From The Editor | August 21, 2018

4 Stumbling Blocks To AR ROI In Field Service

Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
Follow Us

Field Service AR ROI

You’re probably familiar with the value proposition of AR (augmented reality) in field service, particularly the impact it can have in the areas of training and remote diagnostics. I wrote in this column after Field Service USA in April that the interest in AR among the audience had grown exponentially from the previous year’s event. Since writing that column in April, I’ve talked with a number of field service leaders at various stages of introducing AR to their workforces. In fact, just last week I held a video focus group with some of our editorial board members to discuss in detail their adoption of AR.

What keeps coming up throughout these conversations is that while the field service leaders are very excited about the value they feel AR can bring, and ultimately think it will have a major positive impact on their organizations, there are a couple of stumbling blocks that seem to be recurring in almost every conversation. Here are four issues with achieving AR ROI that have come up multiple times in the conversations I’ve had over the past couple of months:

  1. Older workforce resistance. Field technicians are usually comfortable with the status quo, and when introducing AR to an older workforce it isn’t uncommon to be met with some (sometimes much) resistance. This ultimately then leads into a two-fold problem, the first of which is getting your workforce to use the technology and the second of which is keeping them using the technology. On the initial adoption front, one of our board members recommended focusing on communicating how this will help the older workers more easily train up new employees – keep your explanation centered on how their adoption benefits them. Another board member pointed out that after they deployed AR, they experienced an initial excitement about the technology that then waned and employees reverted back to their previous ways of doing things. He feels that part of that was because they had some technical issues with the solution, but also just that your employees will revert back to what’s comfortable – so ongoing change management is imperative.
  2. Connectivity issues. I’d imagine the AR vendors shy away from discussing this, but a recurring issue among the folks that have adopted the technology is experiencing connectivity problems. This ranges from not being able to initiate sessions to sessions being interrupted, but the end result is that it is very frustrating for the employees (and customers, if you are using this technology with your customers) and contributes to the adoption issues we discussed above. I’d recommend you test, retest, and keep testing connectivity during your trial and pilot to ensure that the solution works to your expectations.
  3. Battery life issues. Some of the folks I’ve talked to are using AR for very short trouble-shooting chats (three to five minutes) and others for longer support calls (20 to 25 minutes). Those that are using AR for longer durations have reported that the sessions kill the battery life of their mobile devices. This will present varying degrees of issue depending on how many opportunities your technicians have to charge their device throughout the day, but again is something you should test and bring up to your AR provider if you’re researching or evaluating this technology.
  4. Wearables need work. Each of the companies I’ve spoken with about AR are using a smartphone or tablet for sessions, but many are interested in or considering moving to wearable devices like Google Glasses. However, one of the editorial board members that has tested some different wearables explained that while the AR solution works seamlessly on a smartphone, it isn’t as smooth on the wearables – that there’s still some work that needs done for the application to have the same impact on a wearable as it does a smartphone. Again, this is something to discuss with your AR provider and run some testing on if you want to use wearables.

I think each of these issues can be overcome to achieve ROI on AR, and I think all of the people I’ve spoken to about AR use feel it is worthwhile despite some of the stumbling blocks. But I thought it was worthwhile to share some of these challenges so that when you read an article that says “XYZ company saves big with AR” you know that it wasn’t without effort. If you are considering the use of AR for your organization, these issues are worth investigating and discussing during your evaluation.