The developer edition of the much talked about Microsoft HoloLens finally went on general release this week. Many analysts and commentators, including yours truly, have pointed to the HoloLens as something of a game changer for the use of augmented reality in enterprise applications. For one thing, it runs Windows 10, so in theory it will be easier for software vendors to port their existing applications over to the HoloLens. Secondly, it’s Microsoft, so it fits comfortably into most existing enterprise IT ecosystems. The release of the HoloLens to a wider developer community is certainly going to trigger demand for enterprise enabled augmented reality applications and experimentations with the form factor and the specific hardware; however, I believe there is a danger of underestimating the issues surrounding an enterprise augmented reality project.
Augmented reality isn’t simply about front-end content delivery. User productivity gains can only be realized if the underlying assets and ecosystems are fully connected and integrated with the enterprise back-office. At Flatirons Solutions, our teams have been mulling over and working with these challenges for some time now. As a result, we have some important questions that you should be asking yourself before embarking on an augmented reality project for your business.
Many of the proof of concept applications that we have seen so far for augmented reality enabled devices have relied on static content and data. In the real world content is not static. It is dynamic and changes according to the nature of the application. In the case of a technical publication viewer, updates may be relatively infrequent from a user’s perspective; so constant updates are less of an issue. For more real-time applications such as etaskcards, where updates are needed constantly during a maintenance check, then the frequent exchange of data becomes an issue. When planning an augmented reality enabled application, you should ask yourself how is the content structured and arranged? How is it distributed and exchanged? How can it be optimized to automate assembly to support diverse devices, channels and formats?
Augmented Reality applications rely on the use of 3D models or assets for purposes of object recognition, graphic display and environment rendering. Aside from the fact that most of those 3D models don’t exist digitally for most legacy fleets, there are a number of challenges when it comes to the handling of 3D assets. What are the authoritative sources of 3D assets? How are those assets processed and exchanged from source at the OEM to end-user at the operator? How can 3D assets be leveraged to reduce the reliance on static figures and illustrations in technical instructions? We are still in the early days of understanding the form factors and user experiences of this emerging technology, so we cannot expect to simply post software designed for two-dimensional environments into three dimensions and expect them to auto-magically provide productivity gains for end-users.
An enterprise-enabled augmented reality application cannot work in isolation. How does it interact with other enterprise apps? What are the considerations for Maintenance and Enterprise Resource Planning tools? How should it interact with Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools and what are the touch points for Content Management Systems? What data exchange standards are used? How do you handle next-gen and legacy fleets, using different content standards in a single ecosystem?
Although the Microsoft HoloLens represents the next generation for enterprise enabled augmented reality apps, supporting the augmented reality vision means more than buying new devices or writing an app. The content and integration points feeding into the solution must be well-optimized for this new medium. Flatirons Solutions have been solving these same content lifecycle management challenges for multiple generations of technology and standards. We will continue to innovate to turn content into knowledge in the future. Augmented Reality is simply another step in the evolution of consuming content at the point of performance. We thrive at solving complex content management problems for global enterprise clients.