Many of the field service organizations I’m speaking with are making traction with Augmented Reality (AR). They’ve progressed from considering the value of AR to actually incorporating it into their businesses. Fresenius Kabi is one such company. Fresenius Kabi is a global health care company that specializes in lifesaving medicines and technologies for infusion, transfusion, and clinical nutrition.
There’s a three-pronged value proposition of AR that appeals to field service organizations: it can assist in the training and onboarding of new technicians, it can enable sophisticated remote support to aid in optimal first-time fix, and it can be used by customers either in a self-service model or for troubleshooting purposes. For Fresenius Kabi, the initial appeal of the technology was how it could aid in training – but, since deploying, the company has added aspects of use for remote support and most recently customer use.
Fresenius Kabi rolled out its initial incarnation of AR in 2018. The field management team and field service engineers worked together to evaluate the various solutions on the market. After several trials, the company chose Help Lightning. Help Lightning provides an app for any iOS or Android device that allows users to start helping and sharing ideas instantly. Once a Help Lightning session is started using the app, the live video streams and telestration are combined to change the way a person can give or receive help.
John Ashcroft, the North America Field Service and Support Senior Director, Technical Services, at Fresenius Kabi USA has worked closely on the company’s AR project. According to Ashcroft, what Fresenius Kabi has found is that AR holds great potential in field service, but it isn’t without its challenges. “In each scenario we’re using AR, we have aspects that are proving immensely successful and others that are proving more challenging,” he says.
Internal Applications Of AR
Operationally, internal use of AR is poised to save field service organizations money both in training and support. From a training perspective, companies can get new technicians into the field faster if they are supported by and easily connected to experienced back-office support (often a more experienced technician can remain in the back office and support multiple new technicians at once). As far as support, the ability for a technician to actually show a remote support expert what’s happening in the field improves fix rates and helps to avoid subsequent truck rolls.
Based on Fresenius Kabi’s experience, AR works well for the training of new technicians and to assist in support scenarios once those technicians are on board – however, the incumbent technicians are not as interested in learning or using the new tool. “AR has proven very effective for us in the training and onboarding of new talent, and in support situations where it is used,” says Ashcroft. “However, our more experienced technicians realize less value from the tool because of the knowledge they have already acquired.
Fresenius Kabi expects to have a number of its field staff retirement in the next ten years. As this happens, AR can play an instrumental role in enabling the company to effectively and more quickly onboard new technicians. “We’ve added three new technicians in the last month or so, and as we bring new talent in AR is a great way to get them up to speed and feeling confident in the field,” says Ashcroft.
Customer-Facing AR Use
The value position of AR multiplies when it can be used in a customer-facing capacity. Fresenius Kabi is using the Help Lightning solution for its hotline team, which handles troubleshooting over the phone. “We have a very experienced group of individuals that man our 24/7 support line,” explains Ashcroft. “With AR, we can log customers in to Help Lightning to get a real-time look at what they’re seeing — it’s almost like we’re physically there. This cuts down on phone time and gives the customer the confidence of knowing we fully understand what they’re going through.” While customer-facing use of the solution is still in the early stages, customers have already shown excitement about and appreciation for this new approach to service. “Customers have this tangible of something we are doing in order to better serve them,” says Ashcroft.
In an effort to continue to build interest in customer use of the AR solution, Fresenius Kabi has created marketing materials to use with its customer base that are focused on conveying the company’s desire to support customers in new ways. These materials discuss how use of AR can enable quicker resolution of issues, reduced cost of support, and explain how simple the solution is to use.
The challenges for Fresenius Kabi around customer-facing AR use are in gaining interest and confidence in the use of the technology, as well as the fact that the company’s products don’t evolve rapidly – they are typically in the field for around 15 years. So this bleeds back into the issue of incumbent customers feeling comfortable with “business as usual,” in the same way experienced technicians are. Nonetheless, Ashcroft feels that the value of AR does outweigh some of the complexities – particularly moving forward. “We’ve seen definite benefit in using AR thus far,” he says. “Looking ahead, the business case will expand as we bring new technicians and new customers on board. Over time, the technology will become more deeply embedded into our processes.”