The seismic shifts in computing have been: the PC, the Internet and most recently mobile. Do we know what is next? Industry experts and the venture firms are betting that it will be virtual reality. According to a recent Wired Magazine article eight times the venture money was poured into virtual reality in 2014 compared to just one year earlier. Oculus Rift is leading the pack on the VC side but perhaps more notably big corporations are jumping on as well, investing millions (or billions?). One of these big corporations is Microsoft and their Project Hololens.
It is easy to dismiss virtual reality as just another gaming platform, or too far in the future to worry about, or a silly application with no professional purpose, or even as a technology that is not for us, until we get a sense of Project Hololens. Yes, there are games and silly fun things to play with. But there are professional applications as well. The most interesting part of Hololens is its ability to overlay virtual reality on your current reality. In other words you can work on a new-to-you home repair like fixing a light switch and an expert can join you, seeing what you see they guide you through the project.
In someways in our every day lives we already do this. Want to tie-dye a tshirt? There’s a YouTube video for that. Installing kitchen cabinets, YouTube it. Are you installing a new program on your computer and having trouble? Search Google and there will be a handful of videos and blogs to help. YouTube is great for fairly straight forward step-by-step project learning. What YouTube doesn’t do well is the problem solving kind of learning most of us professionals need.
Here are two member trends that associations are having a tough time answering but that virtual reality could help solve:
1. Low conference attendance
For most associations only a fraction of members go to the conference. Perhaps it’s 10 percent or 20% or even 30% still in any given year and over a decade only some of your members will attend your flagship event. They don’t attend because perhaps they don’t have enough money. Or they don’t have enough time. Or maybe they’re scared (yes scared, conferences are not for everyone.)
If most of the association’s value is imparted at the conference what do we do for the bulk of our members who don’t go? We know that webinars are a poor substitute. Group conference calls make it extremely difficult to communicate naturally. Video conference never lived up to the promise. But consider virtual reality. What if you could virtually attend a roundtable, sit next to your peers, talk and gesture to them just like you are there but you are not? No distractions. Natural conversation so a real connection is made. What if you could slide on the headset and be transported to the front row of the keynote presentation? What if you could mentor three mentees at a time? I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here but think of the possibilities!
2. Need for on-demand help
Culturally we all moving toward immediate gratification. Decades ago things took more time. We knew we had to wait for the mail for example. And then came the fax. Then email. I don’t have to slog out to the store and buy a computer program and spend an afternoon installing it all the while pleading with customer support. If I want a new program, or app, I just download it, sometimes with just a quick finger tap.
For associations this means members don’t want to sift through our inventory of 3,000 articles to find their answer. They no longer hope to serendipitously run into a peer at the conference who conquered the same problem. They are seeking answers now.
Image a time when swimming pool maintenance training could happen real-time, with trainees who are actually down in a customer’s pool? Think of what it would be like paging through a benchmarking report or online calculator with a member, together, talking about the implications for their company specifically. Imagine bringing everyone to an environment they may never see but have to speculate about (i.e. geologists to the surface of Mars). Do you offer industry-specific or profession-specific online services? Do you train members on an application by showing them how it specifically works for them and solves their unique problems?
IF virtual reality sees the light of day and becomes ubiquitous the way mobile is then imagine what that means for associations. Think of the opportunities! Meeting these gaps will take some fundamentally different skills, organization structure and revenue model. Perhaps we don’t have to wait for virtual reality, perhaps there are some things we can do now…..