The experiences in the world around us are split between the real and unreal. Augmented reality (AR) is a set of technologies that blurs this fundamental difference. AR puts the things we need to see, feel and hear into a real-world context by placing them in our physical field of view. Needless to say, it’s a paradigm shift.
Technology, if used appropriately, can be very rewarding. As one of the many promising technologies that can impact field service, AR has the clear potential to not only boost operational efficiency (e.g. fleet utilization) and service accuracy (e.g. First-Time Fix rates, which further improves customer experience), but also solve the human resource challenge of attracting the next generation to field service. Being successful in field service requires specialized skills — and AR can ramp up the learning curve for new workers.
Where is the Market Headed?
The adoption of AR is on the rise. According to IDC’s “FutureScape: Worldwide Mobility 2018 Predictions,” 20 percent of all new enterprise IT mobile applications by 2019 will include an AR feature set. Furthermore, the utilities sector will account for 17 percent of global smart glasses shipments in 2018.
The best-in-class companies are leading the way by addressing complexity with technological innovation through AR, VR and wearables. By contrasting adoption figures across the best-in-class companies and the rest, a clear picture emerges: leaders are making investments in emerging technologies for clear business use cases.
How Does AR Help?
One of the key pain points that technicians face while servicing the machines that keep our world running is the amount of time it takes to find the right equipment information. A recent survey from The Service Council, “Field Service in 2016: The Technician’s Perspective,” states that 29 percent of respondents spend time looking for relevant product information relating to the repair. Addressing this concern, Tom Paquin of Aberdeen asserts in the “Augmented Reality: Far From A Gimmick When It Comes To Field Service” report that AR technology delivers superior knowledge-management benefits from centralized data as compared to other methodologies. These technologies can truly bring information to life and enable live interactions that feel as though another expert is on the scene.
Wearable AR devices are especially useful, as they deliver contextually relevant information (e.g. service history of an equipment, equipment’s performance indicators or location of a part that needs to be swapped out) in a visual format on top of the real-world view, while leaving the technicians’ hands free. This can dramatically reduce the time needed to complete a job because technicians don’t need to stop what they’re doing so as to flip through a paper manual or work on an equipment. Getting the information right in front of the technicians makes them exponentially more efficient.
In addition to generic use cases, AR also has specific advantages when it comes to specific sectors, namely energy and utilities. The energy & utilities space has a need for heightened worker safety while they work on underground assets like pipelines or in hazardous environments such as those with explosive dust or flammable gas. In such harsh situations, AR enables better visualization to technicians and reduces accidents, improving safety, research has found. There can be many other specific use cases that AR can address for other sectors like aviation or transportation etc.
Adoption of AR technology is taking off in the field service domain. There are several advantages to implementing AR: higher operational efficiency, better First-time Fix rates, improved customer experience, lower costs and the ability to train the younger generation faster. As the industry faces a lack of skilled workers and an aging workforce, AR has the clear potential to plug the gap. From smart headsets to wearables that overlay contextual information on the equipment being worked on, AR is an innovative technology that the industry will be hearing more of in the future.