At the Interactions conference earlier this month, we heard lots about the state of Interactive Intelligence's cloud business and milestones reached, as I shared in my post, "Interactive Intelligence: Cloud Bet Paying Off." But it wasn't all here and now. In a closing keynote, we also got a glimpse into what the company has in the works for tomorrow's contact center interactions: virtual reality (VR).
If you're thinking, "What in the heck is the use case for VR in the contact center?" you're most certainly not alone. I thought the same originally, but having heard from the folks at Interactive, can now see the potential.
As one example, Interactive CEO Don Brown suggested that a cruise line might use VR to take customers on a tour of a ship's deck, staterooms, and cabin options. Likewise, a college might offer virtual campus tours for prospective students, or a resort company to show hotel properties and amenities to prospective clients, said Ryan Curtis, a lead software engineer at Interactive.
I met with Curtis, who conceptualized the VR product, for a one-on-one demo and a discussion of the company's vision. He first shared how the VR project came to be. In late 2015, Brown told the Interactive team he thought VR was an interesting trend worth watching. After that conversation, Curtis said he immediately started thinking about how Interactive could get involved in VR, and began working on a product.
Out of the process came a VR contact center solution unofficially known as VR Tours, a microservice to be offered on top of the PureCloud Platform. To reduce the barrier to business uptake due to cost and access challenges, Curtis developed the solution for use with Google Cardboard and its offshoots. Google Cardboard and products like it give people an affordable way to experience VR.
Costing around $10, the cardboard and glass product works with nearly any smartphone. By leveraging this inexpensive option, businesses could potentially send cardboard VR glasses to customers who, for example, would then scan a QR code in a magazine ad to be taken to the VR application. In this way, customers would have an easy way to have a more immersive experience with the business contact center, going on tours or seeing product demos in a new way.
In the way that Interactive is using it, VR becomes an extension of video. Rather than taking a video tour, customers can take a VR tour. They can do this independently, or launch a live co-browsing session by pressing a "call agent" button. The agent could lead the customer through the virtual setting, drawing attention to certain details that might be pertinent or of interest./p>
On a technical level, Curtis and his team built VR Tours on the Unity 3D gaming platform and used WebRTC for the real-time calling, he said. As of today, VR Tours works with Android devices, but the team just needs to do a "little bit of work" to build it out for iOS, he added.
What Interactive has demoed thus far, with the integration of VR Tours in PureCloud Engage, "begins to show the agility and flexibility of the PureCloud Platform," regular No Jitter contributor Sheila McGee-Smith, analyst and founder of McGee-Smith Analytics, shared with me. "It reinforces the ease with which new elements or channels will be able to be added not just by Interactive, but by customers themselves using the available APIs."
Going forward, Interactive is playing around with the idea of VR meetings, which could provide a more immersive extension of a video conference for remote meeting participants, Curtis said. Wouldn't it be cool, he supposed, if he could build an app that lets meeting participants use iPads to draw on whiteboards inside of the VR application?
While this seems to be going a bit down the "Inception" rabbit hole to me, I can't help but think that we have only scratched the surface of VR and we might very well see the technology be put into use more and more moving forward.
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