Strategy // Digital

Using Virtual Reality to Develop Better Products, Services and Experiences

Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) have received a lot of attention recently. Led by a massive increase in consumer adoption and business interest, VR/AR has moved from something that used to be futuristic and distant to a technology with immediate real-world implications.

With experts forecasting that we will see unprecedented growth over the next several years, the overall market is expected to reach $25B by 2020, and half a billion headsets are expected to have been sold by 2025—that’s one headset for every 16 humans on the planet. Apple CEO Tim Cook has recently predicted that AR will be as big as the smartphone.

While a lot of today’s innovation is focused on gaming and entertainment, we’re excited about emerging applications for organizations and leaders who are interested in designing great customer experiences (CX).

Over the past decade, as mobile technology experienced a rapid period of growth, the ability to have information and connectivity at your fingertips in real-time has had a significant impact on the expectations of consumers, employees or patients. We expect a similar shift will take place again: Virtual reality today shares some strikingly similar growth patterns with mobile in the early days but delivers a different value proposition—immersion. While mobile content tends to lean toward bite-sized, convenient packets of information, immersive virtual reality is about the experience of “physically” being somewhere—known in the VR realm as “presence.”

Let’s take a look at how companies are using virtual reality to create and deliver products and services today.


It takes hundreds of engineers and several years to design and produce a car. Thousands of parts must work together correctly, and during the early stages, there can be dozens of iterations—each of which could have a ripple effect on other subsystems.

Today, companies like Ford use virtual reality to create digital prototypes earlier in the process. Instead of relying solely on CAD, designers create their concepts directly in 3D and can then rapidly put them in virtual environments to see how their ideas would work in the real world. Engineers use virtual reality to assess design decisions and to walk through concepts as a group, down to the nuts and bolts—which has dramatically reduced the need for physical clay models.

On the manufacturing side, Ford has used VR to test the production process virtually, which allowed it to:

// Reduce employee injuries by 70%
// Reduce over-extended movements, difficult hand clearances and hard-to-     install parts by 90%
// Reduce employee days away from work due to injury by 75%

Companies such as Audi are also using VR to showcase their products to consumers by giving them a first-hand experience of what it’s like to sit inside the car.


Earlier this year, CBRE, the largest commercial real estate firm in the world, acquired a startup called Floored, which creates realistic virtual reality real-estate tours. CBRE regularly builds and reconfigures commercial properties to meet the needs of investors and incoming tenants, so the ability for clients to tour properties with brokers was a natural fit.

Glimpses of virtual reality can also be seen in the residential market, where companies such as Sotheby’s have been allowing clients to tour multi-million dollar residences without having to leave their office. This allows them to maintain personalized tours without the inefficiencies of having to drive to each location.


The healthcare industry has used virtual reality in a number of novel areas. For example, VR has increased the accessibility to observe and follow surgeries. On April 14, 2016, the first live-streamed surgery was conducted at the Royal London Hospital. Anyone from around the world could follow along via two 360-Degree cameras as if they were there in the operating room. While VR is a useful learning tool, thanks to its deeply immersive nature it can be much more than that. For example, it can provide a therapeutic effect through exposure therapy for conditions such as PTSD and anxiety disorders, including phobias. Cedar Sinai hospital in Los Angeles provides VR to patients to reduce stress and pain, proving how such applications can greatly improve a patient’s experience and outcomes, as well as reduce costs.


The retail industry is no stranger to working in 3D. In-store planograms, floor plans and even product marketing campaigns have long leveraged three-dimensional views to convey space. But while traditional 3D has been limited to a flat screen, VR has enabled planners and merchants to actually “tour” a concept and experience things that would otherwise have been missed on a screen or a print-out.  As visual merchandisers know from years of experience, the extrasensory inputs of a product arrangement can mean the difference between a sale or a miss, and testing these concepts in advance can yield much more effective results.

Others in the industry believe that VR and AR are the future of commerce and that eventually, customers will be able to experience goods virtually and buy them on the spot, without ever needing to visit the store at all.


In the realm of training and education, immersive learning is an application that is expected to disrupt traditional educational models. It’s particularly well suited for adult learners and is attracting the attention of corporate learning and development professionals. Some early applications allow learners to safely experience what it’s like to be in risky environments as part of their technical training. DTE Energy, a utility company based in Michigan, has been using VR to train field specialists by simulating work environments in risky areas, such as heights or near gas lines.

As these real-world examples show, virtual reality is already being used by many forward-thinking organizations to create a new way to engage with customers, work together differently, and ultimately accelerate the strategy to execution lifecycle.

How would the ability to test future business concepts in real-time change the way an organization makes key decisions? We are confident that in five years people will look back and wonder how it was done any other way. Virtual and augmented reality will enable teams to innovate faster, with less risk, and with customers front and center—and you don’t need to look into the future for the proof points. They are already here.

How will your company leverage VR? Contact Thong Nguyen at