How AR and VR will change enterprise mobility

They may be down the road a ways, but augmented reality and virtual reality are definitely coming to the enterprise — and right back out again via mobile implementations. It’s not too soon to think about how to manage them.

AR/augmented reality - VR/virtual reality - enterprise mobile - virtual display

Two of the hottest technologies today — augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) — are likely to have a big impact on enterprise mobility strategies, according to industry experts. Not for a couple of years, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to deal with them as part of your enterprise mobility management (EMM). The funny thing about our ever-accelerating technology advances is that things that were only emerging one day are suddenly everyday business tools the next — and you have to manage them.

You will one day see AR and VR supporting workers as they tackle varied tasks. And AR/VR is certain to become untethered from the office and used out in the world.

AR and VR are related visualizing technologies. Whereas VR presents a completely digital environment, AR shows a user digital information overlaid on the real, physical world. AR/VR can support a number of applications in a variety of industries, which will help fuel growth in demand for the technologies.

“We’re just getting started with business use cases for AR/VR,” says Bryan Taylor,
 research director at Gartner. “Much of the focus today is on task-oriented or front-line work. But from virtual meetings to interactive design to visualization of any type, the promise for knowledge work is vast.”

“The most common use cases today are in the areas of immersive design and demonstration, where a digital version of a physical structure or object is used to allow a user to ‘be there’ and experience a design/building/object as if it were physical,” Taylor says.

Another is “hands-free workflow,” where AR allows a worker to see digital information superimposed onto the work environment, so that the worker doesn’t have to walk away to retrieve information or instructions, he says.

Field service workers are among the early users of the technology, says Ramon Llamas, research manager for wearables and mobile phones at research firm IDC. “Instead of going back and forth to the shop to get manuals, and using up precious time and resources, AR and VR have made it possible for field service workers to access manuals online and keep their hands free to complete their work tickets,” he says. “This is actually happening now.”

Among the main applications for the near future will be those that benefit from realistic 3D rendering, says Paul Jackson, a principal analyst in research firm Ovum's Media and Entertainment practice. “So as you may expect, that covers design, architecture, medicine, complex financial simulation and data representation,” he says.

To date, the clunky hardware and cost have restricted many of these applications to demonstrations, promotional events “and those organizations with either money to burn or a keen need to be seen to innovate,” Jackson says.

The industries most likely to leverage AR and VR applications include manufacturing, healthcare and medical research, automotive, insurance, transportation, energy/utilities, retail, travel and education.

Bosch augmented reality app with repair instructions Bosch Auto Parts

Automotive technicians can use Bosch’s AR system to view the part they need to work on highlighted against an image of the actual engine needing repair.

Manufacturing is making use of hands-free workflow already, Taylor says, and utilities, oil and gas, and transportation are starting to use that and remote expert guidance. These use cases are growing and will expand and evolve, he says.

“I think you’ll have trouble finding industries that don’t make extensive use of AR/VR in the coming few years,” Taylor says. “Training, for example, is something common to all industries. And many types of training will be transformed” by AR and VR.

Challenges with adoption

As with any technology deployments, organizations can expect to face hurdles when implementing and using AR and VR. One of these is figuring out exactly how these newer technologies fit into existing processes.

“We’re still at developmental stages in terms of adoption,” Llamas says. “There are a lot of companies dealing with, ‘we don’t know what we don’t know.’” Among the questions they need to answer are which platforms to use, how to integrate these platforms with back-end servers, which hardware to invest in now and in the future, what software is available and most applicable to the company’s needs, and how will enterprise mobility fit in, if at all.

“Add on top of that any and all safety regulations, and the task becomes even harder,” Llamas says. “So it’s no wonder that some companies have been reluctant to move ahead with AR/VR in mobility environments. That’s why we’ve seen early-stage deployment and pilot use cases, in order for companies to better understand how these work.”

In addition, the AR/VR technology and the market for it still need to mature before AR/VR can become a full-blown component of the mobile infrastructure or corporate strategy.

The head-mounted displays (HMD) market in particular is immature and fluid, and some early-adopting organizations have already been impacted by the product volatility that comes with market immaturity, Taylor says.

“This messiness will continue to be an aspect of this young market for at least the near future, so organizations should proceed with that in mind,” Taylor says. “Contingency plans for hardware replacement are a basic component of a best-practice approach.”

Furthermore, “the hardware is poor, the isolation — particularly for VR — makes prolonged usage very difficult, and in customer-facing roles the usage of headsets, or even pointing a phone at someone, are perceived as invasive or creepy,” says Jackson. “There have been lots of stories around these factors hampering the adoption of consumer Google Glass, and HoloLens demos have also been used only fleetingly, for the PR value.”

Costs of the systems are still a hindering factor for many, and as a result justifying the business case can be difficult. Compelling and cross-industry use cases need to be shared in order to help businesses better understand the value of the technology, and in a context that is relevant to them, Jackson says.

Case Western Reserve University anatomy holograms mixed reality Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University’s medical school is exploring the possibility of using mixed reality to teach anatomy without the need for cadavers.

AR/VR and IT

When it comes to mobile implementations of AR/VR, “We’re at the beginning of things right now, so expect 2018-2020 to be pivotal years in terms of device launches, platform development and enterprise reception,” Llamas says.

Today, the impact of AR and VR technology from an EMM perspective is minimal. “On the VR side, most devices are either tethered to a PC or console, and hence don’t need mobile management, or use stock iOS/Android phones that can be managed in the same way as an enterprise currently does,” Paul says.

“We’ll soon see untethered headsets that don’t use a phone, though,” Jackson says. “Facebook has shown demos of these, as have HTC and many of the Chinese manufacturers. These will connect to Wi-Fi and potentially cellular networks and be more of a challenge for those folks responsible for apps [and] mobility.”

These untethered headsets are still largely theoretical, Jackson says, given hardware and cost constraints.

For AR, “it depends on which form of AR you look at,” Jackson says. “Basic AR on smartphones using ARKit or ARcore can be managed in much the same way as other mobility apps. The proprietary platforms from Google, DAQRI, etc. will have to be managed as a special case, but are only likely to be deployed for niche technical jobs.”

Fully immersive AR, as promised by Microsoft HoloLens, is a long way off, Jackson says, “but at least will be manageable on a Microsoft platform, as will the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets,” launching in the fourth quarter of this year.

There’s clearly potential for AR and VR to influence the way organizations manage the mobile environment.

“As AR and VR grow, so do the opportunities and need for enterprise mobility, and more specifically for standalone devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Google’s Glass for Enterprise,” says Llamas.

“These should be treated in the same manner that companies approach smartphones, tablets and laptops, particularly in cases of application updates and security,” he says. “We also see a need for enterprise mobility solutions for tethered AR/VR, but most of these will be updated through a PC, console or smartphone.”

EMM “is the logical management system for [AR/VR] devices, and ultimately it will be,” says Taylor. “Today, however, not all HMDs are instrumented for management via EMM, relying instead on proprietary tools that are part of a packaged solution, or no management tools at all.”

Many of these devices are based on Android and will inherit at least a subset of the APIs for management in that platform, Taylor says. “In the short term, those APIs — currently designed primarily for the operational and support needs of common smartphone and tablet use cases — are not fully aligned to the needs of HMDs in AR/VR applications.”

Meanwhile software and mobility vendors are taking steps to support the technologies — or likely will soon, according to experts.

“Windows 10 was built with AR/VR in mind, so Microsoft has been thinking about this since HoloLens was introduced nearly three years ago,” Llamas says.

In addition, Microsoft will be embedding Windows Mixed Reality compatibility in its management and service offerings, as well as ensuring that its major offerings, including Office, Azure and Dynamics, support AR and VR.

“Now Apple and Google are getting into the game with their recent announcements for ARKit and ARCore, respectively,” Llamas says. “Given these trends, expect enterprise mobility to follow soon after.”

From an EMM perspective, Android management APIs will continue to evolve, and “the better EMM vendors out there are typically ready to support [these] APIs as soon as, or very shortly after, they are released,” Taylor says. “Organizations should make manageability and supportability a primary requirement, and at minimum should understand HMD vendor roadmaps and timing for integration with EMM.”

“Overall, we’re looking at least at double-digit growth [in the AR/VR market] each year, and the pieces are falling into place,” says Llamas. “Expect AR/VR to have a regular place in a worker’s toolkit.”

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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