Business of Engineering

Virtual reality challenges, solutions for A/E firms

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they highlight two challenges with virtual reality and two problems they can solve for A/E firms.

By Morrissey Goodale November 30, 2020
Courtesy: Stantec

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they highlight two challenges with virtual reality and two problems they can solve for A/E firms.

Virtual reality (VR) has two big problems, which have conspired to slow its adoption in the A/E industry. Paradoxically, this presents a great opportunity for early adopters of the technology. These pioneering firms are using VR and separating themselves from their competition during the pandemic. They are building first-mover advantages that will only amplify post-pandemic. It’s a similar situation to the introduction of BIM over a decade ago. Those who didn’t invest in the technology were left in the dust. Those who did are today’s industry leaders.

VR’s first big problem? It’s an entirely different world. For most A/E firm leaders, VR is whole new experience. They have no frame of reference to understand it. It’s like reading a poem about love versus being in love. So it’s impossible to describe beyond saying, “It’s amazing!” or, “Oh wow!” (both of which are, incidentally, common refrains we hear when CEOs first enter the VR world).

VR’s second big problem? Its image. Most A/E leaders who experienced VR pre-pandemic were skeptical of its business applicability. They may have used early VR versions that were “clunky” (a VR technical term). But the technology is improving exponentially and blows away what was available even 6 months ago. Or they viewed it exclusively as a design tool and relegated it to use on those projects where clients demanded it. It’s actually a powerful enterprise wide management technology. Or they experienced it pre-pandemic and saw it as “nice to have” (an expense) not “need to have” (an investment in a competitive advantage). Social distancing and remote working have completely changed that value proposition. Or they viewed it as only applicable for recreational purposes for “gamers.” When in fact it has game-changing business applications.

Industry-leading A/E designers see beyond these so called “problems”. They are using VR as a technical competitive advantage. From pioneering buildings designers to cutting-edge infrastructure engineering firms, VR is being applied to dramatically improve project delivery and the client experience. And visionary A/E leadership teams are using VR to help solve two huge enterprise-wide challenges during this pandemic.

VR gets you closer to your people. One of the biggest challenges facing A/E leadership teams during the pandemic is sustaining firm culture through training & development during a time of travel restrictions. Zoom and Teams meetings fatigue is endemic and not cutting it. Pioneering industry leadership teams are using VR to create fun and engaging fully immersive 3-D environments for their people to come together to collaborate, connect and learn and sustain the firm’s culture.

Recent studies show the remarkable effectiveness of VR training. For VR skeptics the surprise is the technology is an excellent platform to develop soft skills. And VR is very possibly the only thing that unites Human Resource Directors AND CFOs – they love how VR gets better results with reduced expenses. It can also redefine an office structure. Offices can exist with any staff at any time, allowing leadership to blend talent from all corners of the firm and knit the fabric of the company together in an entirely different way.

VR gets you closer to your customers. Industry innovators are using VR to keep their existing clients close AND connect with new clients. They are creating bespoke VR environments to engage safely with their customers. While in VR together, they are collaborating “face-to-face” with clients in fully immersive 3-D to reinforce existing relationships, review current projects, and explore new opportunities. This kind of activity takes the brand concepts of “trusted advisor” and “thought leader” to the next level. These A/E firms are investing in the requisite VR technology infrastructure and setting their clients up on it. And once clients are in VR with them – they are leveraging the exclusivity of the shared environment to separate themselves from the competition.

VR is a powerful tool for A/E leadership teams. Its applicability pre-vaccine is clear and present. And post-vaccine, as remote working remains the norm and strategies for connecting with talent and clients change, it will play an important role in firmwide success.

This article originally appeared on Morrissey Goodale’s website. Morrissey Goodale is a CFE Media content partner.


Morrissey Goodale