World Bank Innovates in a Virtual Space
The term “innovation” is often tossed around to mean anything from a new feature on a press, to re-inventing an entire category of print and communications. But World Bank Group’s GCS Printing & Interactive Media Services has taken innovation to another level — by taking it out of the physical realm altogether.
Part of World Bank’s Integrated Business Services unit, overseen by Manager María de los Angeles Ochoa, the in-plant has won many awards for the quality of its printing, but in recent years virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have provided it with the greatest opportunities for innovation. For the past six years, Printing & Interactive Media Services has embraced VR and AR to support the range of projects the World Bank Group is involved in — many based around helping and improving communities around the world. The in-plant, based in Landover, Md., provides services to 162 offices worldwide, coming up with unique concepts for projects that push the boundaries of technology, and then finding ways to execute those visions.
“For example,” says Jimmy Vainstein, senior program manager, “we have one project focused on irrigation, and we created a 360-degree photo experience. You can actually see the installation, how the people are affected, etc.”
It is one thing to just see photographs, he says, or even view the 360-degree experience on the dedicated webpages for each of these major undertakings; it is something else altogether when VR headsets are added to the equation, allowing everyone — from executives, to team members, to those passionate about helping out — to feel like they are actually there, regardless of where they are physically located.
“It is very immersive,” he affirms, “and allows them to have a deeper connection to the subjects, and create empathy with the situation. It is a very impactful experience.”
He notes that it isn’t just about walking around a site, either; in addition to using special cameras that capture a full 360-degree experience, the team also adds interactive elements, such as virtual pop-up boxes with more information about a segment or project, or even maps of the area that allow someone to jump easily to another location in the project.
Bringing People Together
The ability to connect all stakeholders to a project and get them emotionally involved isn’t the only way Vainstein’s team uses virtual reality. They also see it as a way to make it easier for team members to connect with one another, receive training, and network, without having to spend the time or money traveling.
That has been even more true in the age of COVID-19, which saw World Bank staff suddenly unable to travel and connect in person, even when they wanted to. In stepped Vainstein and his team with another idea: create a virtual version of World Bank’s headquarters.
“We re-created a few of the common areas of the building,” says Vainstein, “and created an experience for the staff to engage and have social interactions. We used the main atrium, and you can click on different things to engage with different platforms, and have social interaction.”
In fact, the in-plant team created avatars for the staff members to use, allowing them to have a visual representation as they walk around the virtual space, making it easier for them to connect with one another. The team is working on creating an entire virtual art exhibit that will allow World Bank staff and guests to walk around and interact with the various installations, creating yet another way for social interaction in a quarantined world.
Moving Ahead at Light Speed
Vainstein stresses that everything — all of the digital projects and virtual experiences — stems from print. It has all been on demand, he says, using third-party software platforms that his growing team of designers, developers, artists, and other staff members then expand on. Every project brings unique challenges they need to solve. No two projects are ever the same, and each one builds on the last to create something innovative.
“Not everything is available off the shelf, so we want to customize as much as we can,” Vainstein says. “It is all about creative people getting together, and finding the right skill set, which is something any in-plant can approach. There is a learning curve to interactive and immersive elements, but if you’re already doing design work, prepress, etc., and you’re connected to the mission of your organization, then you’re already a step ahead of any vendor who could come in and sell it to your company.”
In fact, Vainstein notes that while his team is producing complex experiences today, the initial projects were much simpler AR projects. AR, Vainstein notes, basically just creates a way for print to interact with the virtual world using features like QR codes that can be scanned to access the digital elements of a campaign.
“Printing was the center,” he says. “You could scan a book cover, for example, and then get the eBook, download more information, etc. Our first AR campaign was actually to promote a tour of the in-plant.”
His team created a printed piece to send out to stakeholders in the organization that, when scanned, provided tours of the facilities, as well as other information. It was a way to introduce managers and departments to the idea of interactive print and start them thinking about how it could help them in their own missions.
Over time, as departments brought projects to the in-plant, his team added more interactive elements, which in turn led to the more robust VR platforms the operation is building today.
But despite these types of projects moving to the digital realm, they are still part of the in-plant, and Vainstein doesn’t see that changing any time soon. Today, the World Bank’s in-plant still prints, he notes, millions of pages every year, with a few hundred — or even a few thousand — jobs active in any given month. While for the interactive projects, there might only be a total of 40-50 active at any given time, it takes much longer to develop the concept and then produce them. Because they focus more on impact than on volume, it’s hard to compare the two types of communication. They are, Vainstein notes, used for very different, although still very complementary, purposes.
“For in-plants, it’s about offering creative services and adding value,” Vainstein declares. “Printing is still relevant, and so the two will continue to be together. We are offering the same products to the same teams in the organization, so we might as well pair them as much as possible. It makes it easier — more of a one-stop approach.”
Where to Start?
So where should an in-plant looking to take its own plunge into innovation start? Vainstein believes the first step is to begin reading about the subject, as well as engaging in the communities that have been built up around VR and interactive technologies. There are associations dedicated to AR and VR, he notes, that are a good place to start when looking for resources to educate yourself on what is possible today.
From there, he says that looking for case studies is another great way to learn, to see how different companies can take various creative approaches using the same technologies. It helps to see how elements like AR and VR have been used by other organizations, and study the results they achieved.
Vainstein notes that getting team members excited about the possibilities is also a good place to start, but that even if the in-plant doesn’t have the skills in-house today, “you can still be good at project management.” He notes that finding partners offering digital elements and testing new ideas and solutions together can be a great way to introduce the concept to the organization without taking too many big risks in the beginning.
Also, don’t be intimidated by the technology, Vainstein cautions.
“One of the easiest approaches to start with are the 360-degree videos,” he says. “The cameras are available and very easy to use, and you can do tours, interactive showcases, etc.”
Transforming the in-plant from a print shop to a powerful creative services resource for the organization might be far easier — and less expensive — than you think.
Demonstrate the Possibilities
As far as promoting these services, Vainstein says the chances are good that many, if not most, of the stakeholders won’t know the technology themselves, and won’t necessarily have any ideas of how it can be used. It will be up to the in-plant to create presentations demonstrating the possibilities, create blog posts breaking down how things work, and even host virtual events for stakeholders to experience the technology for themselves. Lately, Vainstein notes, he has been delighted to see other departments writing up blog posts of their own about the technology and how they’re using it, which in turn leads others to come to his team wanting to learn more.
The power of these projects can’t be overstated, which in turn makes the in-plant that much more valuable to the parent organization. One of his team’s most ambitious projects to date, Vainstein notes, was a VR film shot in Niger, showcasing an area that was classified as fragile, surrounded by conflict and with no access to many services. The crew created the experience by talking to many of the young people and communities in the area, and he notes, it was “really emotional to see how they live.”
His team decided to show it at the World Bank annual meeting last year, which included many government officials who were given the opportunity to be virtually transported to the region and explore for themselves.
“We had 190 virtual reality headsets in the room, and had everyone wear them at the same time, all synced up together,” Vainstein says. “They were getting closer to these families, and it was very impactful.” It connected the executive team to the issues, and Vainstein notes that it got the meetings off on the right track, thinking about the good the organization does, and how to further those types of missions.
Another project he is proud of is what he calls ActiVaR, in Ecuador, which is in the final stages of a deployment that has now taken several years. The goal was to bring technology into the classrooms of that country, giving students access to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had. One example, says Vainstein, is the ability to have motors that students can learn on in a virtual environment, where mistakes have no real consequences, and every student can have their own to work on.
“There are no risks to their health, they can be in situations that are otherwise hard to replicate, and then they will have access to higher-level jobs and education,” he says. It is an incredible project, he notes, but one that has taken a lot of time: first the curriculum and systems to run it had to be developed; then it had to be sent to the locations; then it had to be started up and used to teach students.
Closer to home, another example of how the in-plant is putting innovation into practice is with training modules, Vainstein notes. The first, launched last year, was training on sexual orientation and gender identity, which placed employees in situations where they had to decide how to react and behave.
“That was incredible,” he notes. “You felt like you were in an office, and you could witness a situation related to staff inclusion, and that was really great.”
He notes that his team set the VR headsets up in the main building, and expected staff to spend perhaps two to three minutes on the 20-minute module, “but everyone surprised us by staying for the whole thing,” he says. “It was pretty incredible and is changing the way people access training that otherwise would just be a PowerPoint.” The next module, he says, was just completed and will be launched soon, this time focusing on accessibility and being respectful of people with disabilities.
World Bank’s in-plant has truly embraced the idea of innovation. Vainstein and his team continue to embody the true spirit of innovation, looking for new ways to use technology, and exploring how new technologies can change the services the in-plant offers. Innovation isn’t just a buzzword, or a trend — it is a philosophy that has made this in-plant a perfect example of how to stay relevant well into the future.
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