By Nick Cherukuri, CEO and founder of ThirdEye
Field services are the backbone of many service organizations, from plumbing to construction to HVAC repair technicians. However, the industry faces many challenges, including an aging workforce, the need to quickly train new employees and the ability to efficiently complete inspections and critical tasks.
According to the latest research from the Service Council(1), 70% of field service organizations are concerned about the retiring field workforce. That same research also outlines that 52% of field service organizations are looking to introduce mentorship programs to connect their workforce and prevent the loss of knowledge that will come with the retirement of many senior technicians.
In addition to mentorship programs, augmented reality (AR) can assist in the transfer of knowledge. In fact, the Service Council also reported that this problem will result in 58% of field service companies investing in AR technologies. AR can allow senior technicians to record and document proper procedures, which can then be shared with younger technicians as training materials. This use of knowledge capture will enable companies to quickly onboard new technicians without taking time away from work being done by more experienced employees.
For example, a senior HVAC technician can record a walk-through outlining the proper procedures to repair an air conditioner – effectively creating a step-by-step instructional guide for new employees to reference via AR smart glasses while working. Furthermore, these new technicians can utilize “See-What-I See” technology via AR smart glasses. This technology allows field workers to rely on their live Point of View (POV) through AR/MR smart glasses to connect with a remote expert while receiving live/audio instructions. This not only will improve troubleshooting by visualizing overlaid precise digital information but will also allow for the remote expert to see and guide workers through each step of the task.
AR Smart Glasses
AR smart glasses provide more value to field service professionals than mobile AR apps. It allows technicians to remain hands-free and directly interact with surrounding objects while displaying digital information in their field of view and connect to experts when needed. Because of this, technicians are able to accept instructions in real-time. Before smart glasses, an expert would have to fly to an on-site location to provide on-site assistance, or the workers would have to deal with holding a bulky tablet in their hand while trying to work and communicate. In the long run, this streamlined communication will save companies a lot of money since they won’t have to fly out experts to on-site locations to assist with any instruction needed.
Beyond the HVAC industry, AR technology can also be applied to more complex fields, like the oil and energy sector. Not only can experts use AR glasses to assist in troubleshooting, but this technology can also help scientists locate drilling sites, as well as monitor operations of pumps and motors from a remote setting.
While on site, field workers can generate an accurate 3D CAD model of anything they are working on or looking at – whether that be an on-site location or piece of machinery. Along with capturing accurate models, field workers can also overlay existing designs (or instructions) on top of machinery in order to have everything they need in their direct line of view. Depending on which AR provider is utilized, they can also easily save all 3D-generated content for future reference as it is saved in a secure database. This not only aids in the transfer of knowledge, but it also makes the completion of tasks more efficient.
Improved First-Time Fix Rates
Because of the additional tools AR technology provides, field workers can also improve first-time fix rates, which indicates the percentage of time a technician is able to fix an issue the first time. This ultimately leads to improved customer satisfaction and therefore improved profitability. First-time fix rates are closely tied to the next sale, both in the form of renewed contracts and in referrals. AR technology helps workers more effectively manage their workflows and schedules, while allowing them to accomplish more tasks in less time. According to research(2) done by Aberdeen Group, companies with a first-time fix rate of over 70% experienced 86% customer retention rate, and those at the upper end of the first-time fix rate scale saw a 4% growth in annual revenue.”
This is especially important as a recent Gartner report highlights that there is a shift toward outcome-based service, where the priority is keeping customer equipment running. This model ensures that technicians take whatever steps necessary to avoid issues or resolve them as soon as possible. According to a Gartner survey(3), 19% of service companies already offer these kinds of outcome-based contracts, and another 26% expect to do so within 12 months.
Remote AR assistance has become instrumental in implementing outcome-based service. It enables issues to be identified early, and on-site staff can perform simple repairs guided by remote experts. While companies have been trying to implement remote support in a meaningful way for years, AR technology, IoT diagnostics, and video enhance remote support, enabling a greater number of use cases and improving return on investment (ROI).
Equipped with AR glasses, field technicians can follow predetermined simplified workflows for complex tasks, conduct routine product maintenance, as well as reference critical documents, visuals and checklists. Because they remain hands-free, technicians can simultaneously document procedures and processes on the job and closeout work orders before returning to the home office.
Reduced Travel Costs
In addition, AR can reduce travel time and costs. The pandemic recently forced the field services industry to evaluate how much of its work can be done remotely. Field service visits cannot be entirely eliminated, but AR does provide the ability to diagnose and resolve issues remotely. It also reduces fuel costs, vehicle maintenance, airfare, hotels, meals and more. To fully calculate the ROI of implementing AR technology field services, businesses should reference ROI calculators(4), which directly compare employee travel costs to the cost of deploying AR smart glasses.
While AR technology is on the rise, it is essential for field service companies to evaluate the ROI and develop a plan to innovate, especially as early evidence is pointing to AR’s ability to improve KPIs, reduce travel costs, improve first-time fix rates and aid in the training and onboarding of new employees.
Nick Cherukuri is the CEO and founder of ThirdEye, a company specializing in augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) solutions for the enterprise. Created in 2016, his company provides a full end-to-end package for its customers and employees. It offers lightweight MR Smart Glasses, including a built-in proprietary SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) system that allows for 3D environment scanning and advanced MR features. Nick is also an accomplished speaker, giving presentations at both AWE and CES, and was recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2019.