We’ve all heard of the adoption curve. New technologies are introduced, there are a few early adopters, and most people wait to see how it plays out. And then everyone’s on board. Augmented Reality (AR) is one of those technologies. For the uninitiated, let me spell out what separates AR from VR (virtual reality). AR enhances the physical worldview with contextual overlay, as opposed to creating a completely new virtual view of the world.

To me, what’s exciting is that AR squarely addresses some key pain points in field service. To lay it out squarely, AR can make a huge difference in the overall profitability and customer experience of field service organizations by improving remote resolution rates, First-time Fix rates and training effectiveness. Well, that’s fine and dandy, but the question is, how many companies have actually taken advantage of it?

A few early adopter companies have been brave enough to test the waters and pave the way for the rest. GE Healthcare has been able to boost productivity by 46 percent by using smart glasses that free the technician from flipping a product manual and looking up and down. NTT, the Japanese telecom giant, recently launched a hugely successful pilot program using smart glasses for remote site maintenance. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will be giving AR smart glasses to field technicians to communicate with experts in its main maintenance facility, so as to speed up train repairs.

But if these are the early adopters, other organizations have been less forthcoming. What are their roadblocks to AR adoption? In my opinion, they include:

  • Prioritization in the grand scheme of things: Field service organizations have to constantly ask: which technology investment is aligned with their strategic direction and time horizon? Is it IoT, is it AR, is it 3D printing? Unless they have a clear idea of what they want to be when they grow up (and when), choosing to invest in a technology is really difficult for enterprises. And then, I’ve seen that organizations need technology evangelists and visionary leaders to drive this. In spite of these challenges, Aberdeen opines that best-in-class firms show a higher rate of adoption of new technologies by being on the edge of innovation.
  • The use cases: I think it’s really important to identify the key use cases, as this will drive the ROI estimation that in turn can justify an AR investment. While the dynamics of each service organization are different, some common AR use cases do emerge: training new staff, motivating younger generations to join field service, boosting service operations and enhancing customer service.

Out of these, boosting operational efficiency through better training and higher first-time-fix rates is definitely a low hanging fruit, of which most field service organizations should be able to take advantage. A simple back-of-the-envelope method is to look at the average productivity boost that one can get from servicing the most serviced equipment, and then to translate that into incremental revenue that can be generated by servicing more requests per technician per working day.

  • The economics (aka ROI): In my opinion, the price of the headsets is still too high. More than that, the AR content creation is a challenging problem, something that takes a lot of time and curation. There can be many, many types of assets that may need AR content creation and this represents a fixed cost. Even if organizations come up with baseline content, keeping the AR content refreshed is important, so to keep up with the product recalls or engineering updates. Organizations that have a legacy of investing in R&D or being on the edge of technology would be willing to experiment more on this front, even if the ROI is not totally crisp.
  • Fragmented solutions: One has to choose among different “types” of AR solutions in the market: Hardware (headsets, smart glasses, mobile devices), software, and hardware + software. Some providers just enable remote troubleshooting with enhanced video calling and document sharing through a mobile app, while some provide an evolved AR platform that renders AR content through smart gear. Upskills.io’s Skylight platform is such an example. 

Field service organizations need to make some choices. Do they want a turnkey solution or prefer to procure the hardware cheap and leverage an AR delivery platform to keep it economical? Are they just satisfied with enhanced video calling and document sharing? As they start seeing the results, organizations may evaluate different solutions.

Mainstream adoption of AR may appear slow, but it’s picking up for sure. IDC predicts that 25 percent of the field technicians and information workers will be using AR by 2020. Field service organizations need to prioritize which technologies they are willing to invest in, identify the ROI with use cases and choose the optimal solution for them along the AR spectrum. Everyone can test out low hanging fruit. It will get easier over time as the market develops standards and consolidates. But my recommendation is: get started sooner than later by experimenting and piloting, and then build up on the results. Get the early adopter advantage.

For more information on how technologies like this impact field service, please visit: www.servicemax.com