“Trendline” is AR Insider’s series that examines trends and events in spatial computing, and their strategic implications. For an indexed library of spatial computing insights, data, reports and multimedia, subscribe to ARtillery PRO.
One of AR’s biggest potential beneficiaries is the enterprise. This comes in various flavors in different types of enterprises, but the biggest impact could happen in industrial settings. We’re talking line of sight visualization to support functions like assembly and maintenance.
These AR deployments can bring operational efficiencies like task completion and error reduction by lessening cognitive load from mentally mapping 2D instructions to 3D space. There are lots of macro benefits too, such as distribution and retention of institutional knowledge.
Drilling down on the latter as an example, it’s all about mitigating knowledge loss from seasoned personnel retiring. Due to baby boomers retiring and job turnover rates increasing, it’s getting harder to retain this institutional knowledge — an expensive problem for industrial enterprises.
“Joe, who worked here for forty-some years is going to retire and take that forty-some years of domain expertise out the door with him,” said PTC’s Jim Heppelmann at AWE. “We’re going to hire somebody new to do what Joe did, but it’ll take them years to be as good.”
The Dark Side
Though AR can alleviate the above challenges, it’s easier said than done to get to the point of realizing those benefits. Practical and logistical barriers stand in the way — such as organizational inertia, politics, change management and fear of new technology among key stakeholders.
These barriers exist even in a pandemic when social distancing measures compel AR’s ability to facilitate remote assistance in the above ways. This could accelerate adoption to some degree and expose the technology’s benefits. But organizational inertia persists.
For example, the biggest stumbling block for industrial AR is the dreaded “pilot purgatory.” This is when AR is adopted at the pilot stage, but never progresses to full deployment. It’s the biggest pain point in industrial AR, and there are many reasons for it…most of them cultural.
The 3 Ps
So the question becomes, how do you tackle some of those cultural deterrents? The best way is to go straight to the root of the issues and points of friction. These focal points are what we call the 3Ps: People, Product, and Process.
People represent the first “P” and are probably the most important of these three factors. After all, companies are made up of people. But what’s often missed is that messaging around AR’s benefits should be customized to their individual — and sometimes selfish — needs.
One place that people strategies fail is when companies attempt to sell front-line workers on AR based on its unit economics. They don’t care about ROI metrics: the story should rather be spun to their advantage, such as the reduction in job strain from reduced cognitive load.
Or it can extend their longevity by turning seasoned workers into subject matter experts who support field workers remotely through AR — a much cushier gig. The point is that several customized sales pitches should be made in any organization that map to its stakeholders.
Beyond the people that represent barriers to AR success, there’s also the product itself. Its success hinges on a few main factors that should be considered when in development and strategic planning. For example, deploy AR where it can have real impact.
That sounds simple, but the dirty little secret is that AR is not a “silver bullet.” It excels in some areas more than others. For example, AR visualization can be most effective in jobs that require guidance for complex and non-repetitive tasks such as large-equipment maintenance.
Conversely, it’s less effective in jobs that involve repetitive simple tasks — such as assembly line work. Muscle memory already guides such tasks. These are just a few examples to illustrate the larger point: AR needs a good product/market fit, just like any consumer technology.
“You don’t want to use AR to help somebody change the oil in your car,” said Atheer’s Amar Dhaliwal at AWE. “You train somebody to change the oil, because that is a task that they’re going to be doing repeatedly. “They should be able to do it without having to read any instructions.”
All of the above is meaningless if it isn’t researched, devised and deployed optimally. Here, it’s all about avoiding the common trap of top-down innovation at executive levels or from corporate innovation centers. That’s usually the first point of entry for AR, but not its destination.
For example, to achieve the above “product/market fit,” true department-level pain points must be understood. That doesn’t happen when AR champions or solutions developers within an organization fail to get input and perspectives of front-line workers and business unit managers.
Bottom-up product planning conversely breeds success by involving front-line workers. That not only pinpoints features that will solve real operational issues, but it gives front-line workers a sense of ownership and investment in the technology. This can vastly boost their adoption.
“They’ve cooked their cake, now they can enjoy it too,” Re’Flekt CEO Wolfgang Stelzle told us in a recent white paper.
IT: The Gatekeepers
The 3 P’s shouldn’t just involve front-line workers but another potential point of friction: the IT department. Many AR champions within organizations make the mistake of sidestepping IT involvement or pushing it off until later stages.
But IT managers are influential gatekeepers. Involving them sooner conversely makes them less likely to be surprised or offended by late-stage awareness. Sooner involvement also breeds greater understanding and appreciation for the technology, thus inclination to support it.
“I think it’s a common mistake to do an end-run around I.T.,” said Scope AR CEO Scott Montgomerie at AWE Europe. “It’s easy to say ‘yeah, let’s prove the value first and then we’ll worry about I.T. when we get to scale… you need to get them in the conversation early.”
Another way to lessen resistance is start with proven hardware. If the use case aligns, consider deploying AR through smartphones and tablets before headsets. There can be less resistance from risk-averse IT and comfort-driven workers when trusted hardware is the vessel.
More Marketing Than Tech…
With all of the above, targeted communication and education are key enterprise AR success factors. And that communication is more about marketing than technology. Communication and education to proposed AR end-users should therefore follow the best-practices of marketing.
“Act like a marketer,” said Dhaliwal at AWE Europe. “Porsche brands everything as ‘Tech Live Look.’ So every press release, every analyst briefing, they talk about the program. Internally, the posters and packaging… when glasses go out… everything is branded.”
Bringing this back to an earlier point about solving the pain points of AR’s proposed end-users: speak to them, and speak their language. Devise scripts and narratives for “objection handling” using carefully devised and plain-spoken language. And use that language consistently.
For example, in physically draining fields like energy and construction, the most experienced workers do the hardest jobs, such as climbing poles and fixing turbines. But AR creates comfort and flexibility by empowering them as remote experts. Speak to those creature comforts.
The bottom line is that it’s all about protecting AR investments by setting them up to succeed. That’s about following best practices in marketing, communications and change management. Paradoxically for an emerging technology, it’s often more about these factors than the actual tech.
Stay tuned for an upcoming report from our research arm ARtillery Intelligence which will go deeper on these anterprise AR principles and case studies.