How augmented reality is empowering the workforce

by Dr. John Burgin19 Apr 2017
Augmented and virtual reality technologies burst into our consciousness via the gaming and entertainment industries a few years ago, but the enterprise and workforce management sectors are where this technology is having the biggest impact today.

The global augmented reality market is poised to grow at a CAGR of 96.52% by 2019, and analyst house Gartner has tipped AR to become an important workplace tool. But how practical is AR, and how can it be applied today?

The potential and the practicalities

AR and VR technologies are out of laboratories and into the business world. As a result, organisations across multiple sectors can now help users visualise data and instructions that overlay their physical environment, and experience immersive environments to aid learning and performance.

The technology has matured to becoming portable, comfortable, lightweight and user-friendly. The latest AR applications are not complicated to set up and, once installed, require minimal guidance.

The applications for VR and AR will transform the workforce in areas including business processes, workflows and employee training. With the skills required of today’s workforce constantly evolving, training is one of the most important areas to explore.

Virtual training

High-quality training on the job is essential for all organisations. A Louis Harris and Associates poll reports 41% of employees with poor training opportunities planned to leave their job within a year, compared to only 12% of those with excellent training opportunities. Furthermore, the American Society for Training and Development has found that investment in employee training enhances a company’s financial performance.

The good news is that businesses are investing in workforce development, with training budgets increasing 15% year-on-year on average, according to Bersin by Deloitte.

Sectors that will benefit most from implementing VR and AR training programmes have physical products and environments at the heart of their businesses. These include manufacturing, automotive, medical, engineering, and retail.

For example, new manufacturing recruits previously had to rely on manuals and demonstrations when learning how to operate machinery. With complex procedures and long training sessions, most employees will not have the confidence to apply their training. This can be replaced with immersive experiences through AR as it imitates the real world. Not only is this more effective, but it also removes any interference with company operations, as the actual machines don’t have to be switched off or reserved for training purposes.

However, it’s not just training that can be completed in a virtual environment — it can help on the factory floor and in the field as well.

The virtual world is an efficient one  

Virtual and augmented environments have diverse applications, and can be used to increase efficiencies and business outcomes, as well as improve training.

Imagine workers on the factory floor, who come across a piece of equipment and realise something has changed — it looks different than how they remember it. They don’t need to refer to a manual or rely on their supervisors. Instead, AR empowers them to trouble-shoot on their own with the support of company-approved guidelines. This is efficient, practical and effective.

This technology is being deployed to more effectively mobilise workers across multiple industries. Field service engineers, for example, can use wearables to access checklists and work manuals, and interact with objects hands-free while working on a job. Also, healthcare workers can use the technology to learn about upcoming surgeries, model organs, and explain medical procedures to patients. The possibilities are growing exponentially as trials proliferate particularly across retail, education and tourism.

Though virtual reality and augmented reality have been around for several years, they were seen as gimmicky and expensive. As this sector matures, it is now possible to produce experiences that mimic real environments accurately and allow real-time interactivity. This can reduce hardware and people dependencies, and empower workers to perform their jobs to a higher standard.

By Dr. John Burgin, Head of Digital Business, Asia Pacific and Middle East, Cognizant  

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