What Makes Augmented Reality Worth Considering for Enterprises

Imagine, a car maker provides a virtual showroom experience to its customers. As a 3D holographic image of the car appears, customers assess the car’s interiors, experience the drivetrain in action, explore the colors and better understand the features. Or, in healthcare, surgeons prepare for a complex surgery by simulating it before the actual procedure. What about some 3D training videos that train the employees through a life-like experience? For instance, workers probing malfunctioning parts are guided by a hologram of a skilled technician showing how to make repairs.

Augmented Reality (AR) is fast making a play for the enterprise as more and more applications and use cases emerge in that space. While some are on the horizon there are a few already trying to break into the mainstream. Deloitte believes very strongly in AR’s disruptive enterprise potential. As per the consulting firm, it has the capability to potentially re-shape business processes or fundamentally recast customer experiences. Its probably time that CIOs keep an eye out for the opportunities that the technology can bring for their respective organizations.

AR puts virtual things into users’ real worlds, augmenting them. in Deloitte's words - it overlays contextual information on the immediate physical environments users see before their eyes and blends digital components and experiences with real life. In simple words, lays images over the actual physical surroundings. This is opposed to Virtual Reality (VR), which immerses the user in the virtual world.

One can gauge this clear trend in favor of enterprise from Microsoft’s strategic approach towards its AR headset offering, HoloLens, which creates high definition holographic images. Microsoft is deliberately steering clear of the more consumer focused messaging that Google Glass had adopted, and trying to position HoloLens as an enterprise tool first.

“Gaming will always be a scenario and there will be other entertainment broadly. But, with the V.1 of HoloLens, I want us to push a lot more of the enterprise usage," Satya Nadella is quoted as saying in an interview with ZDNet. “In the HoloLens case, when I look at the interest, it's amazing how many are in hospitals, healthcare, retail. That's where I'm seeing the interest and we'll definitely go after it," he adds, in his interview.

In fact, the company is busy working out partnerships with enterprises. It has already struck partnerships with Volvo, Saab, Trimble and Lowe among others for use in its business operations. All these partnerships are part of the HoloLens Enterprise Acceleration Program (HEAP).

Saab is eyeing usage in the training and learning area. Explaining Saab’s usage of HoloLens, Dean Rosenfield, MD for Saab Australia stated: “Our Training and Simulation team see the huge potential for Microsoft HoloLens and are already working on a range of civil and military applications in training, simulation and education. Mixed Reality technology is truly ground-breaking and will revolutionize the way we train, educate and operate across the whole of society.”

In case of Lowe, customers at its select stores will be able to use HoloLens to get an HD holographic overlay of new designs for kitchen cabinets, countertops, etc. Thus, allowing conceptualization of remodels and designs.

Volvo, on the other hand, is creating an interactive experience, wherein its customers can visualize any model in any color and configuration. They can tear the car apart and see its inside, flip it around, highlight features, plug in different colors and options, etc.

The device kit, priced at $ 3,000, started shipping to the developers and the enterprise partners towards the end of March 2016.

Though priced on the higher side, the real test for HoloLens or for that matter any other AR device will be proliferation of actual applications that demonstrate strong business case. One can already envisage applications like hands free scanning in teams collaborating real-time on product design, hands-free scanning in warehouses, creating inventories of homeowners’ belongings during a walk-through of a house in insurance, etc. With most of the use cases are built around efficiency, collaboration and experience, AR definitely has the potential for the next big enterprise technology in the making.

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