August 23, 2018
Here’s a common misconception: The more robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) advance, the more expendable human beings become in the workplace.
Although Forrester Research predicts automation will displace 24.7 million jobs by 2027, it’s irrational to fear that robots will ultimately replace all human workers. For as robotics and AI improve, so do technologies for empowering human workers. I’m talking about wearable technologies like augmented and virtual reality headsets as well as wearable robotics (exoskeletons) that enable humans to work longer, quickly train for new jobs, and perform in sync with automation. You could even argue that as automation progresses, human workers will become more indispensable to enterprises—while robots may assume the dangerous and repetitive aspects of work, unmanned technology won’t be able to address every productivity issue or match distinctly human capabilities like human dexterity and imagination.
When it comes to embracing disruptive technology, successful organizations take a “user is king” approach, finding out pain points in the business directly from the source, i.e. workers or customers who are expected to use or benefit from the technology. Whether it’s getting a group together for a brainstorming session, including members of the workforce in the proof of concept stage, or simply encouraging a company culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas with leadership; there is no one better than the user herself to determine where and how to digitally transform.
“Treat employees like they make a difference, and they will.” – SAS CEO Jim Goodnight
Two companies have gone beyond merely asking for user input: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines established a physical hub to foster workers’ original ideas for using emerging technologies; while Lowe’s went directly to the customer, applying “young” immersive tech to age-old home improvement shopping challenges. Essentially, KLM and Lowe’s are letting their employees and customers come up with the use cases in which they’re investing.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
In 2016 at its Amsterdam Airport Schiphol East base, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines opened its Digital Studio, a creative space where workers from all areas of the airline’s business are encouraged to come and innovate. Here, employees can put forward ideas on how to use digital technologies like AR and blockchain in their work, and see their ideas fast-tracked into development and then, hopefully, into practice.
The Digital Studio, which currently has room for 200 workers, is based upon Dave West’s Scrum Studio concept of an environment where high-performing teams, physically separated from the main business, can fast-track projects. It’s very hard to change large legacy companies like KLM from within: The larger the organization, the higher the chances of disruptive technologies ending up in pilot purgatory and innovation suffocating in red tape between divisions and levels of management.
Though most of the current projects at KLM’s Digital Studio are still in the experimental stage, a handful have turned into practice. The studio has embraced KLM employees of all different backgrounds and roles, who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to take their transformative ideas further. Take Chris Koomen, who was stationed in KLM’s engineering and maintenance division: Chris had an idea for using VR, so he joined the Digital Studio and has been a part of integrating VR for training aircraft crew. Another idea pitched by a KLM mechanic involves using AR in aircraft and engine maintenance.
Every four weeks, the Digital Studio hosts a demo of what it’s working on to interested observers. The lesson here is don’t hide emerging tech in a lab unless you’re going to let the user in. Show employees what’s out there, give them resources, and let those who perform the job every day tell you how to transform the business.
“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.” – Jerry Gregoire, former VP & CIO of Dell
Despite the impression one might get from HGTV, building things is not easy for the non-professional. Planning a home improvement project, shopping for building materials, executing the project…what’s most difficult for the average consumer, even a hardcore DIY-er, is visualizing the final product. But it seems a solution has finally appeared in the form of XR (AR, VR, MR), and all the major home improvement brands recognize the potential. There are now apps for virtually measuring your surroundings and picturing all kinds of design options and home products in your real space. And it’s not just the Lowe’s and Home Depots of the world—architects and engineers have seized upon VR to help clients visualize new structures, real estate agents are giving virtual home tours, and even Gulfstream Aerospace employs XR so its clients know exactly what their custom jets will look like when delivered.
Lowe’s has been conspicuously innovative in making the benefits of XR available to its customers. For the last four years, powerful new immersive technology design and shopping tools have been brewing in Lowe’s Innovation Labs. Josh Shabtai, Director of the Labs Productions and Operations, says he looks at those problems that keep resurfacing. Since the introduction of Holoroom How-To in 2014, Lowe’s Innovation Labs has rolled out an impressive suite of mobile apps / pilot projects to gauge customers’ comfort level with XR, including Lowe’s Vision, In-Store Navigation, and View in Your Space.
Lowe’s is trying to solve the classic pain points of home improvement shopping by giving customers the ability to see with the eyes of a contractor or interior designer, determine whether products fit in their space, virtually tile a bathroom, operate a power tool, and more. By focusing on customer problems, Lowe’s has made some of the strongest cases for consumer AR and VR to date. The retailer’s steady flow of practical immersive experiences even landed it at the top of a list of most innovative companies in AR/VR by Fast Company!
With each employee-generated idea, KLM not only gains a potentially transformative technology solution but also primes its workers for the change to digital—there’s no need to convince employees to use solutions they helped conceive of. And with each application, Lowe’s refines the XR tools that future consumers will use to visualize spaces and learn new skills; ideally positioning itself to scale when the time comes, build customer loyalty and future-proof its business from online competition.
The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 5th annual EWTS will be held October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. For more details, please visit the conference website.
Image source: Lowe’s via Road to VR