What does finding Pokémon by using your phone have to do with your field service business? Well, more than you’d think.
Immersive technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), are just another step in the blending of our digital and physical worlds, changing the way we interact with our surroundings. Mobile game Pokémon Go leveraged smartphones to turn everyday places into its gaming environment, and field service benefits from the same technology.
This comparison may seem like a stretch, but AR and VR are already showing revenue potential for certain business applications.
In fact, a survey of small and midsize businesses conducted by Gartner (available to clients) revealed that 40% of respondents were evaluating and piloting AR/VR, and 18% were planning to start evaluating them in the next 12 months.
In the meantime, Gartner (available to clients) expects the technology to grow fast: by 2022, 70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies, and 25% will have deployed them to production.
Based on the survey results, there are exactly two reasons why your field service business should be an early(ish) adopter of immersive technologies: remote field support and training. Field service is a good early adopter of immersive technology because each business provides similar equipment and services-the larger the volume, the larger the savings. Don’t use immersive technology, and you risk falling behind.
When a technician (regardless of experience) visits a site for the first time, they need to find the equipment they’ll be servicing, identify the issue, and prescribe a fix. AR makes all of this much easier.
Technicians can combine their experience with the digital information their phones overlay on the asset to improve their first-time-fix rate, reduce return visits, and shorten repair times. In fact, a study conducted by the Service Council found that 41% of incomplete service visits would benefit from AR sessions.
Taken a step further, AR can facilitate collaboration by enabling remote experts to provide your novice technicians or customers with step-by-step instructions. In doing so, your business would significantly reduce its highest expense: sending your field service technicians on-site to diagnose and repair equipment.
These savings are not theoretical: Companies have reported that enabling remote repairs led to a 60% increase in productivity and a 70% reduction in costs.
If you want to improve your chances of success, mobile AR is the way to go. Consider goggles and headsets as a next step. Hands-free assistance will lead to the most benefits for your technicians.
What if your technicians could be trained without damaging equipment or risking their safety? AR and VR allow for remote training by providing virtual, interactive training materials.
The training application has been used in HVAC and plumbing, which benefit from the rich interactive environments AR and VR provide. For example, in plumbing, an apprentice can view a 3D model of pipes behind a wall, lay out the system, and mark where hangers and other components should be, without getting into tight spaces.
This system can be especially helpful if your business is experiencing a shortage of technicians. When you are short-handed, time is everything. AR or VR training modules can get your newest technicians ready for the job sooner, while reducing the risk of the most common newbie errors.
More importantly, a new technician learning how to service a piece of equipment is not that knowledgeable yet and doesn’t have the experience to automatically incorporate all safety measures. Allowing them to develop their skills away from the physical equipment, which can be in hard-to-reach places (like pipes behind a wall), ensures their safety isn’t jeopardized in the learning process.
Want to make sure your new hires stay onboard? Companies reported a 60% increase in retention rates using immersive training programs, as well as cost reductions (Gartner research available to clients) of between 40% to 90% of the cost of the original training.
Choose your most used training module and AR-ify that. Focus on the narrative so that your technicians are getting the most out of the experience.
Given the benefits to field service, more field service management software vendors are building AR and VR capabilities into their apps. This makes the technology more accessible to field service businesses, but challenges remain.
When implementing new technology, change management can’t be ignored. Depending on how your company wants to use immersive technologies, your processes will have to change with it.
Another consideration is whether your company will be creating 3D models of your assets. While this step is not necessary for AR, it is for VR, and will require more extensive planning and resources.
These obstacles to implementation should not automatically deter you from taking the leap. After all, the services and apps you need to make AR a reality are becoming more accessible, and less expensive. Further, there is no question that your business has a lot to gain from immersive technology. To make sure AR works for your business, consider the following 5 steps.
1. Focus on your business: Before embarking on a new investment, make sure your business has clearly outlined the issues it’s aiming to fix, set expectations, and gather all necessary information. Rooting your solutions firmly in your needs will improve your chances at a ROI.
2. Use what you already have: Is your business already using applications or devices? Can these be “upgraded” with immersive technology functionalities if the answer is yes, this your starting point.
3. Start small: Plan to build your investment in immersive solutions over time. Start small, and scale when you’re ready. In the case of AR, consider mobile deployments first, and incorporate additional hardware later on.
4. Keep it simple: Choose just one or two areas of your business that would benefit the most from the technology. Prioritize these areas, and define a minimum viable product (MVP) that can provide the minimum amount of functionality your internal/external customers will find useful.
5. Avoid customization: The value of immersive technologies is in scale. Your business will have the greatest opportunity to see a return on its investment if it limits customization, allowing a single product to work across large segments of your business.
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