How to virtually save your business
A walk through the construction site in Berlin, a tour of the planned supermarket in Hamburg and a test drive with the new express train to Munich: Until now, all these activities naturally required the trip to the respective location. In the future, a trip to Zurich-Altstetten will suffice.
The largest virtual reality arcade in Europe has just opened there. The goal: entertainment for families and children, but also business applications for companies and their employees. In the future, virtual reality will be part of the training program of Swiss companies. The Oculus Rift glasses in combination with a gym – sized room are intended to enable natural movements in the virtual working and corporate worlds.
“There is still no such large area for virtual reality applications in the whole of Europe. Almost 300 square meters can be used and can be walked one to one,“ explains founder Ronny Tobler.
The center of the complex is the 300-square-meter hall, where several suits for the expeditions to virtual reality are lined up in a row. If you want to participate, put on the glasses and attach sensors to your feet and hands, so that you can act as naturally as possible in the VR world and notice, for example, if you bump into the too low ceilings in a simulated yacht or do not have enough space between several supermarket shelves.
Tobler is currently in talks with a Swiss train manufacturer who could have prototypes of trains visualized. “In the end, it’s all about cost savings and efficiency gains,” says Tobler. “Mistakes can be avoided before construction begins.“
But VR fun for companies is not cheap. One hour of use of the VR park costs 1000 Swiss francs (856 euros). If you want to program your own VR application for companies-and this will probably be necessary in most cases to meet the specific requirements of a company – you can expect about 30,000 to 50,000 francs for smaller projects. In elaborate simulations, the price climbs to several hundred thousand francs. The bet of Tobler and his team: a mistake that is not noticed before construction is more expensive.
When the concept of the Fusion Arena arrives, he wants to expand real estate in Switzerland together with Coop. Entertainment offers for families and business applications for companies alternate. The morning should be reserved for companies, the evening for the more fun part.
Training market in transition
The Swiss have occupied a gap in the market. Because the requirements for in-house training are changing dramatically. The programs should be faster to implement, cheaper to implement and better controllable.
The most well-known trend in this area is probably the so-called MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), i.e. the online mass courses for employees, which can be distributed at several locations and in several countries. The advantage: Cost savings by a specialist spreading his information for several thousand employees.
The disadvantage: Whether employees really listen carefully or let the video training run alongside their Facebook or work activities is difficult to determine. The activity of the employees should stimulate a little mass voting on certain topics during the training. But even this element does not really bring real control over how much of the content has really reached the employees.
Wooden simulations are intuitive today
Stefan Michel, marketing professor at the management school IMD in Lausanne, has been observing these experiments with new training formats for some time and has also experimented with them himself: “There are innovation tournaments, which are a combination of a live event and a virtual one. At an event hosted by us in Stockholm, 350 live and 5000 online were connected. At such virtual-real events, everyone can follow the presentations, the moderator can perform group work virtually and real.”Already today, Michel teaches more online than live, with the help of his own video studio at the manager educational institution.
One trend that is moving in the direction of virtual reality applications is advanced training and employee training through games. By playing through different levels on the PC or a console, behavior patterns should be trained in the same way as decision processes can be analyzed. Even in recruitment, gaming approaches have become widespread in some companies, in which conclusions are drawn from the gaming behavior on the future behavior as an employee. Such playful approaches would also be possible in the hall in Altstetten.
“Management simulations that used to be wooden have been around for a long time. They are more intuitive today, ” says Michel. The goal of most new approaches to employee training is to implement knowledge more flexibly into the organization, whereas in the past it was more about creating a stock of knowledge over several years, which is intended for a relatively consistent personnel team. In addition, it is important to be able to better check the effect of the knowledge dose and to prove its implementability in daily work. Virtual reality, gaming, mass simulations or everything in combination should make these goals more achievable.
A strong pressure for change in the training area of employees also comes from the social career networks in which employees frolic. For example, Linkedin: After the acquisition of the training provider Lynda, the company, which is now part of Microsoft, wants to become the big Zampano in the training market. Easy-to-access video training is intended to replace in-house training or courses at external management schools. The top-selling area of the Linkedin career network is the Talent Solutions division. Here, the career network sells recruiting solutions for HR employees and could also integrate training offers.
Analysts estimate that this area accounts for almost 60 percent of Linkedin’s market value and was the main driver of the billion-dollar price Microsoft was willing to pay. Through various acquisitions, such as those of the data company Bright, which was brought into the portfolio in 2014, the work for recruiters is to be made even easier. Should Microsoft open its Office programs, with which almost all employees worldwide have something to do at some point in their careers, for courses and further training by Linkedin’s own coaches, external providers of company training must dress warmly.
One thing is certain: employee training is highly sought after and highly competitive both internally and externally. How the price-conscious offer of providers such as Tobler and its Fusion Arena positions itself in this changing environment remains to be seen. If big companies like ABB or Stadler Rail were to enter VR simulation games, this would be the first step towards a breakthrough.
For less financially strong companies, industry solutions and offers will be needed that do not have to be specially programmed for each company, but can be used by several companies at the same time. So far, this already works for apartment visits in cooperation with architectural offices. There, too, it is about avoiding nasty and, above all, expensive surprises with the help of VR technology.
This article was first published under the title “Abtauchen in Arbeitswelten” by the Swiss “Handelszeitung”.