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Encouraging Organizational Engagement of XR

The XR Strategy Podcast by Voxel REVOLUTION is back and this time, we’ve invited Rodhan Hickey of the Digital Hub in Dublin to talk about his recent experience buying 6 Oculus Quest headsets.  With nearly 70 companies represented within the Digital Hub, it is Rodhan’s responsibility as the Technologist in Residence to try to encourage engagement with the new immersive technology.

Here is the transcript of the video:

Thom: Hello everybody and welcome to the XR Strategy Podcast.  Right now, I’m about a ½-a-pints walk from the Guinness brewery in the heart of Dublin.  Sitting down at the Digital Hub today with my friend Rodhan Hickey. Rodhan, How are you?

Rodhan: I’m good, thanks Thom.

Thom: Good!  Thank you very much for being here.  I appreciate it.

Rodhan: Thank you for coming by.

Thom: You are the technologist in residence at the Digital Hub.  First, let’s start by talking about the Digital Hub. Can you tell me a little bit about what this place is?  

Rodhan: Sure.  This is a cluster of digital media and technology companies.  It’s the biggest of it’s kind in the country of Ireland. It used to be offices and buildings that were owned by Guinness and it’s now run by a state funded body – the Digital Hub.  So it’s a mixture of startups, later-stage startups, but also some multinational companies.  

Thom: The reason I wanted to talk to you today is because you recently went through the process of procuring 6 brand new Oculus Quest VR head mounted displays (HMD’s).  For you listening along, if you aren’t familiar with the Oculus Quest, I suggest that you take the time to look into them. From a commercial standpoint in terms of flexibility, accessibility, and affordability – these are probably the best virtual reality headsets on the market today (October of 2019).  When an organization is considering getting one or perhaps several headsets, like the Digital Hub, there are better and worse ways to do it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen AR and VR headsets gathering dust on the shelves because the organization hadn’t properly considered what it’s goals were with the hardware or how they would encourage engagement.  These are things that I feel like you’ve done well. Let’s talk about those points then – first, Can you share – what is your strategy for creating value with this technology?

Thom Strimbu Oculus Quest

Rodhan: My role as Technologist in Residence is to work with all the companies here and help understand their technology needs – what they have in common between them.  They aren’t all technology companies but many of them have development teams in house working on different technologies. So, part of my role then is introducing new technologies to them.  You’ll see beside you, you have a 3D printer that I have in my office. I’ve worked in innovation labs in multinational organizations, in SAP, and part of the role there is having someone around who understands the new technologies enough to to be able to explain them to other people in the business whether it’s relevant for them.  So, part of the role of Technologist in Residence is to do that here; to work with the client companies and help them understand if they need to be looking at AI, ‘what could 3D printing do for them, and about the most-interesting emerging technology in many ways… immersive technology.   

Thom: You have a lot of similarities and some differences to the people listening to this podcast.  Whereas they are in commercial organizations and you are a state-funded organization and you are reaching out to the, up to 70 different member companies.  In this case, the similarity may be that those members might be the same as subgroups in a normal corporation. You have the task of helping them understand how this technology might help them.  But, I imagine that they have their own lives, they have their own problems, and having a guy show up with some XR headsets to try out may not be the first on their list of priorities. The question is, how are you incentivizing use among all of these subunits of the technology?

Rodhan: On part of it is the traditional job of the evangelist which is simply walking around with the headsets and showing them off in the common areas so people can see and can come up and ask questions – that’s a good way of getting to the early adopters.  We’re also planning an event in November, an immersive technology week where we will have a number of workshops and also an ongoing room where people can sign up for sessions with the Oculus Quest. There they will get a 15 minute introductory one-on-one sessions where they can try out different experiences.  We’re also going to bring in some local artists and client companies who have already had some experience with the technology and will get a chance to show it off.  

Thom: I think you’re spot on in your approach on both accounts.  As you said, you don’t really need to do ANYTHING to get the early adopters to try these out.  Those who would otherwise be the early or even late majority – they would just as soon pass on something that they are not familiar with. 

Can you share a bit more about your strategy for approaching the late adopters?  How do you set up the experience so that it is both informative and enjoyable for them?

Rodhan: I’m working on this idea of creating a VR Passport.  Someplace where you could collect stamps for each type of experience.  For example, a creativity stamp for when you’ve used Tiltbrush, which is this 3D painting, sculpting app which is easy to explain but must be experienced to truly understand. There’s an Adventure Badge when you’ve tried the 3D rollercoaster or walked the plank and experienced first hand that clenched-stomache feeling even though you are perfectly safe.  There’s Explorer badges for exploring under the see or going to the moon with the Apollo 11 app. It really helps people to understand fully the medium and to see what’s possible. 

The Digital Hub Logo

"I’m working on this idea of creating a VR Passport. Someplace where you could collect stamps for each type of experience you have."

- Rodhan Hickey

Thom: You and I have the same approach for getting people acquainted with the technology – which is that we start them with games and entertainment rather than throwing them right into commercial applications.  Navigating an AR or VR environment is a complete departure from the familiar tools of a 2D environment – the mouse and keyboard. They need to use their whole body and very specifically their hands to navigate.  Talk about that – about how you get people introduced to the user interface.   

Rodhan: So there’s the Oculus First-Steps app which is brilliant in that it guides you through to the point where you completely understand the controllers and then are able to fly virtual paper airplanes and throw balls or lots of other things.  You get to this point where, and I’ve heard multiple people say this who wouldn’t have been at all comfortable with the technology; “Wow! That’s actually like my own hand in there!”. They don’t understand how it is that they are picking up a ball in the virtual world – but they’re actually pressing buttons and they start to feel like it’s second nature – an extension of themselves.  That’s something that not a lot of people have experienced unless they are into gaming or perhaps people might understand it as being similar to the mindless familiarity they have to driving a car. I think that helps people see the capabilities of it. So, now if somebody was to think about using this for something within their enterprise – like training. Instead of it being a flat, “watched” experience – it becomes more dynamic and participative.  We can get people to start thinking about how they would want users to engage with the environment, how to pick up tools. Not just pressing or pointing towards a spanner they want to pick up, for example, but instead use a gesture to pick it up and manipulate it. We’ve got this ability to start getting people to build the muscle memory for the tasks that they will be doing in the normal course of their work.  

We’ve got this example of a Virtual Reality flight simulator which has pilots using their arms and hands in a way that they would in an actual flight deck.  Virtual reality has the capability of teaching people that now and practicing those moves in a way that is very much like the real world.  

Thom: Rohan you’ve given us some good points to consider today which I’d like to recap as we get close to wrapping up. 

 The first of them is that the important element that people often miss in their effort to introduce new technology – specifically immersive technology – is the supporting role of the advocate.  In this case that would be yourself as a technologist in residence. For organizations who don’t have a role like yours, it is my recommendation that they research the potential value the technology might bring to their organization.  From training, to technical support, to supporting remote teams – there are a variety of ways that immersive technology can generate a healthy ROI. After establishing the business case, assign a role – either part time, full time, or a multi-person team, to support the initiative. 

Second, I really liked your example the XR passport as one example of encouraging engagement and learning.  The failure to address change management is the single biggest point of failure for the commercial deployment of immersive technology – period.  Is a passport going to be the solution for everyone – I don’t know – but it is a fun, creative way to facilitate a range of diverse experiences for people who mightn’t otherwise choose to invest time in familiarizing themselves with the capabilities of the tech. 

 Finally, you’ve mentioned the same point that I’ve heard more and more from HR professionals these days which is – games are a great way to learn.  If the first experiences that your team have with this technology is fun – it’s going to be easier to transition into a commercial application later.  That said, your commercial applications need to be well thought out and as easy to navigate and use as the games.

Before we go, do you have anything else that you’d like to throw out to our listeners that may help them on their path toward a successful XR engagement?

Rodhan: Sure, the most important thing is to give XR a space in your organization – somewhere where people can feel safe to try it out and experience all it has to offer.

Thom: Thank you Rodhan.  If you’d like to know more about how you can introduce immersive technology into your organization – feel free to stop by voxelrevolution.com.  Until next time, I’m Thom Strimbu.