Why Going Beyond Augmented Reality with Augmented Operations will take the Service Workforce of the Future to the Next Level

Augmentir CEO Russ Fadel outlines why the next wave of AR implementations in the service industry must harness also Artificial Intelligence.

There has been a lot of advocacy for using Augmented Reality (AR) in the field service industry due to benefits from improved field technician performance to reductions in field service operating costs. However, what these early success stories don’t mention is how companies have been slow to adopt this technology and have struggled to move beyond the pilot phase.

It was believed early on that wearable technology would be the core of Enterprise AR by 2018 and thus, vendors were overly focused on getting work instructions on a variety of wearables. Many also heavily invested in using AR to present information to technicians with rich content and 3D CAD overlays. Since then, it’s become clear that these investments haven’t delivered enough value to the enterprise due to a lack of adoption.

What has been overlooked is the opportunity to create sustainable value throughout the entire organization by connecting to service workers not only by delivering personalized information, but also using artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment the intelligence of the organization.

This is the beginning of a new era, an era not of Enterprise Augmented Reality, but of Augmented Operations where AR is but one of many ways to present data, support, and guide field workers. This transformation is driven by the combination of two key technology trends – Enterprise AR and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning.

Why is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Important?

Historically, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) has been applied against external data sets. A recent trend however, is to embed AI in software platforms, having it act on the internal data, eliminating the estimated 80% of AI/ML project efforts around labelling and cleansing external data. This is frequently being applied to solutions focused on improving business processes where the human worker is at the center.

At Augmentir, we use our AI engine to identify patterns in noisy data generated by technicians and highlight areas that can improve overall worker performance and also provide personalized procedures based on the proficiency of each worker in real-time.

The AI engine is able to continually deliver insights and recommendations based on that human worker data which is valuable intelligence that can be used to help drive continuous improvement across the entire organization – from operations to training to quality.

  • AI helps each worker perform at their peak by changing the instruction to one that optimizes for speed, while meeting quality and safety targets.
  • AI understands the patterns and outliers in the vast instruction/job execution data to identify the largest opportunities in the areas of: productivity, worker effectiveness, training materials effectiveness, and instruction effectiveness. Insights and recommendations are made on how to capture these opportunities and drive continuous improvement on a year-over-year basis.
  • With AI, companies can capture tribal knowledge through interactions between experts and frontline workers, making the expertise a scalable corporate asset over time.

With this concept of Augmented Operations (using AI/ML to deliver intelligence across the organization from your augmented workforce), we are seeing a change in how organizations are making informed decisions, empowering workers, and improving the productivity of humans in the workplace.

Augmenting the Service Workforce of the Future

Despite some early momentum, Enterprise AR alone isn’t enough to deliver sustainable value in the field service sector.

What has been ignored is a real opportunity to create sustainable value throughout the organization – not only giving workers the ability to consume information and apply knowledge, but also augmenting the intelligence of the organization relative to how it engages empowers, and continually improves its human workforce. At Augmentir, we are calling this Augmented Operations, and we believe that this will transform the service workforce of the future.

To learn more about how Augmentir’s platform leverages AR and AI to continually improve the productivity of your frontline workforce download our free white paper, “Rise of the Augmented Worker.”

This article was originally published on AI Authority.

Leading manufacturer of operator interface systems and industrial displays, STRONGARM, has deployed Augmentir’s AI-Powered Augmented Worker Platform. The innovative producer of Hardened Workstations acknowledged that the AI-driven Augmented Worker platform has improved efficiencies and quality within a fortnight of its deployment. Currently, Augmentir, Inc. is a leading provider of Augmented Worker software for industrial companies.

Last month, Augmentir announced it has closed an oversubscribed funding round, led by Pritzker Group Venture Capital, with participation from Lerer Hippeau, current investors, and HOLT Ventures, the strategic venture capital arm of HOLT CAT.

STRONGARM has expanded the use of Augmentir’s AI-Powered Augmented Worker Platform across its operations, resulting in improved technician performance and training, better insight into job status, and improved quality.

What STRONGARM Achieved with AI-Powered Augmented Worker Platform

In an official press release, STRONGARM posted,

“Because the process was so easy, our technicians were able to quickly incorporate Augmentir into their daily operations, and the results were immediate – technician productivity improved, and inspection times went down. Furthermore, when one of our senior and most experienced technicians retired recently, we were able to onboard a new technician and trust Augmentir’s AI engine to guide him during the learning curve to get (the) product out the door at 100% quality so that we didn’t miss shipments. Once Augmentir’s AI engine determined that the worker had become proficient, it recommended that the instructions should be adjusted to enable him to complete the job faster while still meeting quality and safety goals. This has resulted in a 20% reduction in average build time in our most complex workstations.”

Steve Thorne, General Manager of Operations at STRONGARM stated,

“We chose Augmentir because their platform allows us to not only digitize and standardize on our manufacturing work instructions, but also to intelligently close the skills gaps when on-boarding new technicians. In addition, it’s AI-based ‘True Opportunity™’ system enables us to gain insight into how our technicians are performing, and autonomously identifies our largest capturable opportunities across our entire operation.”

“The use of Augmentir across our manufacturing operation represents an important step for us in our digital journey and continued commitment to quality and innovation in the products we build,” added Steve.

Augmented Worker Demonstrates Future of Manufacturing Lies with Digitally-Enabled AI and Robotics

STRONGARM designs and manufactures ergonomic and environmentally protected workstations for companies in a wide range of markets, including food, pharmaceutical, CPG, packaging, and transportation, with additional interface solutions for specialized verticals including STRONGARMenergy and STRONGARMhealthcare.

The company credits its long-term leadership position to its commitment to innovation. Since its 1990 founding, STRONGARM has maintained a robust “lot-size-one” offering wherein STRONGARM collaborates with clients, and then designs innovates, fabricates, and assembles these customer-specific products, all in-house.

Russ Fadel, Co-Founder, and CEO at Augmentir, said, “STRONGARM is a great example of a small, innovative manufacturing company that was able to capitalize on the emerging trends around Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation.”

Russ added, “Augmentir was uniquely designed to meet the needs of industrial companies of all sizes, enabling even small to mid-sized manufacturing companies to get the benefits of Industry 4.0 today. Our SaaS-based ‘consumerized’ enterprise software approach makes trying, buying, and owning Augmentir simple, with free pilots, low IT support, and best in class usability.”

According to Thorne, STRONGARM started seeing value from Augmentir within 10 days of their Augmentir rollout. “The process for getting our operation set up with the Augmentir platform was easy and painless, with little required IT overhead,” stated Thorne.

STRONGARM plans to expand its use of Augmentir into the manufacturing operations of their ruggedized workstations used in the Oil and Gas industry.

The Augmentir Platform includes complete functionality that makes it easy for industrial companies to improve their operations across a range of manufacturing and service use cases. The Platform provides software that helps guide frontline workers with augmented, step-by-step-instructions, assist workers with live remove expert collaboration, and utilizes its AI engine to deliver organization-wide insights and recommendations that focus on improving the quality and productivity of frontline workers.

Augmentir is the first of its kind to combine enterprise Augmented Reality (AR) with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) to empower frontline workers, helping workers perform their jobs with higher quality and increased productivity while driving continuous improvement across the organization.

Augmentir Listed as a Top 3 Best New Solution Provider in the Field Service Industry
Field Service News, a leading online journal dedicated to the Field Service industry, recently posted an article featuring Augmentir as one of their top three picks for best new solution providers in the Field Service Sector. Field Service News spoke with field service management professionals and field service solution providers across the globe over a 12 month period to cherry-pick the top three solutions that meet their needs.

What landed Augmentir on this notable list?

1.) Strong Leadership Team
The first reason is the strong leadership team with founding efforts at Wonderware, Lighthammer, and ThingWorx. The Augmentir team has a proven track record delivering industry-leading solutions in the industrial and manufacturing sectors.

2.) AI Powered Approach
In addition, Field Service Now calls out Augmentir for being different from the many Augmented Reality providers that have suddenly noticed the potential in the field service industry and says, “the really interesting thing about Augmentir is that they’ve gone far beyond the initial approach that many of their peers are offering when it comes to Augmented Reality (AR) and dived straight into an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered approach. In their own words, they position themselves as the first software platform built on Artificial Intelligence in the world of the augmented or connected worker.”

3.) Powerful Platform with an Easy-to-Use Interface
Finally, taking an AI approach is important when it comes to the use of AR in Field Service, because when leveraged alongside AI, AR becomes much more useful and powerful. Augmentir is a 100% AI-first company and understands that AR is the interface that makes the most sense for modern field service operations.

To learn more about how Augmentir’s platform leverages AR and AI to continually improve the productivity of your frontline workforce download our free white paper, “Rise of the Augmented Worker.”

A Letter From the CEO: Augmentir Closes Funding Round to Accelerate Expansion
Dear Augmentir Customers and Friends,

This week we announced that we closed an oversubscribed funding round that will support our mission to transform the frontline workforce with our AI-based Augmented Worker Platform.

This round was led by leading venture capital firm Pritzker Group Venture Capital, with participation from Lerer Hippeau, our current investors, and HOLT Ventures, the strategic venture capital arm of HOLT CAT.

Not only does the successful closing of this round further validate our unique approach of using AI and AR to support frontline workers, but it also enables us to expand our global footprint, further increase the functionality of the platform, and make it even more accessible to companies across the small, mid-sized and large spectrum.

Together with our investors and partners, we look forward to reaching even more companies, more workers, and more innovators, while defining the future of work.

With a unique and proven track record that includes founding efforts at Wonderware, Lighthammer, and ThingWorx, our executive team has the unparalleled domain expertise to deliver the next software innovation that will revolutionize the manufacturing and industrial market and shape the frontline workforce of the future.

We are excited to continue this journey with you, to support your frontline workforce with augmented procedures and help your organization drive continuous improvement through AI-driven insights.

Thank you!

Russ Fadel, CEO, Augmentir

4 Key Challenges Manufacturers Face When Adopting a Digital Transformation Strategy
There have been countless changes in technology over the past couple of decades: Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things, Artificial intelligence, and Augmented Reality (to name a few). But with all of these advances in technology, the 350 million workers in manufacturing are being asked to perform increasingly complex jobs using technology that has remained relatively unchanged for 20 years. Whether this is because enterprise software solutions are expensive, technically complex, difficult to implement, or lack continuous improvement opportunities, these users and processes have been underserved.

Although there has been a recent trend towards a digital transformation that looks at applying new technologies to improve operational processes, the workers who actually perform these processes are not being considered. Because of this, the frontline worker is largely disconnected from the digital thread of the business and improvement in productivity seems stagnant.

Key Challenges Manufacturers Face Today

As with any transformational change, adopting a digital transformation strategy is no easy undertaking. We currently see 4 key challenges industrial organizations face when adopting a digital transformation strategy:

1.) Tribal Knowledge and the “Skills Gap”
Senior production workers and subject matter experts have accumulated valuable experience and knowledge, which has been typically hard to capture and convert into an asset that is able to be easily shared and used by others. The younger workforce that is entering the manufacturing sector does not have the knowledge that their senior peers have, but are expected to perform the same jobs, at the same level of productivity and quality.

2.) Lack of Insight
Lack of insight into how workers are performing their jobs on a day-to-day basis is also an issue. There is no fine-grained detail regarding worker activity – how are workers performing vs. benchmarks, are they having trouble on certain steps, what are they doing well, do they have feedback on operational procedures that could help the rest of the workforce? This lack of data and insight has made it extremely difficult to improve the performance of frontline workers. As a result, there is little or no basis for making decisions for improvement across the organization.

3.) Lack of Guidance and Accurate Information
Organizations are struggling with the quality of human-centric processes, as they often suffer from inaccurate, outdated paper-based work instructions. In many cases productivity is also an issue because workers are not equipped with the right tools or instrumented with the appropriate guidance that would help them perform their jobs at peak productivity.

4.) Workers are Disconnected
And lastly, frontline workers are not integrated with their work environment. The human-centric and job-specific workflows are not digitally integrated into the overall business environment and enterprise systems (ERP, CRM) that are critical to the business. The reality of today’s frontline workforce in manufacturing is that workers are not connected to the digital fabric of the business.

Bridging the Digital-Reality Gap

The good news is that there are a number of new strategies and technologies that manufacturing organizations are implementing to solve these problems. In particular, the rise of Enterprise Augmented Reality has lead to a major shift in improving the productivity of the frontline workforce of manufacturing organizations.

Although this is a great first step, Enterprise Augmented Reality alone isn’t enough to deliver sustainable value in manufacturing. In order to see true transformational results, it is key to have a combination of the following:

  • Enterprise AR: Delivers initial improvements in productivity and quality for the frontline workforce.
  • Consumerization of Software: Enables ease-of-use and ubiquity across the manufacturing landscape.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Drives continuous improvement throughout the organization.

Only when these three elements are combined will you see continuous improvements in the productivity of your frontline workforce.

To learn how Enterprise Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and the Consumerization of Software are delivering transformational value in manufacturing download our white paper, “The Rise of the Augmented Worker.”

Breaking Down the Barriers to Digital Transformation in Human-Centric Operations
Much has been said and written about Digital Transformation. Much less has actually been done about it.

Gartner defines Digital Transformation as “the process of exploiting digital technologies and supporting capabilities to create a robust new digital business model”. What isn’t said, and often not well understood, is that there are two fundamental aspects to Digital Transformation:

  1. The first is that all processes must be connected from end-to-end, with no digital air gaps. In this “Digital Thread” all links in the operations flow are seamlessly handed off from one system to another. In manufacturing this means from order receipt through shipment there is no paper in the process. Similarly in service operations, from ticket inception to closeout, there is no need for paper.
  2. The second is that all of the processes need to be both instrumented and agile. Instrumented so that you can get the data needed to apply Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) analysis to them, and agile so that you can improve them continuously over time.

Limitations of Automation in Manufacturing and Service

In high volume manufacturing scenarios, one of the unheralded benefits of automation has been to close the air gap between systems. Automation creates a machine-to-machine interaction without human intervention all the while generating the data required to feed to AI/ML systems. However, many business processes include activities that still heavily rely on humans to be accomplished and will for quite some time. Whether it is because the activity requires human dexterity, such as some assembly and QA procedures on a factory floor, or complex decision making, such as a field service engineer diagnosing a mechanical problem at a customer site. The costs, complexities, and capabilities of automation often make it infeasible for a large number of manufacturers and OEMs.

This creates a large barrier to Digital Transformation because a key component of digital transformation, the data regarding these operations, is only sparsely available. While high-level data, such as cycle time and yield on the factory floor or after the fact site visit write-ups by a service engineer, often exist, the detailed activities of the human worker are still a veritable “black box”. This is especially challenging for small to mid-sized businesses that overwhelmingly rely on human activities.

So where does that leave these companies — do they have no hope of leveraging AI/ML to continuously improve their business?

Closing the Air Gap of Human Operations

This is where Augmentir™ comes in. Our Augmented Operations™ platform breaks down that barrier to true Digital Transformation. Augmentir not only gives companies a way to rapidly author augmented work instructions but, when those instructions are executed by humans, very fine-grained data about the process steps – the tools being used, content being accessed, and results being generated – are captured in a non-intrusive manner and then fed back into the appropriate enterprise systems. Simply put, Augmentir closes the air gap of human operations, enabling humans, and the work they do, to become a fully integrated part of the digital thread.

Augmentir also solves the second, even more challenging aspect of Digital Transformation. It has has been estimated that data scientists spent 80% of their time cleaning and labeling data. Collecting and making sense of the sparse and noisy data streaming back from human activities has been a huge barrier to taking advantage of the advances in AI/ML technology to optimize human-centric operations. The Augmentir platform not only collects the fine-grained data, but cleanses, labels it, and then presents it to our embedded AI engine to develop unique insights into your operations. These insights help organizations identify where opportunities for improvement exist. This is the virtuous cycle of continuous improvement that is the hallmark of a “digitally transformed” organization.

Are you interested in learning how your organization can leverage augmented work procedures to close the air gap of human operations and continuously improve processes? Schedule your personalized demo and see Augmentir in action. 

Observations from EWTS 2018
Last week Augmentir exhibited at the Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) in Austin, Texas. The EWTS conference is one of the longest-running events dedicated to Wearables and Augmented/Virtual/Mixed Reality, and this year’s attendance was very rich. Hundreds of attendees came to the show, with many decision-makers and senior managers in the mix.

As one of about 40 exhibitors, Augmentir spoke to dozens of customer prospects that stopped by the booth. Interestingly, all of the companies we spoke with had very unique use cases and requirements, and were early in their exploratory phase in terms of adopting AR and Wearable technology within their enterprise – further reinforcement that, although the momentum is building, the market is early and much friction still exists within the adoption lifecycle.

Another clear indicator of momentum was the number of formal announcements made at the show this year. From new partnerships to global deployments, there was lots of great news for the enterprise wearable technology space.

The keynote speech by Jay Kothari of Google Glass was yet another barometer of the change that’s happening in the wearable industry, as the Glass team shared insights on recent product introductions and scale-ups.

A primary takeaway from this speech – and the overall show – is that while broad industry trends are driving this technology transition, every customer is unique, and each organization will have its own, individual challenges as it converts. Suppliers need to be prepared to support those challenges as true technology adoption occurs. It will take strong partnerships between technology providers and company stakeholders to successfully deploy and scale-up new projects.

Many of these themes and key takeaways from the event further reinforced our belief that adoption of Enterprise AR solutions will only be able to reach scale once much of the existing friction is removed, and solutions are delivered that focus on an amazing end-user experience. This is what we are focusing on here at Augmentir, and we’ve been very encouraged by the customer validation thus far. Throughout this time of technology transition, as the Glass team advocated, it’s more important than ever to focus on the user. Once you understand their needs, their challenges and their opportunities, everything else will surely follow.

To learn how Augmentir’s platform leverages AR and AI to continually improve the productivity of your frontline workforce download our free white paper, “Rise of the Augmented Worker.”

Field Service: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again
“There is an increasing pressure on the sector to make the most out of every technician.”

“The impact of lost knowledge and customer relationships built over the years and decades by retiring technicians is keeping service leaders up at night.”

“Many companies have not been able to capture their ‘tribal knowledge’ in a systematic way, risking the loss of valuable insight into service operations.”

These quotes come from “The Future of Field Service”, a February 2018 article in Field Technologies Online. Of course, they also could have been quotes from a 2008 or even earlier version of the article. Why is it that these problems that have been considered significant issues by Field Service executives are not solved and still considered problems year after year? Are they simply intractable problems that have no solution? Perhaps the answer to these questions is hidden in another quote from the article:

“The core of field service, the technician’s visit, is the aspect least addressed by field service management solutions.”

To date, everything before and after a site visit is digitized and chronicled to great extent, but much of what goes on during the visit is still very much a “black box”. Sure, there are now Remote Expert video based collaboration tools that may allow recording of a session, but what if the person on site IS the expert and doesn’t need to make that call? In addition, these solutions don’t capture what went on before or after the the call. What did the tech do that lead up to the call? Without that information we (a) put the expert at a disadvantage because they have no context to help solve the problem and (b) fail to capture the tribal knowledge of what NOT to do, or understand the common mistakes that might lead to difficulties in the field.

From my early days working on Internet based Remote Service, first with Questra and then with ThingWorx, I have seen many companies that have tried to address the Tribal Knowledge issue in many ways. Knowledge Management systems, social networking tools, video chat sessions, etc. have all been moderately successful at best, and usually at very high cost. The reason for this is that they largely relied on “after the fact” documentation. Asking the tech to remember everything that happened while on-site (while they are rushing off to the next job) is often a lesson in futility.

So, what is the answer? How do we break open that black-box? To quote from the article once again:

“It seems so paradoxical that so few field service management solutions focus on these aspects of field service”

Some folks have seen IIoT as a solution, letting the equipment itself collect and send data. While this is certainly helpful, it doesn’t reveal the true story of what the tech is experiencing onsite. Others have said that the aforementioned video collaboration tools are the answer, but again, there is the critical before and after the call information that is missing. And mixing Social Networking and people heading towards retirement is almost never a good idea(!).

So what is the answer? Are we destined to forever be wandering around the darkened room of the customer site visit with a blindfold on? At Augmentir we think perhaps not. But much more on that later…

To learn how Augmentir’s platform leverages AR and AI to continually improve the productivity of your frontline workforce download our free white paper, “Rise of the Augmented Worker.”