What It Really Means to Define a Service AR Use Case




This article was written by Rusty Abernathy, Director, PTC Customer Success. Rusty has been with PTC for over 10 years, and has deep experience in product lifecycle management and augmented reality. Rusty has worked on business strategy, process and technology programs for some of the world's best known companies in the aerospace, defense, and with the US Government, bringing fresh vision and innovative thinking to each opportunity.

If you haven’t already heard, augmented reality (AR) is the latest technology to hit the market and impact how companies across sectors conduct and grow their businesses. AR, defined as “a set of technologies that superimposes digital data and images on the physical world,” offers businesses the unique ability to connect physical and digital worlds in ways that have never been possible. In short, it can change the way companies do business – from how they service their machines to how they market their products. But AR is much more than a cool, new technology – and as it becomes more accessible, it’s critical for business leaders to understand the intricacies of defining and building their AR use cases to ensure maximum impact.

While AR is still in its infancy stages, many businesses in the service industry are taking advantage of its’ capabilities to arm technicians with digital data to improve the way they service products and machines in the physical world. The concept is very appealing – technicians can use an AR experience to superimpose data onto a product or machine that needs to be serviced to address broken parts or issues without being tied to a computer or laptop. It’s genius! But while this technology has major upside, the reality is that there is a fair amount of strategy and upfront legwork that goes into building this kind of experience.

Defining your service AR strategy

Don’t let the term “upfront legwork” scare you. One of the many benefits of AR is that you are building unique experiences that apply to YOUR business, machines, and products. But in order to do that, you need to have a clear understanding of all of the details that go into servicing your products. This kind of documentation and planning is all part of defining your use case, and it will set you up to build a more successful (and more accurate) AR experience.

So what exactly should you have documented before you start to build your AR experience? Let’s break it down.

  1. Use case: More often than not, service business leaders can articulate what their business goals are, making this step fairly straightforward. As you think about AR in a service capacity, think about the “problem statement” that you would like to address, and try to identify a metric by which the success of the AR experience will be measured.

    For example, let’s say you own a line of copiers and want to be able to service them more accurately on the first try. The use case could be something like, “Improve first time fix rate by using AR to assist field technicians.”

  2. Process: While the concept of a use case comes fairly easily to business leaders, the idea of process documentation is something that is often overlooked. The process is meant to provide the big picture and show the overall workflow of a multistep task. For any given use case, there can be multiple processes. It ultimately answers the question, “How does a particular function work and what happens within it?"

    Building off the copier example, one process that needs to be documented could be “maintenance performed by a service technician.” Assuming you have several models of copiers, you’ll need to define the process for maintenance in model a, b, c, and so forth, as each model is different in the way it functions and fits together.

  3. Procedures: Procedures are another critical element of AR use case definition that often get overlooked. Business leaders tend to see their procedures as simple, being only made up of four to five steps, but in reality, procedures can have up to 40 or 50 steps in total. All of this information needs to be documented to ensure success with AR.

    Think of procedures as the components that make up a given process. They answer: “What happens, in what order, and who does what.” There can be multiple procedures within a given process, and they can be similar in nature. Applying our copier example, a procedure could be clearing a paper jam or changing out the toner in the copier.

  4. Work Instructions Work instructions are fairly self-explanatory – they are the detailed tasks that make up a procedure from start to finish. For example, to close out our copier example, work instructions include documented steps such as “Remove the screws in each corner with a Philips head screw driver. Place access panel aside – toner cartridge is now visible.” It might seem overly detailed, but in order to improve your first time fix rate, technicians need these documented steps in their AR experience.

In the end, defining your use case with these elements in mind sets you up to get faster value from your AR experience. In the service industry especially, planning, storyboarding, and documentation are key steps that will help lead you to success with this new technology.

Want to learn more about AR? Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC, and Michael Porter, Professor at Harvard, teamed up for the third time to co-author “Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy.” Download the HBR report to learn everything you need to know to get started with AR.