Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – The Big Game Changers in Field Service Management

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Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – The Big Game Changers in Field Service Management

Augmented and virtual reality are two of the technological marvels that we mostly hear these days. With the release of wearables like Samsung Gear VR and Google Glass, it is undeniably that we are already living in the future. As these technologies are already making inroads in several industries such as healthcare, military, navigation, and tourism, many of the experts in field service industry are expecting these technologies are also geared up to make improvements on how works get done by personnel deployed in field, and eventually, increase first time fix rates and average repair time.

Augmented Vs Virtual: What’s the difference?

It might really get confusing for a layman to tell the difference between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Both virtual reality and augmented reality are good in immersing the user, though both of them do this in different ways. With virtual reality, the user is isolated in a virtual world in which they can interact to virtual objects. The goal of this technology is for the user to experience total immersion to the point that they can’t no longer tell the difference from what real and what is not. Augmented reality on the other hand, finds a perfect blending of virtual reality and real life. With AR, the users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, while being able to distinguish between the two.

Now, the question of which of these two is more suitable and will allow more practical enterprise applications is still debatable, though a study conducted by ABI Research shows that while virtual reality continues to make waves in the press, augmented reality is still preferred by many, because it has one foot that remains in the “real world”.                

VR and AR in Field Service

To help you better visualise the change these technologies will bring in field service technology, let us discuss the possible applications and benefits of both systems.

 In the case of virtual reality, it is important to consider that each model by different companies has an advantage on each own. Oculus Rift for instance, has been added to virtual reality platforms of automobile maker Ford. It’s used with a shell of a car, where the parts such as the steering wheel and seats can be repositioned to match those of a prototype car. While CAVE ( computer assisted virtual environment)- a room with wall-to-ceilings-screens- allows users to wear stereoscopic glasses for a holodeck-like effect. E.g. life-size, 3D images of field equipment appear in the middle of the room, so that engineers can walk around and examine them. Certainly, some companies are starting to realise the relevance and the added value of VR in workplace and in over all business, here are the other potential applications and benefits of VR in field service industry.

  • Virtual Reality as the driver for improved collaboration –  Virtual reality can help catalyse the experience of seamless collaboration even if your personnel or customers are miles away from you. With your headset and noise-cancelling headphones are strapped on, you can immediately enter a collaborative and immersive virtual environment.
  • From hypothetical to real-world training – Virtual reality has already made an impact on training. NASA for example, are now using VR to make sure that the people they send into space have same amount of experience in becoming detached from their shuttle and have to use a backpack to navigate their way back or performing complicated tasks in zero gravity. All thanks to virtual reality, NASA was enabled to simulate all these situations. However, you do not need to train for being an astronaut before virtual reality can make a huge difference in your business. With virtual reality, you can train your field engineers and technicians by immersing them in different situations, such as conducting a break-fix simulation while providing them various schematics in virtual reality.
  • Enabling human resources to find the right fit – Many industries, especially field service, will soon be facing a surge of new generation of workforce, often called as “millennials”. This generation seeks a high degree of flexibility, mobility and in general a great emphasis on work-life balance. Virtual reality can enable these future employees to get as much mobility and flexibility as they desire; by virtually accessing the workplace. VR can also be used to aid the HR department in showing a day in the life of a technician at employer’s organisation and experiencing a tour of the company’s day-to-day operations to job aspirants. Facilitating this can both increase retention rates and decrease employee turnover at the benefit of human resource department.

 In the case of augmented reality, it is safe to say that it holds much application than virtual reality because it harnesses the power of virtual creation to amplify real life scenarios. In fact, the study from ABI Research sees 2016 as a turning point for AR smart glasses, predicting 21 million units of AR smart glasses will be shipped in 2020, with sales expected to reach $100 billion.  To support those figures, here are some of the potential and already used application of AR in field service industry.

  • Real-time Access to information when you need it – In a pilot project with KSP, a steel pipelines in Kazakhstan, workers used the Daqri smart helmet to safely access information when they need it, without having to leave the production line and go back to the control room. The control room data was projected onto the helmet’s visor, leading to a 40% increase in worker productivity and 50% reduction in factory downtime.
  • Continuous, remote monitoring and assistance – NTT DATA, the Japan-headquartered telecommunications and IT services company, now uses the Vusix M100 to allow continuous, remote monitoring of technicians in the field. Senior engineers can share the point of view of technician wearing the M100 Smart Glasses working on-site and can provide immediate instruction in real-time using an overlaid augmented reality (AR) marker. The use of the smart glass reduced the need of NTT DATA of at least two engineers at the work site for quality control, resulting in lower operating costs and increased productivity.
  • Connect with Experts Across Industry – There are other AR vendors such as ResolutionTube that lets you invite other expert technicians and industry leaders from many organisations. Rather than being limited to only the field techs that you know, you will be able to use a contact book to connect with technicians with expertise in the problems you are trying to solve.

Barriers to Adoption

Despite of their promising capabilities, it is understandable that many barriers still limit enterprise to adopt these kind of technologies. AREA’s Christina Perey said in an interview with PwC that there are three broad categories of barriers for VR and AR implementation in an enterprise, namely:

  • Communications: Most people have not had their aha moment with AR. Getting them to that moment when they realise that they must have it, without creating hype or expectations that the technology cannot meet, is a serious issue that the AREA is working to address. Many problems in this category are due to confusions about the similarities and differences between AR and VR.
  • Technical: Lack of integration with any existing tool chains makes development difficult to scale, too expensive, and so on. There are other issues with quality, usability, weight and resolution. More technical obstacles are related to security and ensuring that all the highly sensitive information a company wants its employees to use while performing a task is not exposed
  • Financial: The lack of clear methods of estimating ROI (return of investment), for example, to say how much AR will cost or save once it’s deployed at scale.      

To harness the full potential of these technologies, it is advisable that your people are all trained up to wear and use this technology throughout your field service operations. After all, it was them who are first to benefit on these technologies. Indeed, our present time is the best time to run a field service business, all because technology.

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David Younger

CEO and Managing Director at The Service Manager
David Younger is Australia’s #1 Cash Flow Expert For The Field Service Industry. Over 25 years working with hundreds of field service business owners in virtually every industry, David has discovered the ultimate path to plugging up the “profit holes” in a growing business that will take it to the next level.
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