2 October 2021

Virtual Reality for customers and colleagues

Interview with Michele Zilli who works on innovations within out IT team

Hi Michele, can you describe your role at TUI and which role VR plays in your job?
I am the Head of Technology Strategy in the Advanced Engineering team of TUI Sourcing and Assets. My role means that I dedicate part of my time working on innovation in business technology – on topics like Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Data Analytics and Virtual Reality. I am also a member of the Innovation Partner Forum, organized by the TUI Group Strategy Team to identify use cases for innovation across the company.

We met you in Hanover where you organized a Virtual Reality Road Show. What are you showing in Hanover?
Virtual and Augmented reality are generally known for their consumers' applications, like gaming, but most VR/AR market revenues come from business applications. In our VR Roadshow, we let people experience how they can use Virtual Reality to collaborate with colleagues using shared spaces and avatars like they were in the same room, even if they are hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from each other. The sense of closeness you can reach in virtual reality is something you need to experience in person; it's impossible to explain it with words or videos, and that's why such a roadshow is the most appropriate way of showing it. The Hanover roadshow was our first event. We will collect feedback from participants to improve the format and organise the following events and stops. We want to visit other TUI offices in the Northern, Central and Western Region, but we do not have yet the dates planned.

Where do you see a role for VR technology at TUI?
Oh well, it's challenging to answer since there are many possibilities, and it also depends on the timeframe we consider. At this moment, we can use Virtual and Augmented reality (Immersive Technologies) for internal use cases like team collaboration or training; technology is good enough and at the right price point to allow for significant adoption. And we see every month news about companies adopting VR for these purposes. Also, in the consumers space, we may see early adoption of AR use cases using phones and tablets, like helping customers with indoor and outdoor navigation at the destination. As technology evolves in the following years, and the form factor and price point of VR/AR glasses will improve, we will see more complex VR and AR customers use cases emerging. Imagine visiting a resort or a destination before travelling, having fun in a VR escape room on a cruise ship or experiencing a museum tour with your friends during your lunch break.

How do you make sure that the things you are working on are closely connected to business needs?
In general, we answer business questions or solve business problems in close collaboration with our commercial and markets counterparts. The problem is that, sometimes, we are so deeply involved in our day to day activities that we may miss opportunities that are just outside our field of view. Working on innovation topics and with Start-up Incubators allows us to tap into a stream of creative solutions. Our job then is to map these solutions to our colleagues' expressed requirements, and it's a top-down approach.

And that is what you did with VR?
During the pandemic, we shifted from work at the office to the home office, and this change will persist, and most of us like it. At the same time, we miss our colleagues, meeting in person, brainstorming using a whiteboard and sticky notes. This need is profoundly human, but often it is not expressed as a business requirement. So a bottom-up approach is required; we start from a potential solution, and then we collect as much data as possible with our colleagues to understand if there is real value in it and the positive and negative outcomes of it.

VR is a rather new technology. How do you make sure to be at the forefront of developments?
Virtual Reality was born in the '60s, so it is not inherently new. What happened is that now we are experiencing the convergence of technologies that enables the construction of consumer-grade VR appliances at a reasonable price point with a good enough form factor. It is becoming hard at times because the Immersive Technologies market is booming, and new things are happening every week, but we are passionate technologists, and this vitality makes our job interesting. As for other topics, we closely follow the market, the published research and our peers in the industry.

Thank you!