As we look to the future of field service management technology, we see emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality (AR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) playing a big role in advancing asset-centric field service management and supporting new outcome-based business models. In terms of AR and VR, ServiceMax anticipates a significant uptick in its use in the equipment and complex asset services marketplace.
What are the benefits of AR? According to an article in the Harvard Business Review:
AR enables a new information-delivery paradigm, which we believe will have a profound impact on how data is structured, managed, and delivered on the internet. Though the web transformed how information is collected, transmitted, and accessed, it's model for data storage and delivery-pages on flat screens-has major limits: It requires people to mentally translate 2-D information for use in a 3-D world. That isn't always easy, as anyone who has used a manual to fix an office copier knows. By superimposing digital information directly on real objects or environments, AR allows people to process the physical and digital simultaneously, eliminating the need to mentally bridge the two. That improves our ability to rapidly and accurately absorb information, make decisions, and execute required tasks quickly and efficiently.
Put simply, AR will allow the enormous power of the data collected and maintained in field service management systems to be repurposed and available to repair technicians, enabling them to see exactly how a complex asset should be operating and how to repair it when it malfunctions.
So how will AR and VR affect our future?
Service operations will improve
Taken in a more granular level, ServiceMax sees the value of AR and VR in aiding service organizations in the following ways:
- Providing a detailed digital visualization of the asset and the steps required to address malfunctions
- Significantly reducing training time for new staff
- Reducing the skills gap between newer and more senior technicians/engineers and enabling real-time knowledge transfer between them
- Enabling remote diagnosis and repair while reducing the cost of travel and dependence on skilled technicians to be onsite
- Creating centralized Senior or Tier 2 Experts who remotely support less experienced field staff
- Increasing technical response time and return to service time via remote work order resolution
- Reducing Mean Time to Repair/Service/Install
- Improving asset uptime and economic output
- Improving customer NPS
An example of these benefits was recently announced by equipment manufacturer Emerson, who introduced AR technology to its industrial plant asset performance system to deliver better access to real-time diagnostics and analytics, and live remote assistance, to workers who maintain and optimize plant equipment. It's interesting to point out that Emerson recognized that AR and VR on their own would not be enough to solve the issue and that integration into their Asset Database was critical to:
providing immediate access to a wealth of data and translating into easier, less costly implementation and a faster return on investment.
Common pain points will be solved
Companies that face the following issues may find that the use of AR and VR could be extremely helpful -
- Widely dispersed, high-value assets, that require significant travel to service or repair
- Complex assets that require a high amount of training and remedial training for technician enablement
- A high percentage of "mission-critical" assets that require a minimum of down time
- Highly complex maintenance activities or calibrations
- A large percentage of older repair staff who are likely to exit the business in the near future
- Organizations that are having difficulties attracting replacement technicians and engineers
Asset data and ease of use will be table stakes
As noted above, for AR and VR to play a meaningful role in improving service organizations' performance, they will require access to that all-important asset data. This is the information that enables technicians to be digitally walked through the service and repair process.
Following the requirement to have a wealth of asset data available is the ease of generating content. Ease of use and the ability to create the visual guides and process flow that enable the quick assessment and repair of assets is critical to adoption and return on investment. Additionally, ease of integration between the Asset Service Management system and the AR/VR application is key to ease of use.
The ability to record and reuse sessions will also be important, so the communications system that connects the Service Management System to the technician must be robust and capable of handling voice, text, and video, similar to Zinc. The device on which the AR/VR application is viewed is not critical. Today most applications use mobile devices, smart phones, and tablets, eventually, we expect to see that transition to more user-friendly wearable devices.
Early adopters will achieve strategic benefit
Initially, we expect organizations that maintain high-value, mission-critical complex assets to be early adopters of AR and VR. Indeed, many already are. As the technology matures and the costs become less prohibitive, we see a general adoption of the technology to be prevalent. The benefits of the technology will eventually drive most service organizations to use it in order to remain competitive.
At present, it is a balance of cost, change management appetite, and perceived benefit. As more companies start to benefit from the performance improvements, late adopters will be compelled to enter the market. It is due to this that we feel that the early adopters will achieve a strategic benefit. Unilever has reported that they successfully reduced downtime of their assets by 50% through the utilization of the technology and reduced training time by more than 85% while also reducing the time to gather asset information for a repair by 90%. These types of gains will provide a significant competitive advantage against their competition.
ServiceMax's point of view on AR and VR is that they will play a huge role in the future success of asset and equipment maintenance service providers. We see their penetration into the market now and understand how in a matter of time they will dominate a variety of specific service-related areas.
We also understand that the application of AR and VR is dependent upon clean, usable, accurate asset data. Only with this data can we achieve asset visualization and lead a technician through a repair process. That's why, in preparation for the arrival of AR and VR, we have focused our solution around asset-centricity. It all begins with a deep knowledge of the asset.