How UK CIOs are using virtual reality and augmented reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality are attracting increasing investment from CIOs as the evidence grows of the technologies value as a tool for training, treatment, entertainment and communication.

CIO UKspoke to some of the UK's top IT business leaders to find out how they're using VR and AR

Read next: How CIOs are using AI and machine learning

Additional reporting from Christina Mercer.

Cancer Research UK CIO Tiffany Hall

Cancer Research UK CIO Tiffany Hall

Named CIO of the year in the Women in IT Awards 2018, Tiffany Hall was appointed into the newly created role at Cancer Research UK in 2017 and hit the ground running.

Hall was tasked with bringing together two different teams within IT, to create a cultural change, rather than a technical one.

Cancer Research UK has created a system that uses virtual reality to monitor and understand the behaviour of cancer genes.

"In one of the projects we're funding at the moment the scientists are using virtual reality to observe the behaviour of the cells in 3D," Hall told CIO UK. "That's enabling scientists in three different institutes in three different parts of the world to work together and it's opening all sorts of new ideas and insights, using virtual reality behaviours as a salve to new ideas about biological sciences."

Greenpeace UK Head of IT and CTO Andrew Hatton

Greenpeace UK Head of IT and CTO Andrew Hatton

Having great success implementing an organisation-wide CRM system for multiple departments to access company data, Greenpeace UK Head of IT and CTO Andrew Hatton enabled the creation of a VR content management system (CMS) at the firm.

The VR CMS acts as an "empathy engine" which aims to engage with people and highlight problems within the natural world and the ongoing threats against it.

Steinhoff UK CDIO Chily Fachler

Steinhoff UK CDIO Chily Fachler

Steinhoff UK Chief Digital and Information Officer Chily Fachler has trialled an AR application that allows customers in the retailer's stores to select a piece of furniture and move it around the room to see how it might look in different positions.

"In terms of trials, VR has been a big win for us with customers coming in and we can lay out what their room looks like," he said. "What we've done with this technology is really prove that we can help the customer make a decision."

Read next: Steinhoff UK CIO Chily Fachler interview - Board representation and customer experience innovation

Tata Steel IT Director Nick Reeks

Tata Steel IT Director Nick Reeks

Tata Steel IT Director Nick Reeks believes that AR will have a big impact on the manufacturing sector, and has already introduced a powerful application of the technology.

"Some of the teams have developed test applications which combine Microsoft's HoloLens and digital drawings so engineers and especially new apprentices can experience planning an engineering task in near reality, and have greater insight into both the practicalities of the task and any safety risks which would need to be taken into account," said Reeks.

Read next: Tata Steel Europe IT Director Nick Reeks Q&A - Digital transformation, IT skills and emerging technologies at steel manufacturer

Royal Opera House CTO Joe McFadden

Royal Opera House CTO Joe McFadden

Royal Opera House CTO Joe McFadden has used AR and VR to create a new immersive experience for fans of The Nutcracker

"From a virtual reality perspective, it is still very early days," McFadden told sector pulication Blueloop. "I think there are a number of questions around the ways in which these experiences can be consumed in a social setting, and the business model that will support them.

"We are also thinking of the length of experiences. The received wisdom is that VR installations should only be a certain length, around seven minutes. However, in common with some other performing arts organisations that are doing fantastic work in this area, we think that's maybe an artificial barrier. If the material and the content is sufficiently engaging we can do more on that front."

Read next: Royal Opera House CTO Joe McFadden on bringing immersive AR and VR technologies to the stage

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust CIO Dr Zafar Chaudry

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust CIO Dr Zafar Chaudry

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust CIO Dr Zafar Chaudry is exploring how VR could improve physiotherapy.

“Physiotherapists will help people exercise when their rehabbing patients," said Chaudry. "And then, when the patient goes home, the patient is supposed to repeat those exercises, and come back to the hospital, and show the physiotherapist that they've been doing those exercises. But the reality is you could actually do that in a virtual world, and measure that in a virtual world."

Read next:  Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust CIO Dr Zafar Chaudry explains 'paper-lite' strategy

AstraZeneca CIO David Smoley

AstraZeneca CIO David Smoley

AstraZeneca CIO David Smoley is using AR to assist the manufacturing process at the pharmaceutical giant and VR to train new staff in sterile working conditions and to enable scientists to view and design chemical compounds in a 3D world.

"The use of virtual reality is enabling us to streamline and simplify our training processes in operations, to speed up our delivery on the pipeline of drugs, and to ensure we deliver our business strategy," said Smoley.

Read next: Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust CIO Dr Zafar Chaudry explains 'paper-lite' strategy

AECOM CTO Steven Capper

AECOM CTO Steven Capper

AECOM CTO Steven Capper has rolled out virtual reality capabilities that allows clients of the engineering firm to see the finished construction of a building before a single brick has been laid.

"This allows us to immerse our clients in the design," he said. "For instance, we can give them a full walk-through of a stadium, allowing them to see the finished article before a single brick has been laid. It also gives them a real feel of what the sound will be like on match day with the roof open or closed."

University of Sussex Director of IT Services Jason Oliver

University of Sussex Director of IT Services Jason Oliver

University of Sussex Director of IT Services Jason Oliver was exploring AR applications in his previous role as Science Museum Director of ICT.

"I'm watching augmented reality very closely," he said. "The thought of having digitised these 320,000 objects and be able to walk into a blank space and actually create a gallery from our digital objects without actually having to pick them up, transport them to a location set up and build the gallery, to be able to do that digitally using AR technology could save us millions of pounds and also give us the chance to be really creative and to do things that are even more inspiring. That's really important to us."

Read next: Science Museum Director of ICT Jason Oliver on reinventing the IT department

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