Virtual reality (VR) is going increasingly mainstream. The NBA just announced it will broadcast weekly games with virtual reality features to subscribers of its NBA League Pass, according to a USA Today report.
According to the NBA's VP of global media distribution, games aired in virtual reality will "be the next best thing to that in-person experience."
In fairly short order, virtual reality made its way from an immersive experience for gamers to a way to get a courtside basketball experience without paying courtside ticket prices.
Some enterprises are also beginning to offer "the next best thing" to in-person experiences, using virtual reality for recruiting, office breaks, training, virtual tours of facilities and other business purposes.
Here are five interesting ways virtual reality is being used in the enterprise.
Recruitment with VR
Cloud software provider BetterCloud is among companies using virtual reality for recruitment, by providing virtual tours of their headquarters. In BetterCloud's case, that is an office in New York and its engineering operation in Atlanta.
Working with digital agency Foundry 45, the company produced a virtual reality "day in the life" experience to entice potential hires who may not make it to the office immediately.
The two-minute virtual reality videos provide a 360-degree view of the office including a look at potential co-workers at their jobs, close-ups of the recruit's planned workspace and introductions to Timothy Burke, the company's director of IT, and Michael Stone, the company's director of technical support.
The company sends recruits Google Cardboard VR devices customized with the company logo as well as invitations to download the virtual reality video from either the Google Play or the Apple Play store.
"New York is a very competitive job market, especially for startups, and there are a lot more startups than just us," Burke said. "We don't get people who just get a job to get a job. The kind of people who we are looking for are very selective about the companies that they apply to."
"This is something that takes a long time to produce," Burke admitted. But for certain high-tech jobs, like those at BetterCloud, the cost of the virtual reality video and Google Cardboard viewers are worth the investment.
"We've had a lot of good feedback from our hiring team," Stone said.
New hires continue their virtual reality experience when they join the company. BetterCloud recorded 360-degree footage of a company kickoff event so that new employees that join the company can see what that experience was like, including sitting on the bus going to evening events and socializing at dinner.
The objective is to enhance onboarding and training in a way more compelling than the typical video presentations posted on an intranet.
Beyond recruiting, BetterCloud has found virtual reality is a good way to enable employees to take a short break and blow off a little steam during the day, Stone said.
Virtual Reality Subs for Site Visits
Mining firm Rio Tinto Kennecott provides a virtual reality tour of its copper mining operations so interested parties can see how the company does business and that it is conducting its mining operations in an environmentally safe way, said Gordon Meyer, director of marketing for YouVisit, which developed the virtual reality experience. It can be experienced using any virtual device or via an online video.
"Virtual reality provides a more true telling of the actual environment [than an online video]," Meyer said. "With the virtual tour, the angles and the filming are not selective. The viewer can go from area to area with a complete 360-degree view. The viewer can turn around and look at various areas."
Another advantage is that virtual reality is much more scalable than providing actual physical tours of the facility, Meyer said.
For other clients, such as Accenture and Cisco, virtual reality provides a more engaging experience for the viewer than other forms of communication, Meyer said. "That gets the viewer fully immersed in your brand."
Virtual Reality and Enhanced Collaboration
Ubiquity Corp., an entertainment and advertising company, uses virtual reality to provide virtual tours of its studios and to enable different people from different locations to collaborate on productions, said Chris Carmichael, the company's founder and chief architect.
Virtual reality provides far better collaboration than emails, Skype calls or other types of video conferencing, he said.
"It gives us more direct communications and interactions. It's very powerful. It speeds up your time with the process. Several different people can exchange ideas at the same time and make changes together. It's unbelievable what you can do with virtual reality," he said.
Diagnosing Problems with VR
VR can be a good way to pinpoint safety concerns and other issues in buildings. Some utilities use virtual reality to enable workers to diagnose issues with substations and other facilities, said Steve Erhlich, senior vice president of marketing for Space-Time Insight, a provider of situational intelligence applications.
The company worked with a pair of utilities to combine real-time analytics and virtual reality videos to identify issues in a facility, such as a meter indicating overheating.
With a VR headset, a technician -- including one who had never been in the actual facility -- could determine in advance which actions to take before going to the facility to fix the problem, Erhlich said.
"Virtual reality helps the person understand the extent of the problem," he said. "For example, if they get a notification of a flood, they can see how high the water is. If it's something else, they can see if it's a problem that needs immediate attention or something that can wait until there is scheduled maintenance."
Similarly, some utilities use virtual reality for training simulations, enabling a trainer and trainees to work together to correctly diagnose and fix "test" problems without the need to go to the actual facility, he said.
VR and Facility Design
Retailers are starting to use virtual reality to design stores, enabling them to see in a full view where displays work best and how lighting and other design components work in actual use, so that they can optimize the design before opening a new location, said Mike Caputo, research and development team lead at InContext Solutions, a provider of virtual reality solutions.
Similarly, manufacturers depend on virtual reality to design their facilities to operate as efficiently as possible.
Experts agree that virtual reality has just started to make its entrance into the enterprise, so it will likely have many more uses as it becomes more accepted and as prices for VR headsets like the Oculus and the HTC5 come down in price.
Phillip J. Britt's work has appeared on technology, financial services and business websites and publications including BAI, Telephony, Connected Planet, Independent Banker, insideARM.com, Bank Systems & Technology, Mobile Marketing & Technology, Loyalty 360, CRM Magazine, KM World and Information Today.