Exploring The Future With VR and PwC

Immersion in a virtual future gives businesses a taste of disruption

The recent spread of Virtual Reality (VR) technology into diverse sectors is testament to its incredible business potential. VR makes it possible for us to visualise data, simulate training experiences, and explore new buildings without laying a single brick. These possibilities – and more – are expressed in a global VR sector which is expected to grow at a rate of 54 per cent over the next few years, reaching a market value of nearly $27bn by 2022. This is an expansion that few businesses can afford to ignore.

But what are some of the concrete ways that VR is helping businesses right now? D/SRUPTION spoke to Jeremy Dalton, Head of VR and AR at PwC to find out about the benefits of VR, and an exciting new Virtual Reality experience which transports their clients into the future…

Seeing is believing

When we talk about future disruptive technologies, it’s often difficult to fully understand how they will operate in the real world. Some of the newest technological developments can seem as alien to us as computers were to our grandparents, or cars were to the generations before them. Whilst we might understand the concept of robots, drones and autonomous vehicles, it is difficult to imagine how they might fit in to the world of the future – and what our place would be alongside them. This, says Jeremy Dalton, is where Virtual Reality comes in.

“PwC’s new VR experience was born out of a desire to help companies understand the disruptive forces that are going to impact the future,” he says. “We wanted not only to talk to them through 2D images and videos, but to immerse them in that world. VR is the perfect technology for this, as both their vision and hearing is connected to that world.”

An immersive experience

So, what does the VR experience entail?

“We created a potential urban future,” says Dalton. “It has 20 explicit disruptions – things like robot police patrolling the street, drones transporting passengers, 3D printers creating buildings as you walk by… In fact, the roads themselves can be modified by a central body, so it’s possible to change the light on the roads, create different warning signs, and so on.”

Active engagement with this world is a crucial part of the immersive experience.

“Clients are asked to identify these different disruptions, and explore them as they appear,” Dalton explains. “This gives an objective to the VR experience, to identify as many disruptions as you can.”

This goal orientated approach highlights an important feature of the VR experience – that it is up to the individual to navigate the world for themselves.

“Clients choose what to interact with on a linear route, which takes around 10 to 15 minutes,” notes Dalton. “They also have to make decisions based on their simulated biometric readings. This is designed to provide an emotional impact for decisions.”

Such a personal focus throws light on how we might use technology to inform our decisions in the future. Dalton explains, for example, that if a user’s hydration levels are low in the experience, it will be recommended that they buy a drink. They can choose whether or not to follow this advice, but if they ignore it then their insurance premium will ultimately increase. This kind of monitoring and feedback exemplifies a use of technology we can expect to see over the next few years as we enter an increasingly connected world.

Can you rate disruption?

Whilst the VR experience might be highly individual, it also provides a unique opportunity to analyse data across members of an organisation. Dalton explains:

“At the end, users of the experience are asked how impactful they feel each disruption would be to their organisation. PwC can then take that data and compare it on an individual by individual basis. So, for example, if we took 12 executives from a team through the experience we can give them a personalised view of how their opinion differs from that of their colleagues. This allows us to identify and discuss possible discrepancies across an organisation.”

Such analysis is also critical when assessing a business’s attitudes in relation to the wider market sector.

“We can also aggregate a business’s scores and compare them across competitors,” Dalton says. “We might find perhaps that a company is undervaluing the impact of a technology such as AI in comparison to their competitors. We can point this out and then it is possible for us to explore with the business why this might be.”

Preparing for tomorrow, today

In general, PwC’s VR experience has received a positive client response. This being said, Dalton notes that whilst some clients are absolutely in awe of being able to explore a future world, others express nervousness or are disturbed at what it entails. This, however, is arguably part of the point. Whether or not we like what we see, the future is coming, and it is important to prepare for disruption. Dalton agrees.

“Regardless of whether or not our clients find this experience positive or negative,” he says, “It engages them in very rich conversations about potential disruptions and what can be done about them.”

The content of PwC’s VR experience is not simply mere futurism, but backed up by an evidence based approach.

“When we came up with our VR experience we had to create a narrative that not only made sense with what we believe is going to happen in the future, but is also backed up by our teams in cyber security, blockchain and artificial intelligence,” Dalton remarks. “We have a Disruption practice in the firm and we wanted to show clients what these technologies can do. This is difficult when those technologies haven’t actually been created yet – we can’t just take clients and show them a building being 3D printed on the streets of London. But we can take this VR experience all over the world.

So far it has been to New York, Dubai, and Gothenburg amongst other places. As far as I’m aware this is the first use of VR in the professional services sector to immerse people in the future.”

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