To say that technology has transformed every aspect of our personal and working lives is a bit like saying peas are green. With each evolution it has undergone, technology has pivoted to become more immersive and collaborative, enabling connections between people, wherever they are in the world, in myriad ways. In a relatively short time, we’ve already come an amazingly long way.
As Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal argue in their infamous book The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything (published in 2016), three big technology transformations since the 1970s completely changed our society.
According to them, the first of these came with the first mobile phone call in 1973 and the invention of MS-DOS, an operating system for personal computers, in 1981.
The second came towards the end of the 1980s, when the graphical user interface opened up computing to a broader group of people, newly democratising PC usability. The third followed in the wake of the new millennium, when the transition began towards mobile as mainstream.
A fourth transformation – triggered by the rise of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) technology – was predicted by Scoble and Isreal two years ago, and is already taking hold.
We can see evidence of this all around us: Pokemon GO, Snapchat, and Apple have brought AR joy to countless consumers; Sony, Oculus, and HTC have endeavoured to make VR mainstream in the home.
The next step for forth transformation technology could well be taken in the business world; and indeed, we are already starting to see VR, AR, and MR become embedded in business operations. These technologies are opening up new opportunities for businesses, creating fresh revenue sources while rendering certain legacy technologies obsolete. Although initial expenditure will be sizeable, there’s no doubt that businesses can make their money back through the productivity benefits gained.
In fact, it’s already happening and, mimicking history, businesses that fail to adapt won’t survive. What’s more, this is an issue that affects UK companies in particular. In the wake of Brexit, whichever form it may take, British businesses will have to re-negotiate their relationships both across Europe and the rest of the world, so it’s crucial that they’re equipped with the right tools to achieve this.
Unfortunately, a global report from Capgemini found that UK companies were found to be lagging behind France and Germany in their adoption of VR / AR / MR technology — only 36 per cent admitted to using the tech, compared to 48 per cent in France. At the same time, it was revealed that, across the world, businesses implementing VR / AR / MR in their workplaces had their expectations of these technologies exceeded. They experienced over 10% operational benefit in areas such as increased efficiency and safety.
As such, it’s never been more important for UK businesses to embrace the advantages that VR / AR / MR technologies can bring. From a cloud perspective, VR / AR / MR will be particularly pertinent in ushering in a new era in unified communications. From phone calls and conference lines to Google Hangouts and high-resolution virtual conferencing, companies are continually looking for ways to bring physically disparate people closer together. VR could successfully ‘place’ people into virtual meeting rooms to discuss projects. In turn, AR could place people into the same real-world room; a life-size representation of an employee in another city, country, or continent.
Combined into MR, the prime purpose for such technology will be the computer desktop of the future. Previous decades have seen computing limited to 2D screens on laptops, tablets, and smartphones; however, the rise of MR means a move beyond the screen into physical 3D spaces.
Previously, one of the main issues holding back the realisation of these immersive experiences was the resolution. It hadn’t been possible to read text in VR or use the same tools found on desktop computers, as the user experience (UX) for most applications is optimised for the higher resolutions of desktop monitors. Now that human eye-resolution technology has come closer, new avenues can open up for developers and creative leaders designing next-generation application experiences.
Nonetheless, the fourth transformation is by no means all digital dreams and a Pixar-style utopia. Inevitably, for business owners, conversations must be had on the prevalence of this technology as it increasingly emerges and the potential impact on employees. An ‘always on’ culture needs to be avoided to protect the individual privacies of staff when using VR / AR / MR peripherals while still ensuring that they can feel constantly connected to the technology. However, if a careful approach is taken, this cloud-hosted technology could prove as monumental to the workplace as the advent of the Internet.
Finally, it’s crucial to remember that this brave new world of unified communications and virtual desktop infrastructure is powerless without the right network. Across industries that have been early adopters of digital transformation, such as architecture, gigabit requirements are becoming the norm; by contrast, only three years ago, 100mb would often suffice. That will no longer provide the necessary bandwidth for this new wave of technology.
As technology is typically a top-down evolution, businesses of all sizes at any stage of digital transformation must take note. Trepidation among business leaders as they venture into the unknown is understandable, but there’s no more time for hesitancy for those who wish to reap the benefits that VR / AR / MR can offer — all powered by the cloud and a robust, reliable network in tandem.