Bringing Augmented Reality into the Workplace

With the pending arrival of 5G network technology—and its high speed and low latency attributes—the idea of anytime, anywhere augmented reality (AR) suddenly seems a whole lot more practical.

AR has the potential to transform how an entire company works and shares knowledge, said Scott Montgomerie, co-founder and CEO of Scope AR, developer of an industry-oriented AR platform. "We’re starting to see really impressive applications in industries such as field service, manufacturing, and aerospace," he noted. "Workers are using AR to connect in real-time to get the remote, expert support they need ... and some companies are using the technology to more efficiently and intuitively train employees."

(Image; Pixabay)

"There are a number of use cases for augmented reality," said Todd Maddox, a research fellow at Amalgam Insights, an IT research and consulting firm. Repairing business-critical equipment in a flash is one potential application. Imagine, for example, working on a small assembly line when a piece of equipment built overseas suddenly fails. "One can request a technician visit, resulting in several days of downtime, or one can put on a Hololens that allows an expert technician to see what you see and allows [the expert] to guide you on what needs to be done to get the equipment up and running in hours, not days," he explained.

Leading use cases

"AR technology can provide staff with the best of both the physical and digital worlds—a real-time view of actual surroundings combined with an overlay of intelligent virtual objects," observed Brent Blum, AR/VR capability lead at management consulting firm Accenture. He noted that Accenture's ongoing research shows that digital businesses in multiple industries, including consumer product goods, healthcare, and oil and gas, can gain a clear advantage by using AR to enable their workforces and expedite business processes.

Many organizations get started in AR by launching an immersive learning project. "Experiential learning has long been argued as the most effective way to learn, and studies have shown that learning through experience increases learning quality and improves retention by up to 75 percent," Blum said.

Current training processes tend to depend on rote instruction and memorization—generally ineffective learning techniques. "Information to the workforce is rarely current, and there is a limited feedback loop between the person doing the work and the systems storing and analyzing enterprise data," observed Jay Kim, chief strategy officer at AR software platform developer Upskill. "As organizations further digitize their processes, AR directly connects the workforce to these efforts."

Providing detailed instruction and data support to field personnel is another way many enterprises start using AR. "Using collaborative technology, field technicians are the eyes and hands, while the remote team can be the 'brains' by bringing the expertise to complete an operation," explained Doug Stephen, head of enterprise learning at learning and outsourcing company CGS. For example, a cable technician at customer's home requiring help to solve a technical issue can turn to a virtual expert who can view the problem and use AR to propose an immediate diagnosis and repair method.

In the manufacturing space, head-mounted wearable AR displays can be used to provide workers with data directly within their field of view. "If a machine indicates a problem, an employee could access the machine schematic and follow a step-by-step guide to repair the problem," Blum said. In a retail setting, AR can offer quick visual references to salespeople, showing them how a particular display should be arranged, as well as sharing the finished work with a remote supervisor, he noted.

AR also promises to give a major boost to telecommuting, working from home, and the gig economy. "It's near to magical how multiple workspaces around the world will be your office," observed Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Mettl, an HR technology and talent measurement firm. "You can log into New York and log out of Chicago and then be in Tokyo—all in a single day."

Visually interactive, immersive technologies like AR, that draw in and engage audiences, will become a staple of business communication, predicted Peter Arvai, CEO and co-founder of Prezi, a graphics, collaboration and analytics tools developer. "Remote AR presenting, in particular, has an important role to play by forging new and powerful connections between speakers and their content and thus with their audiences around the world," he noted. "It’s poised to become a must-have tool for everything from trainings and webinars to remote meetings and sales presentations."

Last thought

We are at the beginning of a new age of spatial computing, one that will change the way enterprises work and how they engage with customers and the world, observed Simon Wright, director of emerging solutions strategy for Genesys, a customer experience and call center technology provider. "It's no accident that companies like Apple are investing heavily in AR," he added. "The question is not if AR will be prevalent in the workplace, but when."