Chevron employees are able to practice their responses to potentially disastrous scenarios through the use of a virtual immersive environment. Kevyn Renner, Chevron’s senior technology consultant, and his team developed a virtual environment in which participants can work in safety while facing authentic and potentially dangerous situations. Their actions can also be captured, analyzed, and learned from by others. In a virtual refinery shutdown, up-and-coming leaders can go through the shutdown scenario to learn on their feet and can then talk with the executive team about how to refine their practices. Real-time sensor information fed into the model creates, in effect, a constantly updated 3D learning environment. With this intelligence model, experts from around the world, using avatars, can interact as if they were working in the same room.
Virtual immersive environments are a category of emerging technologies that encompass virtual worlds, gaming, and simulations that have a social component and closely mirror working with someone in the same physical space. People emerge from them with real-life experiences they’ve actually participated in, not just imagined. In virtual environments, people can fail safely and create memories that improve performance when recalled later.
Responding to Critics
Critics of virtual immersive environments claim the technology is “too sci-fi,” too expensive, and fails to create lasting change. Other critics say it’s unnatural and that no one is interested. However, it’s the companies that recognize the importance of change and innovation in meeting business needs that stand the test of time. The cost ranges dramatically from being practically free to requiring significant investments of time, resources, and money. Lasting change is created by the adaptive nature of virtual technologies. The sophisticated analytics engines built into the technology give people a genuine opportunity to learn from their mistakes and improve their performance. As for the unnatural claims, most people quickly adapt to the virtual world, much like how we integrate into a new city with different smells and sights. Interest will rise as more people learn about the benefits of virtual environments.
We recommend introducing virtual environments by hosting a virtual meeting with a captivating topic. Once you demonstrate how the technology can be used as a training device, expand it to facilitate collaboration and communication. Also, allow people to learn how to use the technology and enlist volunteers and evangelists to ensure people’s first experience is positive. Early adoption by senior leaders or front line staff will allow news of the technology’s success to spread, encouraging greater adoption by others. Show the real value of the technology and use it in a way that augments even the traditional online experience.