Seeing is Believing: How AR Increases Field Technician Productivity… and Customer Satisfaction

Written By: Michelle Duke Hopkins
  • 11/17/2016
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*Guest post by Bill Pollock, president & principal consulting analyst at Strategies for GrowthSM 

It seems that for forever, field technicians have been forced to carry around dense manuals in their vans, detailing and explaining repair processes, service guidelines and product schematics. Then, once at the customer site, they still need to flip through those hundreds of pages to find exactly what they are looking for in order to perform the on-site repair – particularly when it involves dealing with a piece of equipment that they may not have seen in years – if ever!

We’ve all heard the expression ’seeing is believing.’ But, what really should stand out fairly clearly is that the fact that the phrase does not say, ‘reading is believing!” This is the main premise that supports the applicability of Augmented Reality (AR) for the field services segment, in that it is more helpful for the field technician to ‘see’ how to repair a piece of equipment, rather than having to ‘read up’ on how to repair it.

Further, while the former can take place in real time, the latter may often require several minutes – or more – of delving into chapters and indices, finding the appropriate pages, writing down notes, and otherwise wasting time – at least from the perspectives of both the technician and the customer!

Some providers of technology are now addressing this challenge, by augmenting the physical product with digital data, thus resulting in significant benefits for both the services organization and its customers. Through AR (and the IoT that powers the technology), services organizations can benefit from:

  • Increased productivity from their field technicians, in terms of shorter-term on-site visits and, as a result, a greater number of completed service calls, per technician, per day

  • Increased utilization of the company’s field technicians (i.e., reduction in the time typically “wasted” in researching how to perform the repair – just do it!)

  • Reduced time to commence the repair (i.e., no need to search for paper or electronic documents and product schematics – and, then, read them – before beginning the repair 

  • Less invasive and/or disruptive service calls from the customer’s perspective (i.e., the technology should be disruptive – not the service call itself)

  • Increased customer satisfaction (i.e., the field technician arrives, gets started immediately, and quickly completes the repair)

In fact, it is through the use of this AR technology that Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) providers can now empower their customers to leverage two of the most disruptive of transformational technology trends – the Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR) – to deliver a new class of products that merge the digital and physical worlds.

The benefits to the field force can also be substantial as, by adopting an AR-based strategy, Field Service Organizations (FSOs) can:

  • Completely eliminate the maintenance, repair and service manuals in their present, cumbersome, print copy (or, even, digital) form;
  • Streamline (and/or eliminate) formal, individual, maintenance and repair training for service technicians; and 
  • Introduce and potentially monetize new IoT- and AR-based Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) business models.
  • Improve asset uptime
  • Better the customer experience

In a 2016 Fortune article, the magazine reported that, “More and more we see products that are part physical and part digital – and we see new models wanting to be part physical and part digital. The idea of being able to project a digital experience onto a physical product to figure out how to service it or show operating metrics … is a killer idea.”

One of the examples cited suggested, “imagine pointing your smartphone at your car and being able to see visual warnings that your wiper fluid was running low or your tire pressure was sub-optimal on a rear tire. That’s possible as information gathered by the car’s sensors can be pushed to the Cloud, then retrieved and shown in a visual format on the phone. That same format could also offer simple to follow directions on how to fix the problems”.

In other words, not only does ‘seeing is believing’ hold true for those field technicians supported by an AR platform, but if ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, then being able to ‘se’ how to repair the equipment via Augmented Reality must expand upon that equation by another thousand-fold!

AR doesn’t create a new virtual reality; but, rather, it enhances the perceptual reality that the viewer is able to visualize while looking at a piece of equipment. This is exactly how AR will be able to assist FSOs in an SLM environment; that is, to provide the field technician (who may not ever have been called upon to service a particular piece of equipment) to still be able to perform the repair by “overlaying” an enhanced (again, augmented) reality – in 3D motion – over and above what he or she would otherwise be able to visualize, in order to make a quick, clean and complete fix.

The ability to ‘see’ this Augmented Reality – in 3D motion – with accompanying instructive text, metrics and repair parameters overlaid and easily articulated will undoubtedly provide, at the very least, an extra measure of comfort to the technician, as well as access to a readily available tutorial for performing the repair as quickly, accurately and safely as possible.

However, merely talking about Augmented Reality – rather than actually seeing it in action – is like trying to tell a Southerner how cold the Northern Winters are – in words. It’s just not possible! That’s why AR is best understood by actually seeing a demonstration of it in action.

Bill Pollock is President & Principal Consulting Analyst at Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the independent research analyst and services consulting firm he founded in 1992. In 2015/2016, Bill was named “One of the Twenty Most Influential People in Field Service” by Field Service News (UK); one of Capterra’s “20 Excellent Field Service Twitter Accounts”; and one of Coresystems’ “Top 10 Field Service Influencers to Follow”. He writes monthly features for Field Service News and Field Service Digital, and is a regular contributor to Field Technologies Online. Bill may be reached at +(610) 399-9717, or via email at Bill’s blog is accessible @PollockOnService and via Twitter @SFGOnService.


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About the Author

Michelle Duke Hopkins

Michelle Hopkins is Managing Editor of Product Lifecycle Report. She has spent her career in marketing and communications in the technology industry focused primarily on enterprise software. Michelle enjoys researching and writing about how new technology trends and innovations can transform business processes and impact customer relationships, competitive advantage and overall revenue and profitability. Frequent topics include the Internet of Things, manufacturing, service lifecycle management and STEM.