Augmented reality (AR) is one of the most exciting and compelling technologies for service organizations because it is easy to visualize the problems it can solve — its value proposition is clear.
Take bridging the talent gap as an example, and you can immediately see how AR can help organizations train more quickly, efficiently, and support limited staff resources. Think about the value of remote resolution and how AR can be used either internally or with customers to reduce the need for truck rolls in many cases, or at least ensure better preparation for when technicians arrive on-site. It can also enhance knowledge management — the ability to capture the information exchanged in AR sessions and catalog that as shared knowledge is hugely valuable.
Resilience in the wake of crisis
AR has played a key role for service organizations during the pandemic. In field service, we’ve seen AR tech significantly reduce the need for on-site, in-person visits and to better enable remote repair and resolution. This has proved vital to ensure business continuity and to enable employees to keep working — and keep their jobs.
According to ABI Research, the total augmented reality market is estimated to surpass $100 billion by 2024, at an average CAGR of 75%. It found early adoption verticals, such as manufacturing, logistics, and energy showing impressive growth, but that newer verticals such as health care, media & entertainment, and retail, commerce and marketing growing even faster.
The lockdown and subsequent reliance on technologies, such as AR, has in fact triggered many leading service organizations to accelerate their digital transformation plans — and has changed the mindset of laggards that have turned to digital strategies as a means to survive. We've seen these organizations transition away from a doing-things-the-way-we've-always-done approach to embracing digital transformation and breaking down barriers that have long been in place.
Many service leaders are enjoying the operational benefits of AR, but in order to achieve ROI and reap the full rewards of the technology there are still hurdles to overcome. Here are four common challenges service organizations need to be aware of and prepare for as they implement AR:
- Change management for the change resistant — The emergence of any new tool or technology is often met with skepticism and hesitance by employees with set ways of working who are resistant to change. A tool such as AR has a particular buzz about it that can exacerbate these emotions for members of the older workforce, and this presents significant challenges in terms of getting these employees onboard with using the technology.
Overcoming this resistance comes down to three factors — implementing a proactive change management strategy, encouraging an open dialogue with these workers as they become familiar with the tool, and ensuring you have measures in place to hold your workers accountable for using AR.
In fact, once these workers are onboarded, the potential to take their vast knowledge to less experienced colleagues is a huge value-add from augmented reality. If a field technician is encountering an issue they have not met before, a one-to-many knowledge transfer from an experienced colleague back at base may be the difference between a first-time-fix or a second visit.
- Caution around connectivity — A recurring pain point for those who have adopted AR is maintaining a strong connection throughout AR sessions. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed by those providing AR technology.
Connectivity problems range from not being able to initiate sessions to sessions being interrupted, meaning it can quickly become a very frustrating experience for employees and indeed customers and plays some part in the adoption issues discussed above.
Service organizations should test and continue to test connectivity during trial and pilot periods to ensure that the solution works and meets their expectations. I cannot stress how important it is to get this done before integrating AR with their systems and potentially rolling it out at scale. Rolling out shouldn’t be part of the testing.
The good thing about AR and remote assistance is that thorough testing time can be recouped by speedy and quickly scaled rollouts. IFS customer and global leader in energy-efficient and sustainable air treatment solutions, Munters, was able to roll out remote assistance tech to 200 employees across multiple geographies in two weeks when COVID-19 first hit.
- AR solutions need an “always on” approach — Sometimes AR is used for very short troubleshooting chats between three to five minutes, but other users require the technology for longer periods such as support calls, which can last up to almost half an hour. It is however a common problem that those who need AR for longer durations find more lengthy sessions drain the battery life of their mobile devices.
This presents varying complications depending on how many opportunities a technician might have to charge their device throughout the day. Service organizations should test their requirements and make sure their AR providers have this covered when researching and considering to deploy AR tech.
The future looks bright for extending battery life, even much-maligned smart glasses have come a long way since Google Glass. Some of the new options on the market can now comfortably last for three to four hours in constant use, and mobile battery capability continues to advance at a rapid pace for industrial-grade hardware.
- Wearables on the horizon — It’s the wearables sector that remains the final frontier for AR support. Most service organizations are using smartphones or tablets for sessions, yet many are interested in or are considering moving to wearable devices.
Until recently, we’d often hear that while interest in wearables existed, pilots determined that for field service the hardware wasn’t quite ready. However, we seemed to have turned a corner and have begun to see the incorporation of smart glasses into the field. One such example is Munters, which has successfully added Vuzix technology into the mix for remote assistance. Most software providers realize that wearables are the next step for AR support, so watch for more developers making sure their technology can sync with helpful wearable devices, such as smart watches and glasses, going forward.
Understanding both sides of the coin is fundamental for AR success
The value AR provides is well-documented. It offers great benefits for a stretched workforce, who may not want to be out in the field day-to-day servicing equipment and can instead use AR in the back office to interact with newer technicians in the field and provide virtual, hands-on training and support. If you can also capture interactions in your augmented reality solution, service organizations can keep tribal knowledge on record and build a knowledge library for upcoming technicians, which is invaluable.
However, as with any emerging technology, it is essential to understand its advantages and potential disadvantages. It’s easy for organizations to get carried away with the benefits of tools, such as AR and devices, including wearables as well as bandying about terms like digital transformation to show they are progressive — even if there is little or no truth behind such statements. It is these organizations that make the mistake of losing sight of possible stumbling blocks and pay the price of a bumpy journey when deploying a tool such as AR.
The key for service organizations is to ensure they don’t fall into the trap of investing in AR tech without properly addressing infrastructure challenges. This way they will reap the full ROI potential of AR — rather than it being one of those good ideas that sits uselessly on the shelf.