VR: Rethinking the role of simulations in business

August 6, 2016



How simulation tech can help hone business skills and  improve product development and the customer experience.

What scares you at work? Giving a speech, dealing with an angry customer or pitching a new client? What if you could practice what you wanted to say without the risk of making a mistake, but in an environment that is so realistic you feel butterflies in your stomach, sweat drip from your brow and your knees knock together?

Or maybe you’re a senior executive who wants to experience your company from the eyes of various stakeholders such as customers, investors, product developers and factory workers. What if you could sense their joys and frustrations so intimately that you’re finally convinced to make that investment?

Get ready to experience the enterprise like you never have as virtual reality takes computer simulation to the next level.

For decades, computer simulation has been vital to design and product development processes. Simulation empowers engineers to imitate reality and test the performance of their designs without the effort and expense of building a physical product or form. Changes are easier and cheaper. You can iterate quickly, analyze design alternatives and suspend the creation of physical artifacts to later stages of the process when more details are known. The benefits are better designs, minimized costly downstream changes and improved time to market.

Virtual reality (VR) at its heart is a simulation technology. Usually donning a head-mounted display such as Oculus rift or HTC Vive or Samsung Gear, users immerse themselves in a virtual world that feels real. What VR does is shift the center of gravity of simulations from models to experiences. As a result, VR will significantly expand enterprise use cases where simulations can bring new value.

Simulation = model + experience

A model defines the behavior of the system and an accurate model is a necessary component of a good simulator. On the other hand, experiences define the sensory experience of interacting with products, the environment or with others.

Computer simulations so far have been heavy on models and light on experiences. For example, while it is possible to simulate the structural performance of a new building, it was not possible to experience what it would be like to move around in it, feel the space, and spot any irregularities or other issues. Such experiences are deferred until some construction takes place.

While good models will still be essential to simulations, VR will facilitate such realistic experiences it will crack open many new areas within business where simulation makes sense and provides new ways to solve problems. For instance, enterprise executives can use VR to simulate the experience of giving a presentation to an audience.

Unlike practicing in front of a mirror or in front of a colleague or two, the VR solution provides the realistic experience of facing an audience, speaking in front of different audience reactions (positive, negative, neutral), turning back to look at slides, and so on.

There can also be VR solutions for simulating job interviews, difficult client conversations, customer support interactions, sales pitches and so on. All business training situations could be rethought with VR technology in mind to provide realistic experiences that radically improve the effectiveness of business training.

Engineers and product developers are benefiting from VR as well. Ford is using VR to test and refine many details of their cars well before any physical prototypes. In 3D caves that track their actions, Ford engineers experience what it is like to reach for a rear view mirror or place bottles into door pockets and evaluate exterior visibility.

And, experiences are not for employees alone, but customers as well. Lowe’s is allowing customers to design and experience home improvements in the virtual world, so they can feel the space, decide on various details, consider several alternatives, all well before material is cut. In some of its hotels, Marriott is making it possible to experience different destinations before actually visiting the locations.

It’s not a hyperbole to say that virtual reality has the potential to revolutionize enterprise operations. The applications are limitless.  What experiences in your business can VR simulate?



Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Vicki Huff Eckert

Global New Business & Innovation Leader Tel: +1 (650) 387 4956 Email

Mark McCaffery

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Leader Tel: +1 (408) 817 4199 Email