Imagine how early corporate adopters of digital technology felt when their bet — that these technologies had the potential to revolutionize products, services, and even entire industries — paid off. Business decisions predicated on emerging technologies that were controversial ten or twenty years ago are accepted as standard practices now — smartphone connectivity, for instance. Now, another technological innovation is poised to move from a fringe fad to a necessary component of every business strategy: virtual reality.

Not just for video games, virtual reality is already disrupting industries from manufacturing to architecture to medicine, and billions of dollars have been invested in VR companies and technologies — much faster than many experts thought. A recent study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicts that VR technology could engage between 250 and 300 million users by the early 2020s.

Long heralded as a promising technological development of the early twenty-first century, VR turned the gaming world upside down in 2014, when Facebook spent a reported $2 billion on Oculus — one of the first manufacturers of commercial VR headsets — and Sony unveiled a VR headset for its PlayStation 4 console. And VR has spread swiftly to other industries: PwC’s most recent “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook” report predicts that so-called “enabling technologies,” like VR, will transform the way we experience television and movies, and they expect a combined annual growth rate of 69.2% for VR devices. That means an astounding 68 million VR headsets will be in use in the U.S. by 2021.

Can your business afford not to reach 68 million customers? Does it make sense to ignore a technology that’s predicted to be as ubiquitous as smartphones and the Internet? No. A smart VR strategy is essential if you want to be an innovation leader in your field — and there are two ways VR can change the game for any company, even if yours has no obvious connection to technology.

The first is training. Virtual reality is already being used to train soldiers and police officers, but its potential to revolutionize training goes even further. From construction sites to nuclear power plants, companies that place a high premium on worksite safety are exploring ways to use VR to reduce the risk of accidents and ensure that all workers know how to operate equipment. VR training has even found its way into retail: in June, Walmart gave the world a peek at its VR Academy, where employees can simulate a variety of situations — from cleaning up a mess in aisle five to preparing for holiday shopping crowds before the doors open.

Another VR application that applies to every business is customer service. Recently, global insurance giant MetLife implemented a VR system to help its policyholders better understand their policies, check the status of their claims, and quickly access experts in different financial service areas. While this particular application is still being tested, it won’t be long before other companies in every industry follow. And business leaders are taking notice: a recent Oracle survey revealed that 78% of European business leaders expect global brands to use virtual reality in customer service by 2020.

In other words, the time is now to start thinking about how VR can help your business. Consider the following question: how can VR technology be used to improve training and customer service in all areas of your organization? Identify problems and brainstorm ways VR technology can solve them. If your company has its own engineers and programmers, they’ll be important sources of input for what is or isn’t (or will be) possible — but involve employees from every department to participate in the conversation and share ideas.

But don’t take our word for it — take it from a company that knows a thing or two about innovation: IMAX. When IMAX brought large format images to movie houses in the 1970s, viewing experiences were profoundly disrupted and film was revolutionized (particularly science and nature documentaries and experimental pictures). In a new interview, the company’s CEO, Richard Gelfond, said that he views VR as essential to the future growth of the company — and they’re investing heavily in VR technology and venues, such as VR arcades.

"Rather than run away,” says Gelfond, “embrace change and figure out how you can use your brand and technology to capitalise on it." No matter your industry or the size of your company, VR has the potential to transform your business — and if you adopt VR technology early, you may just stake your claim as a leader in innovation for years to come.

If you are looking to build your own innovations around VR, or VR strategy, get in touch.