Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) can be a lot of fun, and uniquely immersive fun at that. For proof, look no further than a few summers ago, when smartphone-staring crowds stormed city sidewalks in search of Pokémon. Or the myriad videos online of headset-outfitted virtual gamers so plugged into the computer-generated world that they flop, flail and fall down back in humble old reality.
As these technologies mature, though, we're seeing virtual reality use cases and implementations arise that promise something more than entertainment. In business, VR/AR could enhance services and improve collaboration in some fascinating ways and could be coming to an office, a store or even a hospital near you.
So, what does that mean for IT pros? The following factors are worth keeping an eye on to anticipate the tasks that might be coming your way and the skills you might want to have in the next wave of the VR/AR revolution.
1. Management Demands: Some Similar, Some Different
As VR and AR become more regular fixtures of office environments, the onus of ensuring the solutions and hardware they run on function properly will fall on the IT department.
In many ways, the demands of VR/AR won’t vary from IT's existing responsibilities. For instance, if visitors are using an AR-based app on a personal smartphone, the IT department will have to ensure secure wireless connectivity just like for any other device.
What could change, however, is the addition of new company-owned hardware, like VR headsets and AR-enabled glasses. There’s a range of potential variation in how these devices need to be set up and configured, so understanding how they function, what bugs they might have, what error messages they will display under what circumstances and how to fix them will all be important.
Some emerging use cases could also create unique additional tasks. One space where vendors are making inroads is with AR- and VR-based video conferencing and collaboration. If it catches on, the conference call of the future could involve people from around the globe meeting in a virtual environment, seeing their remote colleagues overlaid in the space around them alongside different active virtual tools they can manipulate in physical space. The IT pro of the future, then, would be responsible for maintaining a seamless experience through integrating the VR/AR with digital whiteboard hardware, voice assistant hardware or other wired devices that it works with – and making sure it all functions as one unified experience.
2. New Potential Cybersecurity Challenges
The internet of things (IoT) has already proven to be a difficult area for the cybersecurity world to tackle. While those smart thermostats, security cameras, door locks and other wired devices may have made managing tasks easier, they’ve also provided paths into enterprise networks for hackers. In an AR-enabled world, the wired glasses someone wears could act as a vector for a cyberattack.
Right now there are innovative pilot programs using AR glasses in health care. Using these devices to overlay visual 3-D maps of heart scarring onto patients during a procedure could literally save lives.
But given how frequently ransomware attacks have targeted health care in recent years, the addition of such devices ups the ante on an already serious cybersecurity risk. A caregiver bringing in a personal pair of AR glasses that roam and connect to an insecure network could compromise the device. In quite a frightening scenario, we can imagine a hacker locking the AR device mid-surgery and demanding a ransom.
Other potential cyberattacks in an AR- and VR-enabled world are almost as scary. For instance, AR-enabled smart mirrors are growing in popularity among retailers, allowing visitors to virtually try on different overlays of clothing before actually putting them on. If such mirrors are connected to networks that become compromised, their cameras pointed at customers, it's not hard to imagine what privacy concerns could arise.
Even AR smartphone apps used that leverage location data can be used for nefarious purposes if compromised. And if a VR experience involves discussing or recording sensitive information, that, too, could be stolen in a cyberattack.
So, just as the IT department needs to know the mechanics and motivations of cyberattacks against more traditional devices, they'll need to understand how and why AR- and VR-related devices could be targeted and how to defend against those threats.
3. The Skills You Need for VR/AR
CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ lay the foundation of skills needed for managing and securing infrastructure. Having a solid understanding of Linux, validated by CompTIA Linux+ will set you up for success in DevOps and prepare you to work with VR/AR.
Download the exam objectives to see what’s covered by CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Linux+.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.