Dr. Rolf Illenberger
Rolf Illenberger is founder and CEO of VRdirect. VRdirect operates a platform that allows anyone to create and publish VR experiences and VR apps without any coding skills. Prior to founding VRdirect, Dr. Rolf Illenberger was a managing director at ProSiebenSat.1 Digital aswell as a managing director with the digital strategy consultancies The Nunatak Group and Solon Management Consulting. Dr. Rolf Illenberger holds an PhD from University of Mainz and an MBA from HHL Leipzig School of Management.Follow Follow
Storytelling About VRdirect with Dr. Rolf Illenberger
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 141. This week we have storytelling about VRdirect with Dr. Rolf Illenberger. During this episode, Rolf and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing VRdirect.
Rolf is CEO of VRdirect and an expert in all things spatial computing and XR interfaces. Prior to founding VRdirect, Dr. Rolf Illenberger was a managing director at ProSiebenSat.1 Digital, as well as a managing director with the digital strategy consultancies The Nunatak Group and Solon Management Consulting. He holds an PhD from University of Mainz and an MBA from HHL Leipzig School of Management. His passion for enabling corporates, agencies and content creators to create, manage and publish VR projects with internal teams really comes through during the podcast.
The VRdirect app enables businesses to easily make their virtual reality projects available to end-users, employees or partners without having to develop their own app. VR projects can be accessed via keyword, code or link and be permanently stored in the VRdirect app with just one click. Thus, a personalized virtual reality library can be created in no time.
A few things we cover today: How does this platform work for different industries? How will a business not adept at virtual reality move into it? What are some examples of collaboration using VR?
Of course, there’s more! Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 30 minutes
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Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Rolf on from VRdirect, and we’re going to be learning all about the use case, the business case that one would make for buying VRdirect. So let’s jump right into it. Rolf, would you do us a favor and A, check the pronunciation of your name, make sure that I’ve got that almost correct, and also introduce yourself and VRdirect to the audience.
Of course, of course. Well, first of all, thanks for inviting me. Thanks for having me on the show.
Really a pleasure. Yeah, so my name is Rolf Illenberger, as you would properly pronounce, is in German, but its perfect pronunciation is Rolf. That’s totally fine. I’m actually the founder and CEO of a company called VRdirect. You’ll find us on VRdirect.com. We’re a company that are providing a virtual reality solution to enterprises.
So because that can go in a lot of different directions. I’ve seen people use this in talent acquisition as scenarios. Letting people experience the job before. You can see VR being used in performance management, you could see VR being used in customer support. Giving people training. A lot of training development uses and use cases. Where are some of your success stories or where are some of the places that you see VR? I mean, again, you’re going to be able to use VR in time across the entire enterprise. However, let’s just start with where people are using it the most right now?
Right, so here’s our story. We started a couple of years ago, actually already like 2015 so quite a journey behind us. And when we started out, we started this whole thing as a B2C proposition, we were still thinking virtual reality is going to revolutionize the whole entertainment industry. It turned out not, at least, not until today and later in our history, in our story, we pivoted towards B2B. And today we see the vast majority of our clients and all of the use cases on our platform, on our software and I’ll talk about software in a bit, being in some relation to work or HR or the new term for that is probably new work. Something that a lot of people are using when talking about health, the work life and the processes in HR have evolved, partly under influence of the whole Corona situation. So we see a lot of use cases in that area.
So what we do is we provide a software solution that makes it pretty easy for professionals to create virtual reality projects. As a matter of fact, there are lots and lots of people who have understood that you can do great things with virtual reality. Every one of us has experienced virtual reality. Every one of us has tried it. We know the VR headset, so everyone more or less has a good idea of what you can do with that. And then you want to apply this to your organization. Say you’re an HR manager, you’re a recruiting manager. You’re responsible for training in an organization. Then you want to apply the VR technology to what you’re actually doing. And then you fairly quickly come to a point where you find that there are software solutions.
There are technologies, programming languages, if you want, but it’s super, super complicated, right. You are not a Unity developer. You’re not an Unreal developer, most likely. So you wouldn’t be able to create a reasonable VR project of reasonable VR content by yourself using these technologies out there. That’s for the game developers, for specialists. You need to be a specialist to be able to create something using these software solutions. And that’s fine. I mean, there are numerous use cases for games and whatever, but if you’re an average person, you don’t find success in any of these software solutions. And our vision basically from day one was to make it as easy as possible for the everyday user to create virtual reality projects. You can think a little bit of, although it’s a tricky thing with comparisons, but it’s a bit like PowerPoint for VR.
So we want to give a tool in the hand of an everyday user. So this can be a recruiting manager. It can be someone responsible for training and he or she can actually create content themselves. And what they do to do so is your basic setup is you need a 360 camera. You’ll get that out there for a very reasonable price tag. In the meanwhile, you could get this from many different technology hardware manufacturers, and then you can go ahead and create content in your facilities, in your office, in your spaces of your organization. You would upload that content in our software, in our creator tool which we call the Vrdirect Studio. You would enhance this content with all kinds of interactions, multimedia. Whatever you want to add to the pure 360 content to create a good experience out of that.
And once you’re done creating, you can upload the content directly on what we call the VRdirect Cloud and from the VRdirect Cloud, you can distribute this content to basically any user or any recipient of that content out there. The recipient can use an app for that on his mobile phone, he can use a tablet. He can also use a web player, but of course he can also use a VR headset. So if you create your content, it will be instantly available for almost any output device, including VR headsets and instantly available globally. So think of this workflow of creating, hosting and distributing VR projects and our platform takes out the whole complexity for the users. And by doing so, we enable enterprises, organizations all across different industries. From automotive, consumer goods, whatever logistics, chemical. We enable many, many people to actually start tapping this virtual reality opportunity that’s out there and actually get started with creating content and getting other people in their organization on board using this technology.
So, first of all, a couple things, the types of content. Let’s go a little bit more specific into, and again, no names of companies or any of that type of stuff. As you mentioned, industries, and even types of jobs. Let’s give the audience a good example of, when I say content, here’s four examples of that, industries. You mentioned automotive, that was great. What works on automotive? And again, I know we’re going to blink and there’s going to be something that works tomorrow that’s going to be a little bit different, that’s fine. But it just, as it is right now?
So as just said, the whole processes related to HR are super attuned to using virtual reality these days.
So if you think of the, let’s say HR value chain, if you want. Let’s start with the first step in the HR value chain, which is something like employer branding. Companies want to present themselves in a positive way, want to tell the world that they exist and want to tell their story. This can be, is a great use case for virtual reality. We are serving a multinational consumer good company who is using our platform and they have created what they call an innovation story, meaning they tell their story, and it’s a company that’s more than a hundred years old, they tell their story in a super cool virtual reality experience.
They promote this all over their webpage. They promote this in this dedicated app, they promote this in situations where they’re recruiting people. So that’s a typical employer branding application. If we move over to recruiting, we have quite a few companies. Think of airports, without mentioning which airport exactly, but think of an airport. There are numerous jobs, different jobs at an airport. And we have a big German airport as one of our clients who has created a VR experience where you can experience the actual jobs that you can do at an airport all the way from ground service to the, how do you say in English, airplane guides. The guys in the tower.
Air traffic controllers.
Exactly. So the whole range of jobs that an airport offers and they’re really touring the country with this VR experience to demonstrate young people what job range and what opportunity you have working at an airport.
I see, really, sorry to interrupt, Rolf. I see it as a wonderful, I mean, again, there’s multiple uses, right. But as a wonderful way, especially those that are in university, to understand, you know how it is, when you’re in university. You have a PhD, you spent some time at university.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
You don’t know what happens in an advertising agency or a consulting firm or like you said, with [inaudible 00:11:36], you don’t know. Literally have no idea what goes on at a job. It just seems like a great way to learn those things.
And that’s exactly the point in using the virtual reality technology. Look, I can go ahead and tell you two hours about the different job.
You can do it on the airport and talk and talk and talk. I can even show you, send you a PDF. I can show you some pictures, but that will never be able to convey what it’s actually like. And the strength and the unique power of the virtual reality technology, and that’s what people need to understand, it’s not related to specific use case, that’s a general power of this technology, is to replicate real life situations, obviously in a virtual setting but at the same time your brain has, feels like it’s experiencing that very real situation. So if a job applicant or someone you want to have or come as a job applicant is looking at all of these jobs at this airport, he or she will have a much better understanding of what this job actually feels like compared to just telling him about the duties and the tasks and the opportunities in the specific job.
So virtual reality is really all about creating an almost real life experience, but with all the benefits of you don’t have to be physically there. You can do this in a time and location independent situation. You can replicate a situation all over. You don’t have security situation, you have downtimes with machines and all of that. That’s the nice thing about this technology.
It helps on the talent acquisition side, on the, let’s say recruiting side, it does everything that you said, because you’re trying to get to fit ultimately. That’s what recruiting is trying to, the employer and the employee or candidate trying to figure out where do I fit, how do I fit, et cetera. But also there’s another use case internally for internal mobility. You might be at that airport, let’s say, and you’re an air traffic controller. You don’t know what’s next. What other jobs, what’s transferable, what skills that you could do, what else is available. So there’s another use case of internal mobility.
Absolutely. And that’s probably the biggest use case in VR, by far right now, which is everything related to internal training, let’s put it this way. It’s onboarding, it’s training, it’s safety trainings. Everything related to educating your workforce. We have a big automotive client. Multinational brand, obviously, and their vision, which emerged in the Corona experience where they have to, where the trainees were at home for pretty much a year, you can say. So that trainees were out of the training. They couldn’t continue training their trainees. So though they have a real problem now because they have to bring trainees back on speed. And it’s an institutionalized program, normally, the training programs, so they almost lost a year and all of these situations, we all experienced.
And as a result of that, they decided in order to mitigate for this risk in the future and also to cope with potential travel bans and whatever’s still there, we need to virtualize basically all of our physical training. So they’ve decided to partner with us and we’ve just, half year ago, we have started to virtualize all of their training. So the current trainees are now creating virtual training courses. And that’s very important the current trainees do this. So it’s not us, as an agency, is not some external party because then there wouldn’t be a positive use case, a positive financial case on applying this technology. But the actual car trainees start creating a library of training courses for the future trainees.
I mean, obviously this is a project with a horizon of 3, 4, 5 years. But the vision of that project is to be at some point almost completely independent from physical meetings, from people being physically in a specific facility in order to continue their training tasks. And this is something companies, this company called, it is under the umbrella of what they call business continuity. So in situations where, for whatever reason, be it a pandemic, be it environment protection, be it whatever, you want to be in a situation where you still can continue doing your business, especially in the field of HR, without having to meet in real life.
Right. So a few things. Let’s unpack. One is on the safety side. So what I love about this, especially in VR, is, pun intended, it’s a safe environment.
So you can teach people, we know, without live ammunition, if you will. What’s great about it is safety is one of those things. It helps a lot of industries that you just want to always make sure to provide a safe environment for your workers. So I love that because it’s just a great way to constantly be training and reiterating the safe way or the correct way of doing things. So I love that.
Here’s just a very short, funny story about one of our first clients, was an energy supplier which is serving energy networks in multiple European countries. And the training director once told me the first mistake in training is your last mistake because they’re working with high voltage, obviously. So they were really the first to start applying VR in an institutionalized way for exactly the reason you were just mentioning because it’s, and you can replicate and you can create routines and the heads of the trainees before they actually work with high voltage situation.
Right. And again, what’s great about that is it helps them gain confidence. So employees that maybe have not been on a shop floor or they’ve not been in that environment and they have some skills but they, again, you don’t know what you don’t know. So this is just a wonderful way to give them a safe environment to try, learn. Again, even when you make a mistake, nobody was injured. You made a mistake in VR and it can be corrected. And so there’s a great learn there.
You could almost go as far as saying training in VR is combining the good things about training in reality, which is your brain understands it’s something you’re actually doing with the minimized risk and the full concentration people have on the situation.
I love that. So Rolf, you’ve been steeped in this for a long time and you’ve seen the industry grow and obviously you’ve seen adoption and usage and consumption increase as well. What do you say to folks, I mean, you’re obviously selling into businesses now, B2B. What do you say to businesses that either don’t get it or can’t quite see the vision that you see? How do you move folks that are just not quite there intellectually or emotionally? How do you move them over to understand the benefits of VR?
The honest answer, I don’t try to move them over there. The market is just exploding and Corona has fueled that understanding of what technology like virtual reality is good for tremendously. So it has pushed the whole industry. You also see this in activities from the big players of Facebook Oculus and TikTok buying Pico and all of that. So there’s a huge explosion and activities in that market. And luckily enough, we have so many organizations who are asking us to support them in their VR strategy that as a matter of fact, we don’t have to do that much convincing of people. I know that there are people out there who still believe that virtual reality is some kind of over-hype thing in its…
Yeah. Flying cars. Yep.
Absolutely. That’s totally fine. You know, everyone can have his own opinion about new technologies, but I know from our daily work that we’re basically talking to the largest organizations globally about virtual reality rollouts in dimensions that you will have not dreamed off two, three years ago. So this consumer goods company, it’s a multinational company with 200,000 employees. They’re looking into rolling out virtual reality next year into 40 countries with a population of 20,000 to 40,000 VR headsets. So this thing is becoming real, be there one or two other companies who don’t believe in that, that’s totally fine.
Yeah, I think that’s the best…
I guess it’s going to become a competitive advantage for those companies who start applying this.
Well, and it’s also, again, convincing someone that, you’re pushing a boulder up hill and there’s no need for that. If they can’t walk through the six or eight very clear use cases and it doesn’t make sense for their organization, great. At one point maybe it does.
But the interesting thing you touch with that question is this technology is so disruptive, so innovative for a lot of organizations that you rarely find people who really can understand the technology already. So at a lot of these enterprises, we have to start very, very early in the process, consult a lot.
Do a lot of work, onboard them on the technology. And we have to start with little, single team members and then grow the small team…
… And then growth of the organization, because you don’t have any prior experience with this technology.
Well, that’s true of any new technology. You’re going to start small and grow. I love that. We’ve talked on the recruiting and internal mobility and training. I wanted to get your take on collaboration and how collaboration can happen or should happen or some of the examples of collaboration in VR.
If you look at the market right now, collaboration seems to be the more, let’s put it this way, seems to attract more mark players. You can see that with Facebook Horizon being extended into a collaboration tool for VR, the Horizon Workplaces. Then you see Microsoft with Altspace. The Altspace investments often reflect the collaboration thing, at least that’s what it looks to me, is like the ultimate battle ground for the big tech players when it comes to the B2B space. And that’s probably because it has the potential to revolutionize the whole way we interact, just being a digital avatar, meeting in a virtual space and doing whatever business or social interaction you want to do.
But it’s technologically still a tricky thing. So the avatar isn’t the connections that you need for a live, for real time interaction. It’s a matter of our networks. Even talking about it, the technologically advanced countries in Europe, we have a large share of households who is not connected to a network that would allow for a real time collaboration in VR. So there’s a whole lot of investments and technological advancements still to be done. That’s also why we currently focus on not-live content.
So content that you can reproduce, that you can keep available on the cloud and then you can consume this in any kind of situations. So it doesn’t have to be live. It doesn’t have to be in a collaboration setup. And we see an enormous range of use cases for, let’s say non-live, non real time collaborative content, but certainly at some point in time when the whole technology, also the technology infrastructure behind that has advanced more where these two things will emerge and you will have pre-recorded setups combined with a real time instructors in the content or something like that.
So I’ve used Altspace for a virtual reality HR conference last year. It was fantastic. First experience with it. Of course, my kids have taken it over and I haven’t seen my Oculus Quest in a month or so, but I’m sure it’s being used to…
And I can relate to that with my kids.
As we roll out, there’s a couple things I want to talk about, is when folks first see it. So I can remember my first experience. I can take you through it, it was actually quite funny. When you demo or when you show people, obviously, what can be done, the possibilities, how other companies are using and et cetera, what’s that light bulb moment or that a-ha moment when they’re like, oh, okay, I can see how this would be really helpful for us?
Well, there are a couple of moments in that. The first thing is when it comes to consuming virtual reality, my experience is that if people in a B2B setup, in a professional setup are given virtual reality as a new technology for their work, they just start using it. So, as opposed to this showcase thing on an exhibition where people are like, huh, what’s this, let me try. You have this mindset of, can this be cool, is this cool? In the B2B side, if you tell the trainees at this automotive company, we’ve got to start using VR now, they’ll be like, okay, fine, we’ll start using VR in our training. And you have absolutely no problems with doing so, all the discussions about can they use it well, how will they react, is it fine for them to spend five or 10 or 30 minutes?
We haven’t had a single problem with the trainees when we started to apply them in large scale. So that is the first moment where people understand this technology is now at the point where you can absolutely use this in a professional setup. The second situation when it comes to, especially, using our platform is when they see how easy it is to create content. So that it’s possible if you want. If you had a little bit of training and understanding, you can create a VR project in probably 10 or 15 minutes. You just take your pictures, create it, put it out there and it’s instantly available. So, that’s the second one.
And then you have both light bulb moments combined. Creation has become so easy that you can create something worth showing in a matter of minutes. And using VR headset has become so common and understood that there’s no obstacle anymore. And that’s the two things that you need, the creation part and the distribution part, if you want, which brings the technology to a point where enterprises are like, okay, we can start using that in a regular setup.
I love this. Boy, time flew, Rolf. I absolutely appreciate your time. Also appreciate you coming on and explaining things for us and our audience on the Use Case Podcast.
Thank you very much for having me.
Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.