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Hacking the Hype Cycle to scale AR in the enterprise

Robert Combier
Robert Combier
POSTED August 5th, 2020

Let’s face it: augmented reality (AR) comes with a history of hype, and it isn’t difficult to see why. AR has always been the technologist’s dream and fantasy, evident in the classic Tom Cruise film Minority Report and even the holograms in Star Wars. Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope. Yes, that’s AR — and it is deeply embedded into our tech culture.

So when we started actually getting the real tech — the Google Glass, the Hololens, and ARkit in every phone, the technology zealots unleashed a fury of industrial possibilities fueled by Photoshop-ridden CAD mockups. We know it viscerally… we at Scope AR started as one of them: as dreamers, as pioneers and as (slightly) insane entrepreneurs.

Only, without the Photoshop. We wanted the real deal.

Bridging the gap from hype to a practical reality has been a process of awakening. Now, some 8 years later, we’ve partnered with hundreds of customers as they go through the journey from hype-fueled interest to real production of AR systems for industry. We’ve observed early on that much like the technology’s journey through the Hype Cycle, the customer goes through a similar cycle as well.

So, we hacked it.

The Hype Cycle

Let’s take a moment to review the hype cycle before diving into the hacks. You may recall this graphic common to MBA programs, Gartner reports, and industry critics:

These excerpts from Affinity VR describe the cycle well, and I’ve added comments that relate to the customer journey perspective.

1. Technology trigger

This is the initial phase of any rising technology where the concepts and ideas related to technology take place. No products are launched in the market, and the management is keen on people’s interest.

Following our customer journey metaphor, no attempt to use the technology has happened yet.

2. The peak of inflated expectations

In the second stage, the technology is implemented in the market and a lot of publicity happens on both successful and unsuccessful criteria.

Hopes for AR and knowledge distribution skyrocket as key influencers in the customer’s organization get onboard, spawning long-term strategy impacts on whiteboards. It’s in these meetings where the technology is heavily oversold to blue sky futures, and distanced from the practical realities for which they were intended.

3. Dip/Trough of disillusionment

This is a crucial phase where many companies fail to alter their products with upgraded versions and [too] few who were successful in addressing problems [have the ability to] continue investing more.

The first results with a customer are in, and they are a bit of a let-down. What happened?! The fair-weather champions in the management team now flip 180 degrees.

4. Slope of betterment/enlightenment

At this point, innovation and investment become more important for growth as, companies establish products based on future technology and test them in the real environment.

Now somewhat seasoned, the end users and adjacent teams within the customer learn more about their own use cases and applications for AR.

5. Elevation/Plateau in productivity

In the last phase, productivity elevates and deepens its root in that technological field. Products become widely implemented in technology and producers establish quality standards.

Finally, long term productivity improvements set in, however it only experiences a gradual growth in impact because of internal scarcity in AR authoring skills and the difficulty of scaling customization for their use cases.

So how did we hack it?

Ok, so on to our approach. We believe that there are 3 key things that you can do to help a company scale augmented reality faster, more productively, and more legitimately:

  1. Realize early that AR is not a silver bullet
  2. Start with the right use case, then scale
  3. On-board, enable and train with the right Partners

And here is the impact of this approach:

Realize early that AR is not a silver bullet. This is achieved by curbing some enthusiasm, and digging really deep into the customer’s fundamental needs. A good Sales handbook would describe this as something like “understand your customer and their specific Why”. As AR solution partners, we get there by asking hard questions early, and being frank when it isn’t a fit. Questions like:

  • Why is the organization looking to AR?
  • Who is it important to, and what does it mean to be successful?
  • How big is the problem?
  • What is the motivation for this Business Unit?
  • Who is driving the program, and what are their motivations, and how are they measured?

The effect of this is that yes — the peak of visibility isn’t quite as high — and it is somewhat delayed through the qualification process. The real benefit though is that expectations are correctly set, leading to a much healthier and happier overall experience.

Start with the right use case, then scale. This is the big one. For technology zealots who hold a hammer: the world too easily looks like a nail. Instead, at Scope AR we are laser focused on the customer’s value — not the gadget. This means we iterate continuously on the first use case as it is so critical. It needs to pass many tests before we deploy it, else the domino effect of scaling up and to other departments just doesn’t happen. To find the right use case, we must:

  • Align outcomes and expectations
  • Know what is the environment and does it align to the software / hardware?
  • What is the expected ROI?  Does it make sense based on expected value?
  • How are they addressing the problem today, and can you measure it (time, errors, etc)
  • Is it repeatable and scalable?
  • Make it a polished experience (from scope, service work, to support)

The effect of this is that the dreaded Trough of Disillusionment is substantially mitigated — and the customer’s outlook on the technology remains positive and well-adjusted. It also sets up real experience towards the right enterprise scaling direction. If there’s one undeniable advantage of Scope AR — it is that we truly understand industry use cases and are disciplined about how we launch them. It also means that the customer experiences “enlightenment” and reaches productivity much earlier.

On-board, enable and train with the right Partners. Augmented reality solutions in enterprise are unavoidably nuanced — and that means good onboarding, enablement and training pay considerable dividends on scaling a program. The best way to do that is with the right Partner. It really needs to be easy, both for the users and the broader organization. That means working to establish the key stakeholder relationships with executives, IT, and Engineering to sort through:

  • IT infrastructure
  • Guided user Provisioning / authorization
  • Integrations (MES/PLM)
  • Integrations with other Vendors (ServiceMax, Salesforce)
  • Device management 
  • Data and Insights
  • Security and network systems
  • Physical infrastructure (on-premise)
  • The change management process
  • Feedback from users
  • Transparency and address fears (job loss, safety, data privacy, and unrealistic expectations,)

The effect of on-boarding and training effectively is that the Plateau of Productivity phase is setup for serious enterprise scaling. It’s the reason the technology was invested in in the first place! When the enterprise hurdles are addressed with the right Partner, it becomes easier and easier to institutionalize and benefit from the network effect. It in fact becomes part of the culture — which is why in this phase the Change Management process and user feedback is important. Think the historical progression of Slack or Zoom in the workplace. When on-boarded and trained correctly, the cultural shift occurs and the deployment at scale just “happens.”

In Summary

The challenge of scaling a new technology in an enterprise is daunting, especially managing the swing of inflated expectations to the trough of disillusionment. However — for augmented reality technology, we have succeeded in guiding our customers through to productivity and success by being prescriptive in the approach and with a focus on value not scale itself.