We Used Virtual Reality as a Training Tool. Here's What We Learned. New technologies may provide a chance to rethink your business and improve it in ways not yet imagined.

By Keith Daly

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To business owners, "creative destruction" is more than an ivory tower economic concept. It's a daily reality. Think of the well-established and long-standing taxicab business. If a smartphone app requiring comparatively little in capital investment can send that industry into disarray, then few businesses are safe from change.

Related: Is 'Ready Player One' Showing Us Our Virtual Reality Future?

In fact, in this age of proliferating technology, industry-disrupting change has become almost normal. Yet, these technologies present not only a threat but also an opportunity. Applying them to your company is likely to generate a positive impact on your bottom line.

New technologies can also provide you with a chance to rethink your business and improve it in ways you might not have imagined. Take virtual reality.

A number of companies have begun using the new technology as a tool for training employees. The MIT Technology Review recently reported that Walmart used VR to help workers prepare for Black Friday -- simulations simply can't convey what it's like to be in the midst of that shopping crush -- as well as teach more mundane lessons in customer service or how to stack produce.

Even surgeons and firefighters are acquiring new skills through the integration of VR devices. This is true as well at Farmers, where we now use VR technology to train our claims adjusters. In the past, we would build highly realistic sets at our main campus to teach adjusters how to estimate the costs of different types of damage. But, of course, we could never cover every possible situation.

Related: 12 Amazing Uses of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has helped with that problem. With VR, we are now able to simulate many novel scenarios, making our training more robust. VR also helps those new to the workforce pick up concepts more quickly, as it leverages a learning platform built upon technology they're already using in social and entertainment settings.

The development and implementation of a VR system can lead companies of any size to look at their procedures with fresh eyes. And its use can have unexpected effects that extend well beyond the training of new employees.

Here are three surprising impacts that may inform your efforts to optimize your business processes when integrating VR technology.

1. VR can encourage companies to review the basics.

Transferring your business practices to a VR platform can help you discover gaps in your curriculum that you might not have otherwise found. This can give you the opportunity to improve your training, adding value to the employee experience and strengthening customer service. For example, having to explain claims adjusting to VR consultants who had no knowledge of it required us to translate our training into the most basic terms -- and this helped us see some missing elements.

Related: Why Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Will be Important for Your Business

2. It can reveal opportunities for improvement.

In many companies, employee training is often shaped by a small group of in-house experts. But, the point of VR should be to offer a more robust training experience, and for that, you may need to do some process mapping. In our case, we had to bring in field experts to provide a full range of new scenarios to build into the curriculum. You may find that you need to incorporate outside expertise, diverse perspectives and the latest industry developments to your training. In turn, this enhanced understanding can boost your company's core competencies and add to your marketplace value.

3. It can also present new challenges.

VR can deliver efficiencies and improve the training process, but you may find that you lose something when you shift to a virtual environment. For example, when new adjusters from around the country used to come to our home office, they had the opportunity to absorb our corporate values and culture. Now, with training occurring virtually in our field offices, that assimilation process doesn't occur in the same way. You may need to be on the lookout for similar side effects and create, as we did, alternate ways to pass on your company's irreplaceable human-to-human lessons.

The financial and operational benefits of emerging technologies usually get shouted from the rooftops. But, we don't always hear about the secondary benefits that emerge when they enter specific businesses. A new technology like VR may provide you with unexpected opportunities to improve your business processes and make them more efficient. "This is the age of miracle and wonder," as Paul Simon put it, and more disruptive technologies will only continue to arrive. Better to make the most of them.

Keith Daly

Chief Claims Officer for Farmers Insurance

Keith Daly has served as chief claims officer for Farmers Insurance since January 2014. He joined the claims leadership team in early 2013 after serving as vice president of auto claims, East zone and then Pacific zone for the organization. Daly joined Farmers Insurance in 2009 when the organization acquired 21st Century Insurance. He had served as vice president of field claims operations at 21st Century since 2007.

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