How this IT organization turned AR/VR enthusiasm into reality

A trip to Hollywood inspired the adoption of augmented and virtual realities at Rosendin Electric
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In the world of IT, some technologies resonate instantly while others are a tougher sell. 

Video conferencing, for example, was one of the easy ones. While not very sexy, executives loved it because it reduced travel. On the other hand, it was more difficult to deploy drones for visual inspections. People were really excited about it conceptually, but adoption was difficult because injecting drone technology into their daily work didn’t come naturally.

Our most recent work in augmented reality and virtual reality, though, is an example of both — technologies with instant adoption and powerful use cases that also got people really excited.

Rosendin’s foray into virtual reality and augmented reality

Two years ago, our Building Information Management (BIM) Director and I were invited to Hollywood to see how the movie industry was using augmented reality and virtual reality. That visit was eye-opening, and we knew they could be game changers here at Rosendin.

[ Read more from Sam Lamonica: Advice on evaluating drones and emerging tech ]

When we returned, we pitched a few use cases at our annual managers meeting and began building out the technology. While we’re in the early stages of our VR application, we’re developing a pilot to train our electricians in power rooms so they can safely learn how to wire in live environments. 

We’re also piloting a combination platform that uses VR headsets with motion platforms to train our employees to drive forklifts, scissor lifts, and Zoom Booms on construction sites. Each program has a number of variations so users can progress from a scenario in which you’re maneuvering the machinery on a manageable, flat floor to a construction site with oil spills. In that oil spill example, the motion platform moves to make you feel like you’re fishtailing so new hires can learn to compensate safely.

While these technologies have been paramount to maintaining a high standard of construction, the real value we derive is in maintaining a safe work environment.

We’ve also begun deploying augmented reality with devices like AR headsets, iPads, and even mobile devices. Our mobile devices, for example, superimpose 3D models over a blank room to give employees a view of what could be behind a wall. Employees can also view the conduits that are being pulled up from the floor before the concrete is run to ensure everything is in the right place. 

AR headsets are distributed to our foremen who use it to overlay a 3D model in an empty room to get an idea of where the conduit and racks will be run and where pipes will stub up, for example. This gives them perspective early on so they can start the detailing.

While these technologies have been paramount to maintaining a high standard of construction, the real value we derive is in maintaining a safe work environment. We want every employee to come home to their family after every workday, and we work to ensure that everyone is rigorously qualified.

Hiring for new technologies

Most of our augmented reality technologies are developed internally, which means we need to hire top gaming talent. Sometimes this is a challenge in the construction industry. To be more appealing to potential talent, we emphasize that most of our design and development is in 3D now, which is a draw for gamers. It also helps that these jobs pay very well and are pretty interesting.

Ten years ago, my job was to keep the business’s networks and systems running 24/7. My role as CIO and our greater IT organization have come such a long way since then. It’s been exciting to experiment with these cutting-edge technologies in ways that can really make a difference — ensuring our employee’s safety and maintaining high-quality construction — while keeping an eye to the future and as we continue to propel the business forward.

[ Why is adaptability the new leadership power skill? Read our new report from HBR Analytic Services: Transformation Masters: The New Rules of CIO Leadership. ]

Sam Lamonica is Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Rosendin Electric, the nation’s largest privately held electrical contractor. Rosendin Electric has over 4,000 office and field employees and yearly revenue of close to $1 Billion. He is responsible for the companies’ Information System Organization as well as Archives/Records Management. Prior to joining Rosendin Electric, Mr.

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