Sailing may be one of humanity’s oldest activities. Virtual reality (VR) is one of its most recent. Yet they are similar: In both cases, your journey is 90% easy going and 10% sheer terror. Understanding this similarity can help guide your VR project and keep it from sinking.
In both cases, the majority of the time, things are beautiful. On the water, when the weather is pleasant, you’re busy — but in the best way. You’re laying the foundation as a team, getting the right bearings, setting the sails in the appropriate way and then relaxing. You may lock the steering wheel or kick in autopilot, and then you sit back with a cool drink.
But then, the wind shifts. A squall comes through. The mainsail whips from one side to another, and the entire crew is running around like mad. It can be rough. You may think you’re in peril, and you’re not sure if you made the right decision when you set sail.
Implementing an enterprise VR project can feel this way. In fair weather, the design team and client are having a blast together. They’ve laid out interactive branches and dived into the fascinating aspects of user experience. They’re collaborating and creative.
Then, the squall hits, often in the form of the IT department. The security professionals are trying hard to make these beautiful ideas work behind a complex firewall and to work out how to distribute and secure thousands of headsets. Everyone is scrambling to figure out how to protect the proprietary information used in VR. Where will the files live? How will it work with the rest of the network? Panic ensues.
Any corporation that adopts VR needs to begin a new project with this awareness: that 90% is fun, but 10% is a lot less so — and will require intense energy and thoughtful preparation. It’s not a question of if, but when, the squall will come. As with sailing, though, experience pays off. With careful pre-sail planning, there are ways to mitigate the panic and terror side of the equation:
Make Sure You’re Solid
You don’t take a craft out unless you’re sure she’s solid, and you don’t attempt a project until you’re sure you know the technology: the LMS, LRS, devices, security and other elements that will keep your project afloat. If you’re a company looking for vendors, work with IT and define your technical requirements in your call for proposals. If you’re a VR company looking for your first enterprise client, make sure you know what you’re getting into by finding out everything you can about the client’s security and other systems before you leave shore.
Take a Test Sail
Sail to an island you can see before you cross the ocean. Run a pilot; pick a few key courses or training modules, carve out a few months to deliver them in and then assess before launching a full-scale dive into VR. This approach enables you to invest in a mere dozen test headsets, not thousands, and figure out how VR will work across the company. It gives you a manageable set of data to examine and learn what you could improve and what simply didn’t work.
Involve the Entire Crew Up-front
If the folks in IT feel like they’re below deck and expected to rubber-stamp your VR solution, rest assured that they will fight you. But if they are above deck, involved, can select devices and talk to manufacturers, and have a say in software and hardware decisions, they become a partner — and a welcome one. Include them in meetings and planning calls from the get-go. Ask them to conduct their assessment analysis on your proposed platform and hardware. Don’t leave the assessment to the vendor, because it will recommend what it knows and/or what it sells, which may not be the right solution for you. This approach will enable you and your team to focus on content instead of bailing out the boat when it’s swamped by technical problems.
When I picked up sailing a decade ago, I didn’t start by buying a boat. I started by taking a class with an expert, where I earned a certification in the core skills needed to enjoy the experience and stay safe. Then, I started sailing to islands on the British Virgin Islands that I could see before I embarked across the Caribbean to Puerto Rico. Then I ran that trip twice before sailing the Atlantic Passage.
We had a lot of fun and discovered amazing small islands along the way, but we had our share of rough seas. My training and experience enabled us to sail through these scary moments and still end up at our desired destination. In all of these ways, the sailing experience and the VR implementation experience sail in parallel.