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VR in business is coming, but architecture must support it

In the hunt for competitive advantage, companies are trying to find real value from VR in business. We explore what businesses are doing and why microservices are a key part.

Gaming applications have certainly stolen the virtual reality spotlight, but retailers, financial organizations, sports franchises and other businesses are pining to find a way to have VR add value to their bottom line. How do organizations determine which VR applications will be a value add and which ones are simply a flash in the software pan? Developing a VR application is not easy, and doing so requires strong metrics, as well as a suitable architecture to support it.

Built.io, the company behind the enterprise-grade platform as a service Built.io Flow, has seen more than a few of its customers become interested in making use of VR in business over the past year, especially when it comes to retail and professional sports. In this Q&A, Neha Sampat, CEO of Built.io, and Matthew Baier, COO of Built.io, talk about the trends they've seen regarding VR applications, both among their customers and the industry in general. They also talk about why utilizing microservices and containers is so important for VR, why metrics are essential and how to avoid having a VR application end up in the junk pile.

What do you see as the biggest industry trends around VR in business?

Neha SampatNeha Sampat

Neha Sampat: A year ago, our customer community was essentially worried about mobile and web and not really even thinking about [the internet of things]. AR was not even on their roadmap. Fast-forward a year, and now, especially in the e-commerce space, customers are saying, "Hey, we have to do something AR or VR related in order to be relevant."

Matthew Baier: I compare what's happening now with VR and AR to what happened with mobile. I feel like we're in this stage of experimentation when there's a lot of traction in the consumer space, just like there was with mobile apps initially.

Matthew BaierMatthew Baier

From what I'm seeing right now, this is happening a lot faster than it did with mobile. I feel like we skipped past the experimentation game stage very quickly to it becoming a real thing. There is so much investment happening right now. You have companies like PTC that have 40,000 VR apps out there. That number is, to me, a sign that this is real and there's real investment being made, but as always, there will be use cases that wither and die -- hello, Pokémon GO. But there are use cases that are now being adopted and, out of the gate, are proving ROI. I think those are the ones that we're interested in because those are the ones that we'll be working on and building for our clients.
Why are microservices and containers so important for the implementation of VR in business?

Baier: It gives you flexibility, and flexibility is the way you stay future-proof. For AR and VR, there's this blend between digital and physical that is really fascinating. And the physical side evolves very slowly compared to the digital side. Think of the car. How often do you switch out the car? Not very often. How often do you get to upgrade the software behind it? As often as you like. So, if you assemble something that can be updated in microcomponents and there's a new service that you can just slip in to your car, that's exciting. That's how you continue to add value … to anything.

I think AR and VR adoption would be impossible … without microservices being the foundation. I think that vendors and solutions that are allowing themselves to have that flexibility are the ones that are going to win. [And] not just in the long term, but even in the short term because they're just more nimble. We're seeing such new technology coming out, [and] being able to plug that in is key.
Sampat: [The Sacramento Kings] are running their fan experience app on our platform. Behind the scenes, there are dozens of microservices running, everything from the ticket mastery guide [to] seat ordering. They're starting to look at VR and AR experiences, [and] they have a few proofs of concept going with some of their VIP guests. But there's something new that comes out almost every week in the VR and AR space, and if they were dependent on something that was more monolithic, they wouldn't be able to incorporate those things and try them out. This way, they can have one game where they're trying out some sort of virtual reality API and test it, and if it goes well, then continue to expand on that. If not, [they can] pull it back out and try something else. It's critical for speed of development and speed of engagement that we build things from the microservices perspective.
How are organizations determining if VR applications will add value to their bottom line and that the app their creating isn't just a flash in the pan?
Sampat: Retail is a really good example of this. There are companies that [will have] some sort of a virtual reality showcase. And if it goes well, they'll expand it to various other stores. But the metrics they're looking at [are] user engagement [and] analysis of sentiment. And then, they're actually looking at analytics in terms of propensity to buy. That's an obvious one because it's a direct ROI analysis. But as much as we can, we try to come up with those types of analytics when you're looking at putting a VR use case in place.
And I think, as we continue to experiment more, we're going to have a lot more metrics that help us decide what makes the most sense. On the flip side, you've got use cases around education, trading, medical, which [are] really just about increasing your effectiveness.

Baier: I think avoiding the flash in the pan is going [to] be really difficult. [But] I think, even if 90% of those ideas fizzle, it's helping the ecosystem explore what's possible. It happened to mobile -- there were a lot of ideas that I thought were really cool and fun but ended up not being sustainable or adding business value.

But I do think there's a generation of use cases that we haven't thought of yet, because it is a new technology. There's a lot of experimentation, and I think it's necessary, even if 90% goes away, to find those 10% that are going be amazing.

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