The New (Augmented) Reality Facing Service Providers

Dec 18 • Features, Future of FIeld Service • 2265 Views • No Comments on The New (Augmented) Reality Facing Service Providers

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Michael Blumberg, President Blumberg Advisory Group gives us some insight into his recent conversations at Field Service Fall in Florida last month, where Augmented Reality was once again one of the hot topics of the conference…

I recently attended WBR’s Field Service Fall 2017 conference in Amelia Island, Florida where there was a lot of buzz among participants about Augmented Reality and Virtual Telepresence. Many industry experts, observers, and practitioners believe that these technologies will have a dramatic impact on field service delivery in terms of shortening resolution times, improving first time fix rate, and reducing travel costs.

In my discussions with conference attendees, I concluded that Field service leaders face several challenges when it comes to making investments in modern technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). One obvious challenge lies in determining whether the investment is currently a priority.

To answer this question, they need to have a clear understanding about what problems they are trying to solve and what results they are trying to achieve through it.

The best way to answer these questions is to develop a use-case justification based on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are improved through the deployment of these technologies.

The second biggest challenge has to with the confusion that exists among field service leaders with regard to alternative and/or competing platforms, for example, AR versus VR. . By definition, VR offers a digital recreation of a real life (or fantasy world) setting, while AR delivers virtual elements as an overlay to the real world. There is also Mixed Reality (MR) where we see a merging of real and virtual worlds to produce a new environment and visual image where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.

These platforms involve different levels of investment, time, and complexity to implement. AR is typically the least expensive and fastest platform to implement.

Many AR solutions that are available on the market today can be developed, implemented and rolled out rapidly. In contrast, VR and MR platforms often require extensive programming, development, and integration before they can be rolled out to the field.

Many AR solutions that are available on the market today can be developed, implemented and rolled out rapidly. In contrast, VR and MR platforms often require extensive programming, development, and integration before they can be rolled out to the field.

On the other hand, VR and MR provide a more feature-rich environment and visual experience than AR. For example, AR/MR can overlay 3-D digital twins of a sub-assembly and generate animated repair procedures as well as virtual dashboards of machine performance.

A significant investment is required to implement this type of platform and these investments often require input from various internal stakeholders including engineering, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and finance. For some OEMs or other service providers it may be cost-prohibitive to retro-fit their existing installed base with this type of technology.

A common misconception is that wearable glasses must be incorporated into an AR or VR solution. These devices may not be practical or ergonomically suited for the task at hand. However, this is just one component of the platform so all hardware and software needs must be considered with each solution. Other viewing devices, such as a smart phone or tablet, can be used to generate a remote, collaborative experience.

Many field service leaders are taking a wait-and-see attitude to implementing AR/VR/MR in hopes that costs will decrease and better versions will be available in the future. So why not wait? Field service leaders must remember that time-to-market is everything. FSOs that wait too long to take advantage of this technology may lose their competitive advantage and market share.

Once field service leaders decide on a course of action here is how to get started: The optimal approach, one that will guarantee early success, is to select a mature AR solution that can be rolled out with minimum upfront programming, software development, and systems integration.

FSOs are also advised not be overly concerned with developing an exhaustive list of feature functionality that can be included in their AR solution.

When it comes to selecting an AR vendor, remember that AR is a part of a broader digital transformation impacting the company.

This is because AR features are continuously evolving, and too much planning into an unknown future will slow down the evaluation and selection process. Most AR solutions are available through an On-Demand model, which means new enhancements will be available as part of the subscription.

Lastly, FSOs are urged to demo and pilot, yes, pilot products from multiple vendors. Unlike enterprise software or mobility applications, an FSO can run multiple pilot projects with limited upfront investment in time or capital.

When it comes to selecting an AR vendor, remember that AR is a part of a broader digital transformation impacting the company.

Choose an AR partner who will work with existing IT platforms and overall strategy and can provide guidance in how to best integrate their solution. FSOs are advised to consider the following criteria:

  • Sensitivity to customer’s needs – In other words, select a vendor that understands that AR is still a relatively new technology and that education and some amount of “hand-holding” is required to ensure a successful pilot and/or implementation.
  • Flexibility – Vendors create win/win situations by providing their customers with flexibility. The two most critical areas where flexibility wins are business-model and software requirements. Flexible vendors offer alternative pricing methods and flexible software-feature options.
  • Knowledge of best practices – This refers more specifically to best practices around change management and adoption and usage.
  • Ability to integrate AR platform with ERP solutions – This will enable FSOs to store and retrieve remote sessions with dispatch work orders.
  • Products that can operate in a low-bandwidth communication environment – This will facilitate the ability of FSOs to use AR in remote geographic areas.

Selecting an AR solution based on these criteria will help ensure successful results.

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