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Building a business with innovation at its core

One exciting area of disruptive technology has the potential to completely transform the way we interact with the digital world

By Simon McNamara  

This article was produced in association with NatWest

As part of our half year results in July this year, NatWest announced the creation of our new Board Technology and Innovation Committee. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing and Biometrics are transforming company operations, service delivery and ultimately, the way society functions. We need to be ahead of these changes—anticipating them, understanding their potential, and building a business which has innovation right at its core.

One exciting area of disruptive technology has the potential to completely transform the way we interact with the digital world; that is Virtual and Augmented Reality. While different in their applications and the way in which they operate, both are the result of the broader trend toward sensory user interfaces (visual, gesture, voice) to interact between our environment and the online world.

Virtual reality typically refers to technologies that generate visuals, sounds and other physical sensations that replicate a real environment (or create an imaginary setting) and simulate a physical presence in this environment. A person using virtual reality equipment would typically be able to view the artificial world, move about in it and interact with features or items that are depicted on a screen or in head mounted display.

In contrast, augmented reality is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, GPS or other digital data; the technology enhances the user’s current perception of reality. Augmented reality combines the interactive real world with an interactive computer-generated world in such a way that they appear as one environment. As the user moves around a real object, the virtual (i.e. computer generated) one reacts as it is completely integrated with the real world. Information about the environment and its objects are overlaid on the real world, allowing the user to enhance what they see, without losing the connection to the world around them.

Traditionally, the way in which we, the user, have interacted with computers and the online world has been driven and managed through the equipment we use. The invention and utilisation of the keyboard has forced us to develop the skill to type, so that we might communicate our intentions via our PC, laptop or phone. Our use of apps on mobile phones and tablets means that we have learnt to touch a screen to direct our intention. Our entire online experience has been constructed in abstract and we have adapted our bodies and our way of communicating to fit the instrument and the platform we use. For many—especially in older generations—the difficulty in learning these behaviours prevents them from gaining full access to the online world and leads to a digital skills gap.

The development of new technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality create real opportunities to close this gap and have the potential to fundamentally change the way people interact with data, their environment—and with each another. Although to some degree artificial, the user will experience a reality that feels “richer” and crucially, more instinctive in how they complement our natural behaviours and mannerisms.

In future, it may feel completely normal to find the windscreen of our cars used as a Satnav; overlaying key information about directions and traffic flow, onto the view in front of us as we drive—we’ve probably told it where we want to go via voice command too. A trip around a historical monument or tourist attraction may include a “real life” recreation of an important battle or event at the site, which immerses the user and allows them to be part of the experience. You may even be able to try clothes on in a shop without actually having to get undressed.

These technologies may not yet be as mainstream as a mobile telephone—but the reality is that they are coming. Virtual reality and augmented reality in particular, have the potential to enable us to improve our understanding of the environment around us and to make better decisions by accessing immersive, rich, relevant, and insightful data in real time.

As we enter the Open banking era, available data will undoubtedly accelerate the possibilities for virtual and augmented reality—and change the way our customers want to interact and bank with us in the future. It is only one example of technology-led disruption—there are many others. By establishing our Technology and Innovation Committee at Board level, we are demonstrating our commitment to remaining completely focused and ahead of the curve as the possibilities for these new technologies grow.


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