Stephen Witherden, Technical Director – Software Engineering at Beca, shares his views on the use of augmented reality (AR) technology in business. As a strong advocate for its transformative nature, he says it’s heartening to see that the time for AR appears to have come.

With Microsoft planning to deliver over 100,000 HoloLens devices to the American military and breathless predictions of the market share for AR growing to USD $60.5 billion by 2023, there is one thing most commentators agree on: AR is going to develop slower and be more transformative than its cousin Virtual Reality (VR).

How then can you, as an innovative early adopter of technology, make the most of this emerging technology?

Empowering tinkerers to establish use cases

Firstly, acknowledge that technological innovation in an organisation does not typically start in a centralised fashion. The adoption of the microcomputer in the 1970’s was characterised by pockets of adoption by individuals, which eventually coalesced into the more centrally funded and managed ICT services we have today.

The risk with adopting AR is it is quite easy to buy, but difficult to apply. Simply buying the technology as a pool resource and managing it as you would (for example) a laptop, will result in it sitting as a rapidly depreciating trophy in a cabinet. Rather, find a champion for the technology: a tinkerer who has the time to and interest in learning how the technology works and its applicability to your business. The tinkerer needs to be inquisitive, have the time and resources to explore and above all be interested in solving problems with technology rather than just the technology itself. Give them the technology, the device is theirs. Let the ideas spring from this decentralised ownership rather than centralised control.

Most who have explored AR are at this point in their AR adoption journey: having completed a few proofs of concept and proven (or disproven) the technology for their specific use case.

Managing change for real benefit

You do not adopt technology for the sake of technology itself. However, once the use cases have been identified, you need to extract the value out of the innovation as thoroughly as possible. All technology projects are improvement projects and all improvement projects are change projects. Thinking about a technology implementation project in this way highlights a number of key things you need to ensure if you are to extract the value of the technology.

Because the technology is being deployed to make an improvement, it is important that the improvement is measured by taking a baseline of performance and ongoing measurements. Not only to validate the business case but also for the gratification of those people involved in the change themselves.

Since you’re implementing change you need to manage that change. Managing change is a well-established discipline with many competent practitioners, but generally it is agreed that change is achieved by the following (adapted from Kotter’s change model):

  • Identifying the need for change with stakeholders
  • Developing a shared vision
  • Establishing a guiding coalition (providing leadership)
  • Developing new behaviours, knowledge and skills
  • Celebrating and building on success
  • Making it stick (on-going)

Many organisations have started on the AR journey. Purchased technology, performed a proof of concept and then failed to embed the change in their organisation because they failed to recognise that a technology change has less to do with technology and more to do with people.

Example use cases

So, you want to make a start and you would like to give your tinkerer’s some ideas to begin with. Every industry is different, but the principles of AR are well understood. At its most core, AR is a technology which blends the real world with virtual elements. I prefer not to think about AR as augmenting my reality, but rather as augmenting myself. It is more than just a visualisation aid, it is a computer which can understand the world around me and give me super-human attributes of recognition, recall and reasoning. This augmentation-of-the-self results in the following general use cases:

1. Augmenting the scenario

By adding visualisations of what does not or cannot exist in the real world, we are able to provide richer, more meaningful information for decision-making. For example, this could be a heat map of building occupancy or CO2 levels.

2. Revealing the hidden

AR can give you super-powers to see through walls and floors. Imagine being able to identify the services beneath the cladding in your building so you can perform more targeted maintenance.

3. Visualising the past or future

This could be in the form of visualising proposed office layouts or rehearsing the stages of a construction project so that you can be more efficient with your use of resources.

4. Providing contextual information

This last use case is expected to be the killer app in the AR space. Imagine a technology, which can recognise the person you are speaking to immediately and provide you with contextual information about who they are (for example, their LinkedIn Profile). Alternatively, it could recognise the equipment you are dealing with, providing maintenance information, or the package you have just picked off the shelf, explaining where it should be placed and why.

AR promises to be a transformative force in our organisations for decades to come. But change requires deliberate action. Going into this change with eyes wide open will help ensure your innovation’s success.

This article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of APAC CIO Outlook magazine.

About the Author
Stephen Witherden

Technical Director - Software Engineering

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