While the topic of augmented reality (AR) has made headlines for some time, Snapchat – or newly named, Snap Inc.’s - recent launch of its Spectacles is the latest product to give rise to mainstream speculation for the traditionally slow to adopt technology. The smart eyeglasses, capable only of recording video at this time, clearly represent forward movement in the eventual acceptance of AR eyewear. Add to this the widespread adoption (20 million users in the U.S.) of the AR-driven Pokémon Go mobile game phenomenon that invaded smartphones in July, and it’s clear that an appetite exists for “shiny and new.” Undoubtedly these consumer tech trends will swiftly be exploited to drive AR technology in the enterprise.
Why AR will take off in the enterprise
While smart-eyeglasses meant to facilitate video memories for a social network are seemingly a far cry from business critical enterprise-related activity, the technology driving it is not. In fact, the eyewear and Pokémon Go experiences represent a turning point in the world of AR and its potential. While it’s early to say how well the glasses will fare, the mobile game gained popularity because of its undeniable ‘cool’ factor, the key ingredient that makes it appealing for users. AR in the enterprise can have the same ‘cool’ factor and appeal—especially if implemented and introduced properly (including training and insight into benefits for users).
One area where AR in the enterprise proves beneficial is in the field service management (FSM) industry. Coincidentally, according to Aberdeen Group’s report titled, ‘Emerging Workforce in the Field: Tech-Savvy to Technician,’ approximately one-fifth of the FSM workforce is under 30, with the average age of a field service professional being 32 years old (for reference: the majority of Snapchat users are 18-34 while the predominant age group of Pokémon Go players are 25-34 years old). Of note, a previous concern within the FSM industry was its reputation for having an aging workforce. This trend toward younger, more tech-savvy professionals provides both an opportunity and a challenge for FSM companies as they seek ways to engage and attract this new generation of talent. Incorporating ‘cool’ technology into everyday work tools is a step in the right direction, but the age-old challenge that is resistance to new technology in the enterprise continues to proliferate —and organizations can’t ignore it.
Benefits of AR in the enterprise
While adoption of new technology, including AR, is never an easy task (just listen to the grumblings of dissatisfaction when Facebook makes changes), it’s even harder to encourage in the enterprise. To get employees to embrace change in operating procedures or technology, start by educating workers about how it will change their jobs for the better, and prove a return on investment for both the worker and the organization. Some benefits of AR to workers include industrial maintenance (allowing field workers to access instructions and information easily), facilitating communication from a job site (i.e. increased information flow) and of course, the benefit of having a ‘cool’ new work tool that enriches their day to day work. Field service professionals wearing an AR headset or glasses, for example, could be dispatched to a job where they could see the instructions or information about the repair directly overlaid on the screen (more on that to follow). No field service professional at any age, or stage in their career, can deny this cool factor.
For companies implementing FSM, complete visibility into all the benefits of AR is still a bit fuzzy, as the technology is still in its infancy. What is clear is that AR achieves high-level business goals by maximizing field force productivity and eliminating costly second trips to sites, thereby impacting revenue directly and immediately. AR’s inherent capability of content overlaying the real world results in the ability to not just visualize, but actually see not-yet-existing environments that could exist in that space. It also improves two key metrics that are important to all field service managers: time fix rates and average repair time.
The adoption of AR in the enterprise depends on the perceived value and benefits it will provide, as well as the process for overcoming roadblocks during implementation. According to IDC vice president, Tom Mainelli, a common thread for rolling out an AR strategy is emerging: start with widely-used smartphone and tablet devices and build from there, adding headset technology when it is ready for the mainstream. “Companies should start out with smartphones and graduate,” Mainelli said.
AR and FSM: A match made in heaven
Every field service professional works both with their hands and their heads. This workforce attribute makes a good first entry point for AR as it provides a “hands-free” experience for technicians, who need their hands to perform tasks in the field. The technology offers a way to put data sheets and instructions needed to complete the work directly in their field of vision while keeping their hands free to complete the job.
Consider also the field service professional tasked with repairing a medical imaging machine. While the technician is highly skilled, sometimes the repair work is so sophisticated, it exceeds the technician’s depth of expertise. AR allows the more experienced engineers to remain at headquarters, supervising and troubleshooting more difficult issues for those less skilled workers in the field. Using technology - perhaps a real-time video on a mobile device - the expert can provide remote, guided repair quickly without travel time or fuel costs. Add to that the ability for the expert to add graphics and text to the screen of the field worker, literally showing the technician how to proceed with accuracy, achieving the benefit of solving the problem in one service visit instead of two. In fact, thanks to companies like Fieldbit that enable a hands-free, real-time AR visual collaboration solution via smart glasses, this is very much already being implemented.
ABI Research credits the enterprise for fueling the expected explosion of AR, predicting that 21 million units of AR smart glasses will be shipped in 2020, with sales expected to reach $100 billion. Expectations for the technology are high, and these statistics indicate that AR has not yet hit its stride. The prediction that it will continue to invade the enterprise does align with the fact that business goals become increasingly lofty all the time, and AR offers a competitive advantage for organizations leveraging the technology.
Augmented reality is maturing every day, and as it makes its way into the mainstream, enterprises have a powerful opportunity to incorporate it into business practices and impact bottom line outcomes. Combine these benefits with the ‘cool factor’ inherent to the technology, and the positive impact will extend beyond the bottom line to the organization's’ most valuable asset: its employees.
About the Author
Gilad has been at ClickSoftware since February of 2012, having joined as the Product Line Director. In July of 2016, Gilad rose to fill the VP of enterprise products role. With more than 20 years of experience in product management, product marketing and business development, Gilad's area of expertise lies in opening up new markets and overseeing the development of new products. He is located in the Petah Tikva area in Israel.
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