It’s Not Hype — It’s Happening
1 month ago, it was announced to the world that STRIVR has partnered with Wal-Mart to use virtual reality (VR) for employee education and training. STRIVR will put VR hardware and software into 200 Wal-Mart Academy learning centers, facilities that are designed to host new hires, promoted employees, or continuing education employees for two-week courses throughout the year. Wal-Mart Academies will educate and train over 140,000 employees per year starting in late 2017.
A few days later, more news broke that STRIVR is working with United Rentals, the largest company in North America that provides equipment rentals for construction and industrial sites. Because it’s not feasible to send new hires to job sites around the world in a timely and cost-effective manner, the focus of United Rentals’ efforts is using VR to enhance safety and sales training. In our first meeting, UR told us: “we rarely can bring our employees to construction sites to learn — but with this, we can bring the construction site to them.”
And finally, it was announced that the NFL, via its investment arm 32Equity, was part of STRIVR’s investment round last fall. The investment is a strong signal of the NFL’s commitment to staying on the leading edge of technology that can positively impact the sport, and a sign of confidence that STRIVR is the No. 1 platform for training athletes in VR.
All of this news in less than a week’s time, for a company that is just over two years old, and in an industry that — while exciting and loaded with potential — is still very nascent…pretty cool!
VR actually works
The skeptics out there should know that there’s real science behind VR. It actually works to improve performance. And the business use cases are now front-and-center in comparison to consumer adoption.
Ultimately, everything associates do is geared toward giving customers the best experience. Through VR, associates can see how their actions affect that. It’s helpful for associates to see mistakes in a virtual environment and know how to deal with them before they experience it in real life and don’t know what to do. From our test, we’ve seen that associates who go through VR training retain what they’ve learned better than those who haven’t.
For Walmart and United Rentals, their work with STRIVR reinforces their status as innovators among their peers. They take their responsibility to train and develop employees seriously, and they know it’s their talent that will give them the edge in increasingly competitive landscapes. These two companies are both the largest in their respective fields, so their decisions to use VR will likely be trend-setting, exemplary moves.
In the case of the NFL, STRIVR and the League Office are also working on a ground-breaking VR initiative that has nothing to do with football. Rather, STRIVR is working to address implicit bias, diversity, and cultural competency in the workplace. VR provides a very different way to approach some of these issues — issues that every company in the world likely faces. The NFL is leading the way in implementing new technology that can have a positive, lasting impact. We are really excited about this particular opportunity.
This is not new
The truth is, none of this happened yesterday. We’ve been sitting on this news for months, deferring to our partners as to when they felt comfortable telling the world about their use of immersive technology to improve the performance of their employees (and there are other companies that will follow suit soon). Their announcements are a big deal for lots of different stakeholders, including executives, shareholders, and the employees themselves. It’s obviously a big deal for STRIVR — in the 48 hours following the Wal-Mart announcement we heard from dozens of companies who wanted to know how VR can help their business, too. But it’s even bigger than that.
“VR hype” isn’t just hype anymore…it’s real. The fact that Wal-Mart and United Rentals are using VR will have a lasting impact on the VR industry at large. What people predicted for a long time is actually happening. Walmart’s VR deployment may be the largest rollout in the history of virtual reality. If VR is to ever succeed as a tech medium, Wal-Mart may be where it all began, not Oculus.
For some reason, there’s growing sentiment out there that the VR is on the decline…that the technology is entering “the trough of disillusionment”…that AR is going to dwarf VR…that VR is niche and only for gamers…the list goes on. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. The reality of virtual reality, in fact, is that we are in the “things are actually happening” phase. It’s not “if” anymore, it’s “how” are people and companies using VR and “what”, specifically, are they doing. Consumers are buying headsets, albeit not at the lofty (unrealistic) pace predicted in 2015 and 2016, but they are buying nonetheless. Gaming companies are making real money on VR titles (Mary Meeker just wrote about the influence gaming is having on the world, so don’t take VR games too lightly!). And companies that had been evaluating VR for quite some time are now actually doing it. And don’t think this is all about STRIVR. Wal-Mart, United Rentals, and STRIVR’s numerous sports teams aren’t the only ones using VR/AR to help their businesses — there’s a lot more enterprise adoption than we think, which should excite analysts and tech enthusiasts around the world.
If I had to guess, between STRIVR’s customers and the rest of the work being performed by the VR community at large, I’d estimate that at least 100 big companies are using or considering using VR as it relates to improving the customer experience, employee training, or process optimization. That doesn’t sound like a “trough” to me. It sounds like “implementation”. And it should be celebrated.
Companies are figuring out how to use a very new, very powerful technology. So what if their use hasn’t kept up with the “VR should have been everywhere by now” sentiment permeated by tech media? Instead, let’s re-emphasize and celebrate the fact that the largest company in the world is rolling out VR to its employee base — that’s a pretty big deal, and probably more of a “watershed moment” for VR than Cardboard, PSVR, or any other hardware release in the last two years.
Despite what tech media wants us to think and what lots of companies expect to see when STRIVR walks in, VR is not a magic bullet. It’s one tool in an arsenal that an organization makes available to its employees, and it’s finally at the point where it’s ready to go. VR is being used at this very moment by athletes, store managers, and construction workers to get better at their jobs. A notoriously traditional, routine-oriented sport just inspired the largest employer in the world to adopt VR, and that employer is now likely to inspire hundreds more to up the ante with respect to how they train and prepare their employees to be the best they can be at their jobs.
Yes, the “VR hype cycle” is over. Because it’s not hype anymore. It’s actually happening now, and it’s only going to continue to grow.