Maybe you already do. If you employ artificial intelligence (AI) to talk to your customers, you are embracing the promise of virtual technologies. If you use augmented reality (AR) to personalize and immerse customers in a buying experience, you are blending virtual and physical worlds to build what we call “Real Virtualities.”

Join the crowd: 88% of leaders recently surveyed by Accenture said that they are investing in technologies that would enable their organizations to create virtual environments.

All this is good. As we explain in Business Futures 2021: Signals of Change, Real Virtualities will, as technology advances, give organizations opportunities to enhance products and services and create more value for their customers, employees and other stakeholders. Real Virtualities—mixing AI, AR, virtual reality (VR) and whatever might come next—will open new markets. And applied properly, Real Virtualities will increase efficiency, boost productivity and build profitability in your organization.

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Exciting, yes? What most excites me, as a business strategist who helps global companies innovate and transform, is bigger: the potential for Real Virtualities to equip organizations to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges in powerful new ways. As virtual worlds become more realistic—engaging not just our vision and hearing but all our senses—imagine how we might transform…

Healthcare…

What if doctors could virtually examine patients via “electronic skin”—wireless patches of material attached to their patients? Scientists at Tel Aviv University are working on this. If they commercialize their innovation, experts might detect disease in patients in underserved communities, hundreds or even thousands of miles away from traditional medical care.

A virtual reality application called immersive microscopy enables fly-throughs of 3D microscopy datasets to give doctors new levels of insight into what is going on in the human body. Doctors can also apply VR therapeutically to boost the memories of older patients, combat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and ease the pain of childbirth.

Education…

What if immersive experiences could augment learning in physical classrooms?

The ideal way to learn a language is to be immersed in an environment where people speak it. What if you could, from a classroom in the United States, virtually embed in China to speak Mandarin? Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are doing this, interacting with AI avatars in computer-generated backdrops of Chinese streets and markets. The avatars recognize gestures and expressions as well as speech. The institute has found that students in this immersion lab master Mandarin twice as fast as students in traditional classrooms.

If you are a history student, imagine transporting yourself to the period you are studying. Or, as an engineer, imagine examining 3D digital twins of faraway buildings and bridges.

Leadership Development…

What if executives could be in two places—or three places, or more—at once, engaging with employees wherever and whenever they need direction? We are not superhuman (though we try to be), but new technologies could move us closer. Eighty-five percent of CEOs say that investing in technologies that enhance the cognitive and physical performance of their employees to optimize their productivity will be important to their organization’s success. Forty-three percent said it would be essential, the highest of any of the 25 Signals of business change we tested. Google is developing a videoconferencing platform, Project Starline, that gives executives the sense that they’re in the same physical space as a business partner thousands of miles away.

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Real Virtualities will increase efficiency, boost productivity and build profitability in your organization.

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Near the end of 2021, WeWork, via a partnership with digital content company ARHT Media, plans to roll out holographic technology in its workspaces. Yes, holograms.

What if we applied the innovation behind Zebra Technologies’ AR headsets—which enable computer technicians to see what the user is seeing on their screen—to leadership training? We can personalize remote training and take leadership programs to exciting new levels.

Today, our reality is this: we have the capabilities to adapt, and we can adopt virtual technologies that will carry us to a more successful future. But we do not know what that future will be. So, we need to get agile, prepare, and become, as my colleague Annette Rippert says, intentional futurists.

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To act on the promise of our virtual future, here is my advice:

  1. Get your infrastructure in order, with a focus on 5G and security. Fast, low-latency networks, optimized to process a very high volume of data messages with minimal delay, are needed to deliver seamless experiences that Real Virtualities enable.
  2. Get your governance in order, with full understanding and clear communication about how to use AI, VR and AR responsibly. Fortify your organization’s decision-making and protect against unintended consequences of rapid technology adoption.
  3. Get your customers’ experience in order, identifying their key challenges and creating solutions that they find intuitive and comfortable to use. Real Virtualities should not simply translate your customers’ real-world experiences into digital environments. Design them to enhance their real-world experiences and strengthen your customer relationship.

What if… you do not act now? A successful future is yours to win or lose.

See more Enterprise Strategy insights.

Christopher Roark

Senior Managing Director – Accenture Strategy Lead, North America

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