In this episode, Marieke Wijtkamp sits down with Christopher Rand to discuss trends on AR in field service, challenges to adoption and critical use cases of this technology
A recent report on the future outlook of augmented reality (AR) in field service identified that 61% of executives consider AR to be an important or critical part of their overall strategy. In this new episode of the Librestream Livestream, SVP of Marketing, Marieke Wijtkamp, and Christopher Rand of WBR discuss the findings of this report and dig deeper into what this means for field service organizations.
Watch the episode below or read the transcript.
If you don’t already have a copy of the report, download it for free here.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Welcome to our second Librestream Livestream. My name is Marieke Wijtkamp, and I will be your host for today’s session. Joining me as our special guest is Christopher Rand. Chris is a research analyst with Worldwide Business Research (WBR). Chris, welcome. Tell us what you do at WBR.
Christopher Rand: Hi, Marieke. Thanks for having me. So, I head of the research team for WBR insights, which is the research arm of the field service event series. We’ve got really strong connections to the field service community in all parts of the world, and we regularly conduct surveys and produce reports about leading trends in the industry.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Excellent! I’m sure that keeps you busy and out of trouble. What we’re going to explore today is a very timely research project that Chris and his team just undertook with the service sector, and in particular, was looking at workforce transformation technologies, like augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Chris, can you expand on the process that WBR undertook for this survey?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, absolutely. So, for our study with Librestream, we used an interview-based approach where we spoke to field service leaders in a wide range of industries. That includes aerospace, energy, automotive, medical, and scientific devices, and several others. So, each respondent represented a company with about $500 million or more US dollars in annual revenue, some reaching as much as tens of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Marieke Wijtkamp: So very large organizations, but quite a diverse group of organizations that you took a look at. Why was it so important to get this diversity?
Christopher Rand: Yeah. So, among other technologies, our studies focus was on augmented reality or AR, and its applications and field service. AR has applications across these industries. And since we wanted to understand adoption from a number of different angles, we felt like getting a wide sample across industries was the best approach. I think the results really say a lot about the future of AR adoption as well.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Okay, well, I can’t wait to learn more into what you what you found out! Can you start just by sharing what some of the key findings were within the survey, and why you feel those are significant?
Christopher Rand: Sure. So, I think one of the biggest findings was that 100% of field service organizations in our study are already using or plan to use augmented reality within their service operations. And many of them have already achieved high levels of maturity in their adoption of AR. We also found that 54% of companies with field service operations are going to increase their spending on AR in the next 12 months. And 82% of those companies are going to do so by 20% or more. So, the takeaway there is AR investment and adoption are definitely on the rise. And I was also interested to learn how important AR technologies are as competitive differentiators for service teams, who provide them to customers, or in customer interactions, rather.
Marieke Wijtkamp: That is interesting! Definitely a lot of investment coming too. That competitive differentiation aspect really speaks to, I think, that first-mover advantage that these organizations are going to have. For everyone who’s joining us a little bit late, my name is Marieke Wijtkamp. I’m your host for today’s livecast and I’m joined with Christopher Rand, who has just published a report on workforce transformative technologies like augmented reality. So, Chris, I know this report digs into a lot more details. Can you share some of the highlights on the actual technologies that you uncovered?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the big findings was field service organizations they’re pushing, or pursuing rather, advanced remote assistance capabilities and analytics. So augmented reality, which we were just talking about, also known as AR. It’s opened the door for a surge of new capabilities, which can be deployed in field service organizations. And a lot of those capabilities are designed specifically to enhance customer experiences, in some cases by providing customers with new ways to access service remotely. Nearly half of the respondents in our survey rated five different remote expert assistance capabilities as highly important to their workforces and augmented reality is a really good fit for those. Analytics, device agnostics and diagnostics, those were just a few of those capabilities. Our respondents also cited several business benefits as being driven by AR. So, some of those were using the technology as a selling point in contract negotiations, which I highlighted earlier. That suggests service organizations see AR as a competitive differentiator, but also direct benefits like improving technician productivity and improved service ROI, or cost savings. Those were some of the other benefits. And then, you know, some other business benefits like reducing the need to travel for delivery of service, which 56% of organizations cited—obviously, a big deal right now. Improving support of contractor and new technician onboarding. So, there’s a training component there as well as reducing overhead costs. So, you know, cost benefits, again, a big part of AR adoption.
Marieke Wijtkamp: We definitely see that too. I think along with the really interesting outcomes that you shared there, we also see one that has gained ground recently, which is into the worker safety side, it seems like that is an area that has really gained ground as well. So, you also in this report, looked beyond benefits in into challenges that companies face in scaling this kind of solution. Can you share some of those learnings with us as well?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, absolutely. I think another big key takeaway is that, you know, although there is universal adoption of AR among the respondents in our study, only 10% of them claim to have fully integrated AR with every application they found. So, they’re finding applications, they’re just not necessarily realizing them yet. Most of them 56% of them, they claim it’s a common feature across their organization, and acknowledge that applications are increasing in number. So those applications are growing, they just need to sort of step up and scale. So, in that respect, the most common challenges companies face are scaling the technology, even after successes. And that’s among 50% of the companies, and also collecting and implementing technician feedback on the performance of those solutions, which another majority 53% cited. Both of those are essential to really realizing the full potential of augmented reality. Definitely still room in that case for competitive differentiation with the adoption, for everyone listening in, for the adoption and broad application of AR. Ultimately, 61% of respondents consider AR either an important piece of their overall strategy and a priority for development, or a critical piece of transformation strategy and a top priority. So definitely part of their overarching business goals and just kind of goes to show you that scaling, in that regard, is even more so an important factor over the next year. And to reiterate, companies, they plan to increase their spending on AR significantly, most are planning to increase spending by at least 30%. Where 13% plan to increase spending by 50% or more. So, then the attempt there to scale like we were talking about.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And that level of investment is definitely significant. We do have a question, which is interesting to come up at this point, and likely came from some of what you were talking about, which is more around starting the process of digitization. So how can I or my company start the process of digitization? And certainly, one really important suggestion that we have with our customers, is start with just a couple of use cases. There are so many applications for how this kind of technology can be used. And as you’ve heard, Chris, what you shared how we can drive value. But start with just a couple of use cases, prove those out, share those successes, and that will really help with that initial digitization process. And I know, Chris, you have lots of experience in this too. What would you add to that?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, Marieke, thank you. I talk to a lot of field service practitioners, we do a lot of events in field service, where we hear some of their insights. And one of the biggest things I hear about digitization is that the cultural changes are really difficult. And I think one of the things that you highlighted was getting those early successes. I think that’s an important part of that any kind of digital transformation that you want to take place is going to require some changes on the part of your personnel. If you can show them that these changes are successful, that they can yield better results, it’s easier to evangelize those changes. And I think that’s a really important part that sometimes companies overlook. It’s not just about buying the technology. It’s about getting everyone on board, including your stakeholders and your technicians. So that would be my takeaway for that.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Yeah, I think that’s a really important thread too. I used to talk about how you needed to say something seven to 12 times to have it stick. Well, that’s ratcheted up. I think the most recent data I saw was 16 to 22. So certainly, celebrating and communicating those successes is really important.
Christopher Rand: Yeah, I think personally, 16 to 22 is more realistic. For me, it certainly is.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Yes, I agree. That’s a great question. Thank you to the audience for asking us that question. I wanted to get back to this level of investment that you talked about, Chris. Do you think that some of this has been a result of COVID-19 being a catalyst?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, augmented reality was an attractive technology even before COVID-19 began. It reduces the requirements for service visits which is great. A huge advantage, since technicians can often work with customers remotely. But naturally, AR became more attractive once COVID-19 hit. It allowed service teams to do even sophisticated work without service visits, and even eliminate service visits altogether for other types of work. So, I think AR is going to help other companies transition out of a break/fix model as well. I think instilling more confidence in customers is a big deal as a result of COVID-19. And just any kind of cost reduction cost optimization that organizations can accomplish through AR, which, as we highlighted before, you know, they’re seeing those benefits now, I think is another advantage and something that’s really been driven by COVID-19, just because of all the disruptions and uncertainty around that. So, I think all of those factors contribute.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Well, I think that’s a really good point. And certainly, you’re right, these use cases and these value items were here before, and it’s just an acceleration, I think, that perhaps is what we’ve seen, for this to be continuing. Just before we dig into the next question we were going to talk about, I see that our audience has asked around use cases, which is great timing. We were just talking about that. So, what are some examples of use cases that we’ve seen our customers use the technology for? So just speaking from a Librestream perspective, lots of different ones. Certainly, this idea of performing remote inspections, virtual audits, remotely witnessing tasks, doing equipment, factory acceptance tests remotely, all of these really visual aspects to roles that used to be ones where people would hop on an airplane, or hop in their car and drive to the location instead doing that virtually. So those are some of the use cases we’ve really seen drive up in demand recently. Chris, what about yourself? What would you add to that?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, absolutely. And again, you know, we speak to a lot of practitioners, about their use of AR, one of the things we’ve heard again and again, is that it’s great for training purposes, I think that’s one of the things we talked about earlier. And in sort of an overlapping way, it’s a great way to get the kind of expertise you need on site, even if you don’t have that experienced technician on site at the time. So just to clarify what that means, you might have a new technician out in the field, who doesn’t have the experience that is needed for that particular job. Well, that person can interface with an expert remotely, and that person can guide them through an augmented reality experience. So that’s one of the things we see that contributes to both, you know, delivering the expertise you need every time, and also training new technicians. So, I think those are really good use cases to highlight. Another benefit we see a lot is actual centralized teams helping customers directly through augmented reality. So, in some cases, customers, they have access to digital augmented reality solutions, and they can actually connect with service teams remotely through those solutions and self service basically, that way. So that’s another use case I would bring up.
Marieke Wijtkamp: I think that’s a really good one. We’ve certainly seen a lot of that. And then there are, of course, capabilities that you need to be able to deliver like privacy. You know, when you’re when you’re working directly with customers, you definitely need to be able to answer their questions on privacy and security and all of those really important capabilities. Those are great. Thank you, Chris, for sharing. Just getting back into the report, in terms of barriers, we were talking a little bit about the acceleration that we’ve seen. And, and I know certainly lots of reports out there, there was one by Gartner, you’ve probably seen where they surveyed CFOs and found that 75% or so felt like remote work was going to continue to be the way of the future for the majority of their teams. So, I think these technologies are just going to continue to gain ground, as you’ve mentioned, but there are barriers, as you also have described in the report. What do you feel are necessary for companies to do to overcome those barriers?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, absolutely. So, I have a couple of recommendations I can make based on the findings of the report. You’re going to get the best insights from the report itself and just more in-depth material. But three of the things I would want to highlight are first of all plan to standardize AR as the service capability. Again, adoption, and internal teams adapting to change, those are big challenges. If you are making it a standard long term, that’s going to help them adjust. And as we’ve seen again, and again, AR is becoming an integral part of company strategy. So, taking that approach, I think is a good way to think about it. Second of all, use AR as a selling point for customers. Again, you know, there’s a competitive advantage there and you can actually advertise that and highlight that and that’s one of the things that we recommend. Because it’s true, you know, and you should leverage that just to improve your market appeal, as well. And third, if you’re not planning on growing your investment in AR, I think you should consider it as your competitors are doing that. And even if you’re just starting for the first time, there’s a lot you can do very quickly to drive real and lasting benefits from using AR.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Those are really good points. And you’re right, reading the report is going to shed more light. I’m actually really impressed, Chris, you have those stats at your fingertips. So, lots of numbers that we’ve thrown out to our audience. So definitely encourage you to read that full report.
Christopher Rand: Yeah, absolutely. I agree.
Marieke Wijtkamp: So just before we conclude, I wanted to ask you, you always have to ask about the future. So, Chris, what do you believe the future looks like for AR in the service industry?
Christopher Rand: Yeah, again, just to emphasize that, you know, this technology is here to stay. No matter of the industry, you provide service, there are going to be applications for AR, big or small. The only real question is how broadly you want to apply AR – how much you are going to scale it across your service operations. What we saw from the study was that most companies see more applications than they’re currently utilizing. So, it kind of suggests the sky may be the limit in terms of how broadly it can apply. So, I think that’s an important takeaway.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Yeah, the sky’s the limit. I love that, Chris. Well, thank you so much for joining our livestream today.
Christopher Rand: Thank you. It was a real pleasure. Thanks so much.
Marieke Wijtkamp: Excellent. Thank you to all of our listeners, and to the folks who sent in their questions. Thank you for joining us live, or maybe you’re watching this episode later. As we mentioned, you can access the full report. It’s in the post above. And I encourage you to sign up for notifications, so you don’t miss a future episode. And if you liked what you saw and heard, please like or share. We really appreciate your support and your input on future topics that you’d like us to cover. So, until then, we’ll see you next time on the Librestream Livestream.