With data being at the forefront of today’s technological advancement and artificial intelligence at its peak, only a few pieces of the ‘new world’ puzzle are missing. Nowadays, anyone with internet access and a sprinkle of persistence can learn almost any skill practically on their own. However, when it comes to even the most common physical tasks, like assembling a piece of furniture, challenges inevitably arise.
The reason is simple: our brain has a hard time translating two-dimensional information into 3D. AR merges the best of the two worlds and bridges the gap between the physical and the digital. This makes processing information significantly easier and the learning curve less steep.
AR has been on the radar of many enterprises, be it an automotive giant or a custom software company. Although it has proven to be a perfect playground for various entertainment purposes and consumer apps, companies should see a far greater potential for internal AR applications.
The value of AR for enterprises
Essentially, there are two roles AR can take on in a business setting: as a product feature and as a process enhancer. Let’s focus on the latter and see how exactly AR adds value to product development, workforce training, and productivity.
Computer-aided design has proven to be a reliable tool for many product designers and engineers. However, AR-based design applications surpass conventional CAD programs on almost every layer of product conceptualization.
One of the most recurring challenges in product development is the need for design iterations. Testing physical models is often a required stage in prototyping. AR solves this problem almost entirely, as the technology allows to test infinite amounts of product variations without leaving the digital environment. This can have a drastic impact on the flexibility of the product development cycle and significantly cut time-to-market.
Consequently, this also reduces the investments in physical prototypes. Although in the majority of cases physical models are essential in product design, many in-between iterations can be replaced with AR-assisted modeling.
Regardless of how sufficient and well-though-out the company’s workforce training program is, challenges related to equipment availability, time and resource management, and trainee engagement are still there. Instructions in the text form are hard to follow and not interactive. Best candidates for coaching positions are experienced employees, who, however, often lack coaching skills. At the end of the day, each person is different and requires an individual approach.
AR solves these problems by providing an interactive, immersive and playful guidance for new and existing staff, regardless of the industry. For example, Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest military contractor, integrated AR into their training programs for assembling spacecraft parts and managed to decrease their training time by 85% while increasing productivity by 40%.
The AR adoption strategy
It all starts with value assessment and ROI calculation. In the majority of cases, finding a potential use case for AR is not a complicated task. The most important and the least exciting step here, however, is to treat AR as any other productivity enhancer or cost reducer. In other words, start with a business objective, and if AR is the most viable option, go for it.
Start from the bottom up
The majority of promising technologies have many similarities in their strategy adoption. However, AR differentiates itself from the rest as it requires to start research from the bottom of the organization. There are no other people in the company who know the process better than on-site employees. Companies need to identify key people, veterans of the craft, who will pinpoint the most complex, time-consuming or inefficient practices in the current workflow as candidates for augmentation.
Talent acquisition is always a collateral problem of any disruptive tech. There are usually two ways to go about it: building an in-house AR development team or hiring external specialists. The decision needs to stem from the enterprise strategy. If the company identifies AR as a focal technology and strategically important competitive asset, investing in an internal AR team might be the option.
Another crucial point to consider here is that content creation is essential to AR. Depending on the project, the content and its update frequency might differ substantially. In many cases, especially in consumer apps, existing 2D models can be converted to 3D models with ease. However, enterprise AR applications require highly detailed 3D representations of physical objects that often need to be built from the ground up.
More often than not, this task requires specialized expertise, which can rarely be found in companies that haven’t yet been immersed in AR initiatives. In this case, hiring external AR vendors would be the most appropriate step.
Choose the right hardware
Unlike other emerging technologies such as AI, the hardware is an integral part of AR-enabled applications. When it comes to consumer apps, downloading a mobile app is usually the only effort needed to experience the latest AR advancements. In an enterprise context, however, dedicated AR hardware is essential.
Depending on the project, hardware costs can add up quickly, which is why it’s important to choose the most cost-effective option. For example, complicated manufacturing tasks require employees to stay focused and hands-free. In this case, smart glasses and similar headsets come to the rescue. For less sophisticated tasks, like household product development, tablets with the dedicated app should be sufficient.
Data is inarguably the main driver of today’s digital revolution. While enormous amounts of information can seamlessly flow from one device to another and be processed in a matter of seconds, peoples’ abilities don’t even come close in this regard. AR appears as a perfect solution to this problem.
In fact, I see the global adoption of AR as an important point in the technological evolution. Merging humans’ exceptional critical thinking and motor skills with AR’s ability to superimpose complicated information on the physical world makes our productivity increase exponentially. This will entirely transform how organizations develop products, enhance their employees’ skills, and run manufacturing and maintenance processes.