Augmented Reality ticks all the boxes of a technology that could have a truly transformational impact on field service delivery and offers a viable solution to many of the challenges of an ageing workforce. However, 2017 research by Field Service News revealed that adoption of AR is still lower than expected – so just what is holding everybody back?
It is long been a widely held belief here at Field Service News that Augmented Reality (AR) will one day play a hugely important role in field service delivery.
But how will that belief begin to materialize and perhaps, more importantly, why has it failed to do so in a significant manner as yet? Yes, there are a growing number of case studies of organizations who have implemented an AR solution but they still seem to be the exception rather than the rule and mass adoption of AR still seems a long way off – but why?
Is it a case that we are pushing at an open door and as we saw with Cloud adoption? Is it just a case of waiting for the rest of the sector to catch up?
Scott Montgomerie, CEO, Scope AR certainly seems to think so.
The potential for AR in field service is tremendous and as the technology continues to prove its worth within organisations who were early to adopt it, AR will only become more pervasive
“The technology is uniquely positioned to close the growing skills gap in the field service industry by delivering on-demand knowledge transfer and empowering workers to become experts at any given task with little to no training.”
“The efficiencies this creates in terms of a) ensuring a procedure is completed accurately every time by delivering best practices and verifying completed work, b) time savings gained with regard to reduced mean time to resolution and equipment downtime and, c) improved customer satisfaction, will soon propel AR into becoming a table-stakes technology that field service companies can’t afford to go without if they want to remain competitive.”
Evans Manolis, Senior Consultant at another of the pioneers of AR in Field Service, Help Lightning, also thinks that AR has huge potential in our sector.
“The potential is unlimited,” he asserts. “We are only now beginning to scratch the surface of the positive impact that Augmented Reality will have on the field service marketplace and the future of service delivery.”
When used correctly, AR can positively impact several Key Performance Indicators that most field service organizations measure.
So given this potential, just what is holding companies back from getting on-board the AR train? What exactly are the objections and hurdles (perceived or real) which are holding field service companies back from adopting AR?
“The biggest objection to AR adoption is actually a misconception,” comments Montgomerie.
“Fancy videos and energetic Innovation Teams want to show the future of AR in industry, which often jumps past the practical applications that can scale saving time and money today.”
“The future of AR will include everyone having AR wearables, which are still limited in availability and costly today. While practical applications of AR can be deployed in scale to support field teams on wearables where available, AR solutions can also support handhelds like smartphones and tablets for everyone else. Combine this with the fact that wearables will become readily available and increasingly affordable in the coming months, and AR is something for now, not just in the future.”
However, cost is also a consideration that is holding some companies back as Montgomorie explains.
The cost of hardware remains a barrier to entry for many organizations. Equipping an entire remote workforce or team of field service technicians with a wearable device requires a sizable capital expenditure, one that most enterprise companies don’t have.
This is set to change rapidly though as an increase in demand drives competition up and costs down.
“The cost of even the most sophisticated AR devices on the market, such as the HoloLens, are becoming more affordable,” adds Montgomorie.
“That, coupled with big investments from the likes of Apple and Google to deliver platforms enabling AR to be accessed on nearly any smart device, are quickly reducing the hardware-related hurdles holding many companies back.”
For Manolis the question is more about a reluctance to adapt radically new service strategies more than the additional costs.
“A few years ago, the major objections centered on the technology. AR looked really cool and was cutting edge, but did it work?” He asks.
“Fast forward a few years and now few question whether AR works from a product standpoint. But the reality is that the use of AR is not a technology play.”
“The technology works. The successful deployment of a service strategy rooted in AR is really about service transformation, not technology.”
“It’s about effectively changing the way organizations deliver service. It is about breaking down walls of resistance within service teams and about driving successful buy-in from the service teams tasked with using the technology. It’s about the entire company and not just the service department. It’s about effectively communicating early successes and focusing on what is in it for the service team. Most service leaders we speak with see this (change management) as a hurdle,” he continues.
“At Help Lightning we realized these challenges and have started a Coaching and Consulting Practice, to help our customers successfully use AR to transform their service organization and that has been the game changer for our customers.”
Manolis’ point about the importance of understanding the sheer magnitude of impact AR will have on how an organization approaches service delivery is a hugely salient one and it leads us to consider how AR will fit into the ecosystem of technologies that field service organizations include within their workflows.
Could it be that ultimately AR will become an integrated element of the Field Service Management solution as mobile did previously?
Montgomerie certainly believes so.
“AR will inevitably become part of the tools that field technicians and remote workers use daily in order to do their job. AR is the next evolution in user interfaces and is revolutionizing the way we see and interact with data and information.”
“By allowing users to intuitively follow instructions or easily act upon insights by putting content when and where the worker needs it most – directly overlaid onto the real world – AR is delivering the on-demand knowledge transfer employees need to conduct complex tasks.”
“As the market matures, we expect to see fewer evaluations of how AR alone can drive value, but instead, the mindset will shift toward how it, integrated with other support tools, can impact a company’s bottom line collectively.”
Manolis also thinks that this will, without question be the case.
“Service delivery is changing rapidly. If you are delivering service today the same way you were 5 years ago, you are in trouble. And if you continue to deliver service that very same way, you will be extinct in another 5 years. Integration is a key element in the successful deployment of AR,” he states.
“Integrating AR technologies into service management software solutions like ServiceMax and SalesForce, is critically important,” he adds.
Of course, one additional theory as to why AR hasn’t yet set the world on fire is that in the minds of many field service executives it is intrinsically linked with the development of smartglasses – which themselves are struggling to overcome the stigma left by the widespread disappointment of Google Glass.
Is the widespread adoption of AR essentially actually tied to the adoption of smart glasses in reality?
Montgomorie doesn’t think this is necessarily the case.
“While smart glasses deliver the ideal hands-free experience to allow remote workers to more easily and efficiently repair or assemble a piece equipment, AR is successfully being deployed (and showing ROI) through the use of smartphones and tablets today. Considering that AR glasses are very limited in availability at this point, it is critical that adoption also includes handhelds so that an organization can support all employees today until glasses become more common,” he explains.
“With advances in hardware, we are expecting several new smart glasses to come to market in the next year or two, bringing down the price and solving many of the issues with the current crop of smart glasses, including field of view, battery life, durability and user experience.”
“It may be a few years after that, but within 3-5 years we expect many field service technicians to be equipped with smart glasses.”
Manolis also sees the future of AR not being dependent on smartglasses in the short term although he does see that changing in the future.
“The important word in the question is “essentially” and my answer to that is no,” he comments.
“We have many customers who have adopted and deployed our solution to their service organizations on a global basis and they’re not using Smart glass technology.”
“That being said, smart glasses will be the next wave of AR technology that we will see, but in my opinion, we are still 18-24 months away from that point. Today there are too many challenges to deploying smart glasses across large service organizations. They tend to overheat, battery life is short, field service techs tend to treat them roughly and they are prone to break, they are still expensive, and many service techs say they are hard to use. All of this will change as the technology improves over the next few years.”
With AR being such a quickly evolving market, FSOs should look for a technology solution that can be implemented today, but that is scalable enough to support devices or hardware platforms of the future,
“With AR being such a quickly evolving market, FSOs should look for a technology solution that can be implemented today, but that is scalable enough to support devices or hardware platforms of the future,” urges Montgomorie.
“In addition, it is important for FSO’s to identify a specific challenge with the vendor and ensure that this challenge can be solved. Just as important, FSOs need to remember that it does not need to be every challenge,” he adds.
“The first question a field service company should ask themselves is what is driving their interest in AR and what do they hope to accomplish through the use of AR? Once those answers have been given they should look for a company that fits their goals and objectives,” Manolis asserts.
“Then they should look at the product roadmap the company has laid out. They should be sure that the AR vendor they choose has a product that is easy to use. Frictionless and effortless for both internal and external customers. Finally, they should ask about what the AR provider can offer to help them through the process of service transformation and adaption of the AR solution.”
Be social and share