Augmented Reality and Field Reality
Augmented reality (AR) has come a long way from its science-fiction origins. From navigation in NASA’s X-38 spacecraft back in 1998 to the debut of AR-based apps and immersive digital experiences, the real-world applications of augmented reality technology have evolved to impact the way people do business and engage with customers.
Field service providers are rapidly incorporating AR technology into their customer service and support capabilities. AR-powered support is transforming remote maintenance and repair capabilities and increasing efficiency with the ability to relay visual information through mobile phones and smart devices. Gartner predicts that by 2025, over 50% of field service management (FSM) deployments will include mobile augmented reality collaboration and knowledge sharing tools, up from less than 10% in 2019.
Four Field Service Operating Models
According to Gartner, field service organizations typically align with four operating scenarios based on service complexity and their SLA accountability for equipment outcomes, summarized as follows:
Field Service Operating Model Complexity of Service Equipment Accountability Examples
Appointment centric Low complexity Low accountability Residential equipment
Outcome-centric High complexity High accountability Medical devices
Equipment Centric High complexity Low accountability HVAC, Oil & Gas
Knowledge Centric Low complexity High accountability Mobile devices.
How AR Can Improve Field Services
Let’s look at the four scenarios and see how augmented reality technology can streamline, support, and improve field services.
Scenario 1: The appointment-centric model
Appointment-centric field service providers generally provide customers with straightforward on-site services. They typically have a high volume of technician dispatches and customers who expect on-time visits and personal interaction. To meet demand and cover a wider geographic area, technicians may have to visit multiple locations per day and offer consistent and uncomplicated services, such as installations or repairs to residential equipment such as telecom cables, dryers, and smart TVs.
Field service providers may need to rely on subcontractors, who are often less informed and may come unprepared to resolve the customer’s issue. Technician time in the field is often constrained by time-consuming tasks and unforeseen scheduling issues, such as job overruns, missing parts, and unexpected cancellations.
AR for an appointment-centric field service organization
Augmented reality technology plays a crucial role in an appointment-centric model by streamlining scheduling and optimizing performance. AR-driven visual assistance enables dispatchers to “see” the customer’s issue remotely for more effective troubleshooting. Armed with a diagnosis, dispatchers can choose the right technician for the job, resulting in a higher first-time-fix rate and shorter time on site. A preliminary virtual inspection via the customer’s smartphone camera prepares the technician ahead of a dispatch, ensuring that he arrives with the right information, parts, and equipment.
AR can also support an on-site technician by enabling remote visual consultation with an expert in the field for faster and more efficient issue resolution. This is especially useful in more complicated scenarios and to capture job-related images that simplify the job verification and documentation process. In addition, AR allows technicians to work remotely, guiding customers to resolve simple issues by themselves. This support model has been accelerated during the pandemic due to safety reasons, but as its significant value becomes clear, many providers are adopting it as a long-term model.
Scenario 2: The outcome-centric model
Outcome-centric field service providers are typically accountable – perhaps even with a contractual obligation – for complex equipment performance, for example, in the medical device industry and utilities. With a priority on equipment performance, service delivery is based on proactive measures, such as monitoring machine downtime or overall equipment effectiveness to minimize outage risks. For example, a malfunction in a CT scanner or MRI machine may result in lost revenue and severely impact hospital scheduling. Outcome- centric FSPs will be required to monitor this equipment to predict outages ahead of time.
AR for an outcome-centric field service organization
Augmented reality technology enables a remote triage role, with the understanding that experienced field technicians are more likely to predict, diagnose and resolve issues remotely and more quickly than traditional call center staff, and in some cases eliminate the need for on-site visits altogether.
Beyond the customer’s physical environment, AR can also anticipate technical issues outside of the initial contact scope. For example, if the water pumping through an MRI machine is not cold enough, the equipment will lock-up and disallow scanning until the temperature can be brought back down to specified levels. This common issue often originates in the chiller of the HVAC system. Using AR during routine maintenance, the technician can check that the HVAC is functioning correctly, achieving Next Issue Avoidance and creating a loyal customer.
Scenario 3: The equipment-centric model
Equipment-centric field service providers employ highly skilled technicians that are certified experts in specific complex equipment and components, for example, oil and gas service providers or facilities management. Their services include preventative maintenance procedures delivered continuously and reactive services in time-sensitive situations for equipment and machinery such as elevators or fire protection systems. These FSPs are familiar with strict guidelines and regulatory safety protocols under which they can provide services. However, with the declining pool of senior field technicians due to retirement and increased equipment complexity, less experienced technicians need on-site assistance to troubleshoot or resolve issues.
AR for an equipment-centric field service organization
Augmented reality enables both on-site and remote expert assistance for improved field service capabilities. With AR technology, junior field technicians can receive on-the-job training, collaborate remotely with experts, access video and images of components or faulty devices via their mobile devices. The remote experts can see what the on-site technician sees and provide step-by-step training and guidance to resolve the issue or confirm that the job has been completed correctly.
AR can also be used very effectively to improve the safety of maintenance personnel. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, most elevator accidents involve a construction or maintenance worker who is performing elevator maintenance or installation. Eliminating or reducing on-site visits using AR can reduce these accidents and contribute significantly to improved worker safety.
Scenario 4: The knowledge-centric model
Knowledge-centric field service providers deliver mass support for a specific equipment model or specific components closed to outside service and requiring specialized knowledge, such as automotive components or communication devices. Technicians are often employed directly by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and may have specialized access to equipment components. Some OEMs require certain repairs to be made by certified technicians only. To effectively service customers and avoid tarnishing the brand, knowledge-centric FSPs must learn the customer’s configuration and rapidly react to issues. Less experienced field service technicians may have knowledge gaps, and without on-site support to augment their skills, they will have a lower first-time-fix rate and slower turnaround time.
AR for a knowledge-centric field service organization
Augmented reality technology can eliminate labor-intensive tasks for the technician, like collecting model number information and other general product details. For customers, AR-technology can facilitate remote or self-service support. With remote service, human agents use AR to identify and resolve common technical issues, guiding the customer through the process. With self-service, virtual assistants powered by Computer Vision technology visually guide the customer through the repair process, using video and AR to annotate instructions on their smart device screens.
Field Service Improvement with Augmented Reality
Whether focused on on-site technician engagement, equipment expertise, outcomes, or knowledge sharing and collaboration – in each of the four operating scenarios, Augmented Reality technology is proving to be a key enabler to boost efficiency and deliver next-level field service improvement.