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AR headsets in the enterprise: An expert perspective

In his book, The Fourth Transformation, Shel Israel makes the argument that augmented reality — the superimposition of digital information on the real world — is the next technology innovation that will transform our lives. AR follows three other technologies that are widely recognized as big-time game changers: the mainframe, the personal computer and the smartphone.

Israel, CEO at Transformation Group LLC, also predicted in The Fourth Transformation that the enterprise would drive early adoption of AR headsets, not the consumer space. Why?

“You don’t have to be fashionable [in the enterprise],” Israel said at the recent LiveWorx event in Boston. “If you’re tethered to something with a wire, that’s ok. In fact, it’s a piece of equipment for you to do your job better, safer and more productively rather than something to make you a cool kid in Silicon Valley.” (Let’s ignore for the moment the irony that it’s the cool kids in Silicon Valley who are developing these AR products.)

Vital assistant

In making the case for enterprise AR headsets, Israel emphasized the hands-free element. He said the headsets allow employees to have their hands free in situations where a computer is a vital assistant. With AR, the computing moves in front of workers’ eyes, allowing them to observe the environment while crucial information appears in their field of vision.

Handheld devices, like tablets or smartphones, are awkward and can distract workers from their surroundings during tasks that require a good deal of focus, said Israel.

Beyond that, Israel said research shows employees like AR headsets and once they start using them it’s hard for them to switch back to a time without them.

Start with a use case that’s ‘lose-able’

There is no shortage of enterprise AR use cases already making waves across industries — AR is being used in warehouses to help workers assemble orders, by surveyors to assess storm damage and for all manner of training. Many of the companies incorporating AR into their processes have a lot of talent and research at their disposal, but Israel said that shouldn’t stop smaller companies from experimenting with the technology.

“If you’re not already playing with this stuff, start soon,” he said. “As with anything you start that’s new and foreign to you, do something that is lose-able. Make it a pilot program that’s low-cost and has a short timeline. Don’t risk your job for it, but just get to understand it better.”

A question Israel gets often is “Which AR headsets or services should our company choose?” He says it depends on the use case.

“Leave the devices and the software out of the conversation until you know what you want to do,” Israel said. Different AR offerings have different strengths and different purposes, he added, but he also wanted to make one thing clear.

“Any tool you buy today will be replaced by another tool tomorrow, either by the companies you’ve already heard of or companies you’ve never heard of,” Israel said.

A cringeworthy AR question

Another question Israel gets asked a lot is “What are the best practices around AR?” He cringes every time he hears it.

“‘Best practices’ means we’ve developed things to a level of maturity that all you have to do is copy what the other guy did,” Israel said. “Things are changing so rapidly with AR that there are no best practices yet because there are no systems in place.”

As Israel said of the enterprise AR movement, “It’s only just begun.”

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