The augmented human reality defining the future of process

Augmented reality stands to significantly boost process excellence in service and maintenance through live-screen sharing and remote support

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Adam Muspratt

The rise of the augmented human is inevitable and we are on the “cusp” of a human revolution. That is the view of Simon Raik-Allen, the chief technology officer at business software firm MYOB.

The PEX Network wanted to explore this idea further and delve into the wide array of possibilities these technologies will bring to process excellence, through a combination of biological and technological melding.

In a Gartner article titled: 5 Trends Appear on the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2019, it listed augmented humans as one of the five trends, stating: “Augmented human technologies improve both the cognitive and physical parts of the human” by incorporating technologies such as biochips, human AI, and augmented reality (AR).

Out of all of the topics discussed in Gartner’s report, immersive workspaces is the closest to being realized by enterprise. Infact, a handful of companies within service and maintenance are already using and piloting immersive workspaces, from Boeing using it to service and wire aircraft, to DHL utilizing it for warehouse inventory scanning and sorting. Investment in the area riding a high wave, according to Artillery Research, who report that the market for AR applications in the enterprise is estimated to be worth $14bn by 2022.

How enterprises are using AR devices in the workplace

AR devices can be separated into two categories, head-mounted and handheld devices. The benefits of head-mounted devices is that they are hands free and offer a larger screen space, however, head mounted devices can be intrusive for the wearer, making viability out in the field difficult in strenuous conditions. Additionally, there is a lack of maintenance-specific management AR applications that can support head mounted devices, when compared to smartphones, according to global enterprise software provider IFS.  

Read: 5 ways streamlined processes can optimize tech investment

At the recent IFS World Conference in Boston, it demonstrated the viability for handheld devices, such as mobile phones, out in the field, which according to the organization, are more cost-effective (as all workers are already equipped with mobile devices), easier to use and can be integrated into existing mobile applications. These benefits present an opportunity to greatly optimize the work of field and service workers, particularly within remote support and maintenance.

Why is this important? Assets and products are becoming more complex. According to a recent study, many organizations are struggling to meet maintenance demands and do not have the right tools to manage product development. In today’s products there are more electronic components, increasingly complex mechanical designs, technologies such as artificial intelligence, huge amounts of data, increased interconnectivity, information handling systems, product upgrades/add-ons and multiple supply-chain vendors. All of these combine to make maintenance of assets increasingly complex. And a failure to service products results in unhappy customers, longer SLAs and even regulatory reprimands.

The value of AR in remote assistance and field training

There are a wide array of uses for AR that make the technology so exciting within maintenance, service and any role that has an on-site element. One that will have a huge effect on process optimization is AR-enabled remote assistance and knowledge sharing.

AR remote assistance is a technology that brings field agents and offsite experts together, so the expert can visually guide the field worker to complete the task at hand. Effectively, it takes the concept of remote assistance one step further, by incorporating live video streaming so that that the expert is able to precisely see the work that needs to be performed.

Through this live stream, the onsite worker can receive real-time intelligence to deliver results. This guided experience is far more expansive than a mere a video stream though, as seeing is not enough.

Read: Target Operating Model: on the importance of customer engagement

Offsite experts can pull interactive 3D animations to highlight components that the onsite worker may be unfamiliar with and confirm where components should be and what they should look like. Additional tools such as remote drawing to highlight components, document sharing can also utilized to make each step far more efficient than video conferencing or a phone call.

In addition, telestration technology (the ability to sketch over a moving or still video image) provides the capability to freeze the frame and add annotations in real time. This ability to overlay instructions on top of the asset mitigates the need for a physical manual, improving the time it takes to complete the process while eliminating the likelihood of user error.

AR and the next generation field worker

The knowledgeability demands on maintenance and service workers is being put to the test. Whether the job entails performing complex and unpredictable triage, diagnosis or sifting through troves of data, workers must memorize huge amounts of information, which often changes when new assets are introduced and regulations are implemented.

Have current methods of retaining knowledge kept up with the pace of change? While, workers can now access manuals via their smartphones, this still requires that worker comb through the manual – which of course does not always account for faults that are not documented. Conversely, coordination between the back office and the onsite worker has remained static and offsite support remains centered around phone calls which lack the visual element of AR, according to IFS

With the incorporation of mobile devices and AR, the next generation of millennial workers will be better supported with technology that they are familiar with. Workers coming through the door are not only tech savvy, but they want to use the technologies they are most comfortable with, according to KPMG. Enterprise should strive to incorporate these technologies as the workforce is already enthusiastic about them.  

Read: Target Operating Model: on the importance of customer engagement

However, it will not just help new workers according to IFS, you will be able to better extend the life service of retiring workers, by offering them roles as remote service experts. This ensures the knowledge base of the older generation of workers is not lost, and it provides new workers with another avenue of training and guidance from experts from all over the globe.

In fact, the shortage of available field technicians is becoming a significant issue. According to a UK-based educational consultancy, The Manufacturing Institute, this issue is prevalent in all industries, as older generations approach retirement. They reported that the workers retiring between 2015 and 2025 will create a shortage of two million in the US alone. This can be partly mitigated through the creation of remote exert roles, ensuring the generation receives the support that is needed.

AR in customer service

AR is not just applicable to the world of maintenance. There are applications within engineering, manufacturing operations and customer service. For the latter, picture a scenario where a customer is having difficulties with installing an internet router. Instead of requesting a maintenance worker for an onsite visit, they can request maintenance through an AR application. The potential here is huge, it is far easier to show a customer how to fix the problem through AR than it is to describe it verbally over a phone call. As we know, on-site visits can be a huge chore, as customers will need to be at home to let the onsite worker service the asset, which can sometimes result in multiple visits.

Through an AR solution, you put the power back into the hands of the customer, providing an opportunity to solve the issue at a time that suits them.

As we know, customer expectations are increasing and AR provides an excellent way of meeting expectations. According to the CX Network’s The global state of customer experience 2019 report, customer experience is new battleground for retaining customers, and is a competitive differentiator. And giving customers the choice to solve issues themselves through avenues such as knowledge banks and chatbots is a huge area of customer experience. Perhaps AR customer experience is the next logical step in the domain.  

AR in the workplace

This combination of AR tools and mobile technology empowers the field worker to solve problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. The development of connecting backend systems with user devices can sound daunting to implement, but leveraging the technology through a mobile device or smartphone is the first step towards enterprise-level AR hardware. At the moment, the applications are not incredibly exciting to the outside world, but value is to be had in areas such as work assistance, inspections, maintenance, knowledge capture and training. While AR is riding a high growth wave, it will be interesting to see how the maturity of handheld case uses and head-mounted systems affect the demand for AR.