtesy. Imagine the fuss that would kick up if someone started programming their VR headsets to render all women in the office in the likeness of a nude Kate Upton.
But the potential is too great to ignore. At a time when many enterprise jobs are becoming automated because machines are so much better at them than humans, it seems logical that humans would want to enhance their ability to do what they do best: think, create and invent.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.