It has taken longer than many predicted, but Augmented Reality is finally gaining significant traction in the field service sector. Indeed, evidence of this new momentum can be seen in the number of new AR vendors entering the space. One company that pioneered much of the technology and concepts now becoming increasingly explored in our sector is Scope AR. Kris Oldland sat down with their President David Nedohin, to get his take on the case for Augmented Reality in the field service sector…
For a long time, Nedohin was one of a very few voices in the sector that had both a deep level of knowledge and first hand expertise within the emerging industry of AR in field service.
The number of voices around him has increased dramatically in the last year or so, but the one thing that I always found gave Nedohin a defined sense of gravitas when he spoke was a firm grasp of the broader picture within the field service setting. This, coupled with a natural earnestness and a genuine belief that the technology can and will solve a multitude of challenges in the field service sector, always marked him out for me as a man worth listening to.
So, with the additional noise now swirling around AR, I was keen to sit back down with him and gather his thoughts on whether AR was set to become more prevalent within the field service sector, and if so how?
"To begin, let's take the remote support aspect of AR," Nedohin starts as we sit down over a coffee. "In all honesty, something we saw coming last year, which is now definitely coming to pass is that this side of the AR offerings is beginning to become heavily commoditised."
“Allow the AI to tackle the 80% of support queries, freeing up the remote expert to focus on the 20% of more challenging issues – where they can bring value to the table…”
"We find ourselves now in a situation where many of the people who come to us initially are looking at the remote support side of AR. It has become something of a common trend which I think has largely arisen because remote support is all most field service directors hear about when it comes to AR.
"Of course, for us, that is something we can and do support, but it does end up becoming a scenario of simple feature and price comparison and matching, and that's not how we want to sell our product. The bigger question for us is how field service companies create an interim strategy based around sharing expert knowledge with workers, regardless of where they are, and it doesn't have to be a case of using a remote expert every time your engineers need help.
"You need to have expert knowledge that's available to your workers in advance, and then if they need help, you have the additional option of calling an expert in. You need those guide instructions, you need support, driven through Artificial Intelligence (AI) highlighting best practices, and then, if needed, you also need an option to call the expert. You don't want to just be in a position where every time you're going to call an expert to help - because that's not a strategy."
Nedohin, makes a valid point here, in that as is often the way with new and emerging technology, sometimes in a rush to adopt a solution, the purpose of implementing the technology, can get overlooked.
Remote Assistance is very much a natural fit in field service, and ultimately, I believe it will become as widely used as video calls, but it is not always a necessary route for each and every call. AI-powered knowledge banks working in tandem with AR – something akin to what Nick Frank termed as "Augmented Knowledge" in a recent article for Field Service News, can help guide an engineer onsite through a repair without tying up remote support.
It is a modern example of the Pareto principle at work – allow the AI to tackle the 80% of support queries, freeing up the remote expert to focus on the 20% of more challenging issues – where they can bring value to the table.
It also brings to mind perhaps one of the most well-repeated mantras we hear in field service. Use the right tools for the job at hand. As Nedohin explains; "It's no different than let's say a mechanic working on replacing a flat tyre. They need to pick the right tool to solve that problem. I mean, some guy's not going to walk up and say, 'I sell hammers' when you've got a nut to take off, and then try to convince you that you don't need a wrench.
"Imagine that conversation, with the supplier saying, 'We've got the best hammers, you need to buy hammers and figure out what to do with the hammer.' The mechanic would think he was insane and go get a wrench from somewhere else," Nedohin adds.
“You have to work back on the problem and figure out what tools you need…”
It is a well-made point that illustrates the importance of understanding your specific use-case requirements before implementing any technology - something I have put forward on many an occasion.
"You have to work back on the problem and figure out what tools you need," Nedohin concurs. "Somebody who's working up on a telephone pole, obviously they need a wearable, they need a monocular device that's going to give them a safe environment and they can overlay some instructions.
"If it's somebody, who's working in manufacturing on the maintenance or repair of a big piece of equipment they must see exactly what they need to be doing and the AR overlaid on top can give them a bigger picture and surface resolution quickly and effectively. In this use case, a binocular device would likely be preferable.
"The first point on the map, the first question you have to ask yourselves as an organisation, has to be 'what is the right set of tools to help us improve what we're doing right now?'"
The potential of AR in field service is undoubtedly exciting, but as with other emerging technologies becoming integrated into field service such as IoT or drones, the use cases will vary from organisation to organisation. Identifying the gaps in your service delivery and where they can be improved is a crucial first step not to be overlooked. However, having taken that step, AR will likely become an important part of the technology stack that can drive your field service operation forward.