Augmented Reality...but not as we know it

Jul 30, 2019 • FeaturesAugmented Realityfuture of field serviceSoftware and AppsAugmentir

The number of Augmented Reality companies focusing on the field service sector has dramatically increased over the last couple of years. Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News sat down with Chris Kuntz, VP of Marketing for one of the newer organisations in the space Augmentir in California recently and came away impressed...

Augmentir is a relatively new startup in the growing Augmented Reality (AR) space that is focussing on the field service sector. Indeed this is a market that is becoming quite quickly crowded with AR vendors dominating industry conferences both in the US and Europe this summer in terms of the new entrants into the market.

However, three things, in particular, made Augmentir stand out from the crowd when I met with their VP of Marketing, Chris Kuntz, at the Field Service USA conference in Palm Springs recently. Firstly, there is much pedigree in this seemingly wet behind the ears startup.

The team that has put together Augmentir have been together for a long time on different projects which have included bringing the pioneering industrial IoT platform ThingWorx to market, as well as Wonderware, which was the first HMI interface in the manufacturing sector and is now in place in an estimated 60% of manufacturing plants worldwide.

So before we even start to look at the technology driving Augmentir, it’s fair to say that there is more than a good chance we shall potentially see another success story here.

However, the fact is that even without the well established pedigree, the vision behind Augmentir have taken a different yet thoroughly logical approach that sets them apart from many of their peers in the market.

As Kuntz, explained when I met with him in California, “We’re taking a different spin on what’s out there today. We’re the first software platform built on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the world of the augmented or connected worker. Historically, what’s happened in field service is roughly as follows: A new job is created when a customer reports a problem with a piece of equipment. This results in a worker getting dispatched, who then attends the job and either fixes the product or has to reschedule a second visit. Then at some point later, he updates a system with the notes outlining the actions he took,” Kuntz says recalling a scenario many of us in the sector recognise.

“However, the activities that happened from the time the engineer was dispatched to the time that that job is complete, remain a relative unknown, it’s a black box today. People don’t know what’s happening on the job site. Is that worker struggling with some of the steps? Does that worker speed through the repair procedure? Did the worker follow the right steps to meet health and safety requirements?”

There are all sorts of things happening. The problem then gets compounded for some companies who offer self-service or routines their dealer network or to their end customers. Now, you don’t know if they’re following the correct maintenance procedures or not. This, in turn, could affect the warranty status, and so on and so forth.”

       "Augmentir have taken a different yet thoroughly logical approach..."

Of course, the result of the scenario Kuntz outlines is one many of us are familiar with. Companies have thus started to push technology down to the worker to make them better connected, to make them ‘augmented’.

This is at the heart of the current play for many AR providers, which in essence builds upon the case put forward for mobile a decade ago. Ultimately field service organisations are still attempting to solve the perennial question of “How can we give our engineers more information, give them more instructions on how to guide them through their process”. 

“That’s all fine,” Kuntz states referring to the approach most of his peers are taking in resolving these issues, “But most companies aren’t collecting how their engineer’s work is performed. They’re just saying to the engineers, ‘Here are your instructions.’

“What we’re doing is taking that one step further. Firstly, we provide what we call ‘augmented work instruction’. By that, we mean work instructions that have information related to the case the engineer is doing, the piece of equipment they are working on and its work history that make the instructions interactive and personalised work instructions.

“If you’re an expert, that’s gone through this procedure a million times, you might get a more summarised view of the instructions, whereas if you’re a novice and this is the first time on a specific repair, our AI engine might provide you with a required training video along with a more detailed step-by-step guide. All to meet the goal of fix it right the first time …in the least amount of time.
“The next thing we do is we’re collecting all the granular data on how the workers performing their job and interacting with the instructions. We’re then using this data with our Artificial Intelligence engine in a way to help them become better at what they’re doing.

“Maybe an engineer is performing tasks slower than the average worker, is that an opportunity for training? Maybe they’re faster than the average worker? Is it an opportunity to tap into that person to say, how are you doing it? Have they found a more effective way of completing a task? Alternatively, maybe most of the workers are having trouble with a specific procedure/step – is there an opportunity to improve the instructions or associated training materials?”

Compliance is, of course, a crucial part of a field engineers role - both for legislative and internal efficiency purposes. However, often, it is the case that compliance steps happen after the fact.

One of the crucial aspects of digital transformation is making sure actions like these can now be electronically verified in real-time, in an interactive manner - and not just be an afterthought added to the notes a service engineer completes at the end of the job.

It is a small shift in a workflow that can have multiple big benefits, and the fact that Augmentir has baked such factors as this into their solution from the get-go does suggest they have a firm understanding of the field service engineers day to day workflow and the broader processes of the field service operation.

“This information can be used for compliance purposes, can be used for warranty purposes, it can be sent back to the customer to say, ‘this is a service procedure, this is exactly what happened,’ offer them a full inventory, step by step of what happened,” Kuntz explains: “We’re taking augmented reality, infusing it with artificial intelligence to collect the data, analyse it, and push it back to the organisation. Moreover, we’re doing it in a way that offers our enterprise software platform in a more modern approach.”

It is here we come across the third facet of Augmentir’s approach that also separates them from much of the pack - their route to market is equally accessible for the SMB sector as it is the large enterprise.

Kuntz continues: “If you think about how companies in this space adopt technology, Salesforce, Clicksoftware, ServiceMax; it’s a very lengthy process to implement any of these systems. Certainly, when it gets down to other AR solutions, it is no different and implementation can become even more time consuming. A pilot may take nine months; it could cost up to $150,000 to test out an AR solution.

“What we’re doing is trying to take a model that Slack, Atlassian and Dropbox have taken - make it easy to try, easy to buy, easy to own. The way people adopt Dropbox, the way people adopt Slack today is typical of how the modern world works, and we think we can apply that to the field service sector.

“What that allows us to do is not only work with the large enterprise companies, but also the small to mid-sized companies that don’t have the time and money to spend a large amount of money on implementing a large complex system." 

This strategy really could be a game changer in the Field Service/Augmented Reality sector, which for a long time I have identified as one that has a vast potential to improve field service delivery, yet has ultimately struggled to truly take a prevalent hold in any meaningful way as yet.

SMBs are in prime position to benefit from many of the potential benefits, both in terms of reducing costs and increasing revenues that AR could yield.  A solution that allows them to step into this world, virtually risk-free could become a massive gateway for widespread adoption on a mass scale.

The pedigree of Augmentir’s senior team, the intelligent well thought out use cases presented and a strategy that makes the solution easy to trial are three significant areas that can make them stand out from this increasingly busy pack.

However, the biggest reason I see Augmentir becoming an established provider within our sector is that I don’t actually think they are an AR provider at all. Instead, having spent some time with Kuntz looking at and discussing the solution, I believe they are best described as ‘an AI company that specialises in knowledge transfer and interpretation, who happen to have chosen AR as the primary interface for their solution'. 

It might not roll off the tongue quite as easily, but it sure ticks a lot of boxes that many, many field service companies are looking at - and this may make Augmentir a key solution in the sector.