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AR Business World #5: AR Transforming HR

The first story I heard about using AR or VR to improve traditional HR remains the best.

Just over a year ago, the Golden State Warriors were competing heavily to recruit basketball superstar Kevin Durant. They wanted to do something different than other teams competing for Durant, so they turned to NextVR to create an immersive video showing the superstar a glimpse of life in the San Francisco Bay Area and gave him a tour of the Warriors facilities where the coach and fellow team members greeted him and talked about life as a team member.

I can't say that is everything that did the job, since there were also millions of dollars being offered, but when I asked Kenny S. Lauer, Warriors vice president for digital and marketing, he told me, "It definitely helped. It was a way of showing Kevin that we all really wanted him and what it would be like. He was impressed."

Sexy Recruiter
Last week, I saw a close runner-up to the Warriors-Durant example. Instead of using immersive technology to attract a single superstar, Jaguar Land Rover partnered with Gorillaz, a very hip British female garage band to recruit 1000 talented, next-generation automotive engineers, which is what the above  AR Video clip is about--even though it is mostly being  viewed as an old-fashioned 2D YouTube.

The star is Noodle, the oh-so-sexy lead guitarist. Attired in business suit for the video, rather than her usually outlandish outfits, , Noodle stares into the eyes of beholders and defies them to "take the challenge," of cracking code in the Gorillaz app. Those who succeed in the computer hacking challenge, will be fast-tracked into an automotive engineering job at Jaguar Land Rover.

The catch is that neither Noodle, nor the other band members are real. They are virtual, and the defiant stare into the eye of the viewer is coming from an unseeing virtual eye, which is difficult to discern at first glance. 

This may not be as cool as netting a superstar, but it is a very clever way to attract the best and brightest of the next generation of automotive engineers, or so it seems to me.

I started asking around on social media for more examples of AR and VR being used to modernize HR, particularly in three key areas: recruiting new staff, on-boarding recent hires and training them once on board. I didn't expect much, because like most folks I talked to, I don't generally regard HR as a fountainhead for experimentation in disruptive technologies.

I was surprised to find that there is a good deal happening, at least in HR, but mostly in special situations.

Hazardous Conditions

Andrew Gadomski is managing director of Aspen Advisors, a New York City-based consulting group that tracks large-scale talent recruiting, very often in categories where the work is under conditions that may be more daunting than recruits realize, such as mining, repairing suspension bridges or oil rig work. For clients, the HR problem is hiring applicants who really think they want the job until they actually get a taste of working 600 feet under below sunlight, or hovering that high above cold and treacherous waters on a steel cable. 

Companies often recruit people, fly them many miles to show them a work site, and let them see a standard video that shows what a typical workday looks like. They get hired, employers invest in training them and then a few weeks later, after time and money is invested, a large number of new hires quit in their first 90 days of employment, after discovering the very real physical and mental challenges.

Barminco, an Australian mining company uses AR and VR in this way, but they also use VR to train employees in safety practices for the hazardous work they will face. ENI, an Italian energy company has a similar VR clip for oil rig workers as well.

In these cases, the employers want to warn recruits of the real difficulties ahead, and the standard Typical Day videos paint pictures of a rosier situation than reality will provide. So mining, energy and construction companies bring out recruits, put them in headsets and give them a real sense of the impact of working and great depths, heights or in the danger and isolation of an oil rig.

Andrew pointed to several companies who have been enjoying great success in recruiting. For example, the US Navy has to recruit about 100,000 new sailors annually. It is important that those who sign up understand what it is like to be submerged for days in a submarine, fired upon in a river gunboat or take a hostile beach at midnight.

To watch the VR clip here, Navy trainees wear headsets with stereoscopic sound that emulates gunfire, the whir of chopper blades overhead and the sound of being near a helicopter while mortar fire blasts from the shore. They wear haptic vests that let them virtually feel the weight of a pack and the feel of firing automatic weapons at virtual enemies.

While each of these examples seem exciting to me, I also think they are previews of what recruiting, on-boarding and training will look like in the near future. The use of AR and VR to train sailors on enemy-infested rivers is not unlike the way warehouse workers may be trained to manage logistics in more efficient ways. In fact some of this has already happened. They way Barminco is using AR to teach safety to miners is similar to the way Caterpillar is training factory workers to avoid dangers.

Likewise, I see the day coming soon when AR training is used to help all sorts of service, construction, logistics, repairs and medical personnel in the same way the BMW mechanic shown here is being helped to conduct a new repair for a car engine. It is similar to the way AR is used by Boeing to prevent mistakes in wiring the inside of airplane wings. 

Into HR's Mainstream

But the question remains, how soon will everyday HR people start using AR and VR as regularly as they use the Typical Day videos today? I see this as far more than novel. Such practices will create better trained, more efficient, safer work forces. They are also likely to improve customer service and employee retention.

But how soon will such practices be in the mainstream? For that answer, I turned to Tom Haak, director of HR Trend Institute, a global HR think tank and consultancy. He told me that at conferences and among the Institute's 25,000 monthly visitors, he is sensing a heightening interest, sufficient enough for the Institute to be building an online community to discuss tech such as AR/VR. 

Elsewhere this may not be a big deal, but it is new and different in HR. Traditionally, he told me, HR departments are slow on the tech uptake, in part because HR cultures are not usually prone to experimentation. HR tech is more involved with traditional stack from companies like Oracle or SAP. 

But now--like everywhere else that I am looking--HR sees that change is imminent, spurred by the likelihood that in just a few months Apple will enable 300 million people to use AR, making the emerging technology a promising tool for recruitment, on-boarding and learning. This is particularly important to recruiters who are entrusted to attract younger employees who are likely to hang out increasingly in AR/VR.

He's right of course. I remember speaking to an executive from the San Jose Mercury around 2007. He conceded to me that Help Wanted ads were "going through a tough patch," and blamed it on outsourcing of jobs to India. He denied the possibility that his paper was being hurt by a start up called LinkedIn.

The future is closer than many HR people may realize. To recruit, they will need to go where the people they wish to attract hang out. To train effectively they will need to use the most effective technology, and if they want to portray a typical day, then they need to immerse candidates, before they submerge them, send them up bridges, down mine shafts, or let them understand they won't have much privacy in their cubicles.

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Elsewhere in AR World

The Return of Google Glass

When Google Glass was introduced back in April, 2012, it was a world changer for Robert Scoble and I. We were working on Age of Contextwhich examined the convergence of multiple technologies to change the interaction between people and personal digital technologies. We had lots of material for the book, but had not quite nailed the defining cohesive image. 

That moment of cohesion came almost instantly, at least to Scoble, with the introduction of Google Glass. He was among the first to get a beta of the developers version and would wear it everywhere as this famous photo depicts. He continued to wear it for the next six months and when Age of Context came out, we featured Google Glass prominently on the cover. 

While the first round incarnation fizzled, the problem was not in the device but in the marketing hoopla. Glass was introduced to the world with sky divers, runway models and celebrity Manhattan subway riders. Yet, it remained a primitive device with limited functionality, battery, and consumer appeal. It cost twice the price of the average smartphone and early adopters were often confronted in public spaces and accused of taking videos of people who had not given them permission.

Glass was removed from the market in 2015 until earlier this week when it was reintroduced as a developer's tool suitable for enterprise applications such as remote training and service. It was a far quieter launch and the Google name is deleted from the product name.

Almost immediately, Robert and I started hearing questions that we heard before. Do we regret having put it on our book cover? Does Robert regret the shower photo? Do we think the new version has a chance? And so on.

The answer from both of us to any of you with inquiring minds is a resounding "NO!"

The Fourth Transformation owes Glass a debt of gratitude, so does Transformation Group. In fact, while marketer and journalists saw the original Glass and chortled, while social media rants labeled Glass enthusiasts like Scoble as Glassholes, something different happened with technologists. They saw the future in the device. The result is the AR and VR that we are now talking about.

Glass has turned out to be the "Aha!" moment for an entire generation. It was Scoble's idea to put it on the cover of our last book, and I am very proud I chose to go along with it. As far as I am concerned, we turned out to be prescient.

The lesson to be learned is one that should have been learned long ago, and I suspect the folks at Google now understand: You can't sell people what they don't want by making noise and throwing money at it.

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Attention Walmart Shoppers: Aisle 8 is Virtual

I am not a Walmart shopper. I have never been one, and it is unlikely that I ever will be one. 

But, I greatly admire how Walmart has embraced and is starting to prevail as an online merchant. It is very well positioned to ultimately be the finalist against Amazon, the pure player that is eating up and spitting out most of traditional retail in great gulps. Amazon is, of course, fighting back. I would bet that its recent acquisition of Whole Foods has a fair amount to do with the fact that Walmart is the world's leading food merchant.

I have been waiting for Amazon's play into AR and VR. I am sure it will have much to do with Amazon Echo. Echo is what Robert and I call a Digital Genie, a device that uses Artificial Intelligence to know its users on a deep and personal level. I see Amazon's recent decision to put a screen on it as a baby step toward challenging AR and VR devices that use voice as an interface tool.

But, I did not expect to see Walmart jump into this fray with its experimental--and promising-- Store Number 8 Project. The company just announced a developer's competition for retail VR products. Winners will be announced in October. 

It seems to me the battle is not between online and in-store or even for multi-channel dominance as the flagging Target stores put it. It is simply a battle for retail customers. There are many reasons we often have better experiences online than while looking for that special deal on Aisle 5 at Walmart. Still, there are many, many reasons why people still want to shop in physical stores. Walmart is showing thought leadership in modernizing the in-store experience. I expect Best Buy will also move in a similar direction--and perhaps the new Whole Foods ownership may try something along this order for new ways to shop by voice command.

Me? I am agnostic on which brands will win. I am on the side of the shopper. The more brands compete for our business, the better experience we will all have at decidedly lower prices.

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Immersive Travel & Entertainment

Disney Parks have always been on the leading edge of AR and VR. I've written a fair amount of how they use Mixed Reality technologies to design park attractions and hotels. Robert visited the new Shanghai Disney Park and reported how every aspect of his experience was touched by AR. Now Disney has announced that it is planning the very first immersive hotel for Disney World in Orlando . 

The new Star Wars hotel, announced this week, will replicate the inside of something you would see in Star Wars. Every member of the staff  will be in costume and guests will be assigned a role and encouraged to remain in character at all times. While I didn't see an opening date for the hotel, I would guess it will come in tandem with the opening of Star Wars Land in both Orlando and and Anaheim in 2019.

Travel and Entertainment are closely related categories where we are seeing a great deal of activity. We envision a day in the next few years when you will use VR and AR to virtually tour hotel rooms and points of interest in the comfort of your home before you book the actual trip. But we keep finding new twists, such as real sea cruises enhanced on deck with VR headsets that let guests virtually swim with the fishes in the waters below.

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Will Magic Leap?

Magic Leap remains the elephant in the room or perhaps the whale in the gymnasium. It is also a place where good partners can disagree. Robert continues to hold high hopes that the mysterious Florida-based company will launch something in December, and I remain skeptical of what this company has and when it will actually deliver something useful or interesting either for consumers or businesses.

This ambivalent Engadget report probably is fuel for both Robert's case for Magic Leap and my case against it. I am reminded of advice from the late Charlie O'Brien, my mentor, editor and best friend, who told me several times when I was young that I should trust evidence more and magic less, advice that I now follow.

AR APP-of-The Week

My favorite app of this week comes courtesy of my friend Rob Mowery who pointed me to Shapescale, a 3D modeling scale which gives you a 3D rendering of you and measures precisely every change of your body. This could be of use to dieters, body builders and members of the Quantified Self movement. I like it because it illustrates the ability of new technologies to measure everything on Earth in 3D with great precision. Shapescale is a preview of many devices ranging from agriculture where it can record the exact growth of a crop in a single day to medicine where it can enhance a dermatologist's ability to see what is happening with that mole on your back.

Shapescale is coming out in 2018 and you can pre-order now for $299. Or you can wait for Amazon and Walmart, who will probably have it cheaper in the not-too-distant future. Watch the video below and then decide if the scale will give you a body like any that you see in the video.

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