Augmented reality and the new field service engineer

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Although games and apps often use augmented reality, AR can also be used to improve customer experiences and reduce field service costs. ClickSoftware and Fieldbit are developing an AR headset that allows real-time communication between field engineers and experienced engineers. The AR headset will ensure that experienced engineers will not have to travel to offer their expertise, while also delivering a smarter level of service and limiting the amount of field technicians that need to travel.

This, in an age where service is more complex to deliver, expectations are higher, and where field service delivery organisations need computer skills as well as mechanical competencies, are just some of the industry pressure points. So, how will the advent of this new technology support the delivery of an exceptional service experience without raising the cost, and perhaps even lower it, without sacrificing quality?

The advent of a hands-free augmented reality headset will ensure that field service engineers are able to fix the machinery or equipment as soon as they arrive onsite, ideally replacing the requirement for multiple visits or numerous engineers, a bugbear for both customer and supplier. The headset also allows the field engineer to communicate remotely with service centre experts both visually and verbally. By having this extended communication, the field engineer and expert will be able to share information about complex machinery and equipment.

The augmented reality headsets combine real-time video streaming, commercially available smart glasses, and cloud computing, so the engineers can share a singular view of the equipment, rather than being limited to verbal discussions. After the real-time image is shared, both engineers are able to superimpose graphic images and video annotations onto the glasses screen. Whereas current engineers are able to call an expert, the new augmented reality headsets will allow the engineers to share real (and superimposed) images seamlessly.

By implementing this equipment onto field service, restoring equipment will be faster than ever before. Engineers can easily zone in on the machinery issue and share knowledge with their colleagues, allowing knowledge to be gained without losing time onsite. Field service will therefore move away from relying on individual experience, and will progress to shared field service experience and knowledge.

In the current working climate, field service is facing a shortage of engineers and with the Baby Boomer generation soon going into retirement, skills shortage is an issue generally. The augmented reality headsets will consequently require less training from the engineers, with the headsets programmed to demonstrate to them how to fix the equipment, or connected remotely to more experienced, remote back up staff. This will therefore create more effective field service once the workforce arrives onsite. So, best of both worlds, field service engineers will require less training and experience with augmented reality headsets, yet customer service is set to improve.

In addition, younger engineers, such as millennials, are typically able to understand (and are eager to learn) emerging technology, and will therefore be able to use and benefit from the headsets quickly. However, younger engineers do not have as much mechanical knowledge and experience as older engineers in the industry, with school vocational training having declined in recent years. With the average age of a field service professional at 32, knowledge gained from older field service engineers will have significant benefits. The augmented reality headset will align and optimise the two generations, allowing older engineers to give advice to the younger engineers, via the most suitable and innovative technology.

In summary, augmented reality headsets are the latest technology trend that field service is encompassing to improve customer and employee experience. Current field service engineers will need training and support to get the best from new devices, whereas new field service engineers will start their field service career with the augmented reality headsets already in place. By incorporating augmented reality into field service, businesses will be able to improve customer service without reducing the engineers’ quality of training and delivery of service. Delivering exceptional customer service will therefore be achievable at a reduced cost.

ABI Research predicts that 21 million units of AR smart glasses will be shipped in 2020, many of which will be used by field service engineers. So, next time an engineer arrives onsite with an augmented reality headset, don’t be surprised, they’re working, not gaming, and they may just finish the job more quickly.

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