Welcome to extended reality: Transforming how employees work and learn

By | 4 minute read | March 14, 2019

Imagine a maintenance technician for a nuclear power plant having remote and on-demand access to all equipment in the facility. They could log as many hours as needed in immersive training to become acclimated to the stress of a meltdown scenario and learn how to implement operational protocols — safely from a room at corporate headquarters.

Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality are the technologies we collectively refer to as Extended Reality — XR for short. These transformative technologies are powered by artificial intelligence (AI), connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), and delivered through the cloud and integrated into systems.

When augmented reality meets augmented intelligence, it fundamentally changes the way we work, learn, shop and share ideas — these are the first wave of Enterprise Extended Reality use cases. See these further illustrated below.

In this blog series we explore how XR is changing industries and shifting consumer expectations. Through the eyes of each user, we will explore how these experiences are augmenting daily life — making people safer, more productive, more accurate and more confident.

A Collision of the Physical and Digital Worlds

Whether it’s on the jet tarmac or assembly line, in the warehouse or on site for countless field service industries, overlaying digital information (including live IoT data streams) on the physical world through mobile and headset-enabled AR is transforming the way employees receive training and work. This collision of the physical and digital worlds is leading to greater efficiency and safety while driving productivity. By 2020, 25 percent of all field service workers will be using augmented reality on a mobile device or AR headsets that allow workers to be hands-free and heads-up, improving safety and productivity.

But XR isn’t useful just for industrial and field service employees coping with complicated workflows — it can also be used by health care professionals, pilots, police and professionals in many other industries to learn faster while acclimating to stressful and even hazardous job scenarios.

Remember how workflow standards changed when organizations shifted from paper to computers — and then again from computers to mobile technology? The shift to XR, which is a natural evolution of the mobile experience, is even more dramatic. Rather than merely delivering work orders to enterprise employees via mobile devices, XR combines the insight you receive from AI and the real-time data stream you get from IoT with the overlay of work instructions created by AR.

XR provides enterprises with a platform that helps people perform their jobs better. Instead of delivering information through a 5-inch mobile screen, AR and virtual reality (VR) can provide enterprise workers with an immersive, 360-degree, three-dimensional view that can revolutionize on-the-job problem-solving and training. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, an estimated 80-90 percent of the information humans get is accessed through vision — meaning training in XR reduces cognitive load, making information easier to absorb and increasing the ability to apply information to workflows more accurately.

While it sounds futuristic, XR is happening right now. The market for XR is poised to grow from $4.2 billion in 2017 to $61 billion in 2022, according to research firm ARtillry Pro. Energy companies are already implementing XR to bridge the knowledge gap created by the retirement of experienced employees.

“ExxonMobil simulates a variety of plant scenarios, such as routine operations, emergency response, abnormal operations, upset scenarios, integrity critical procedures and low-probability/high-consequence events in a safe and controlled environment,” writes Kaleido Insights.

Democratize Your Expertise

Indeed, preserving and passing on institutional knowledge and providing consistent training and certification programming is now a strategic imperative for energy and utility companies, as well as many other industries relying on a skilled workforce. IBM calls this strategic imperative “Democratizing Expertise.”

Imagine if every employee performed as well as your top 10 percent of employees. XR unlocks the power of enterprise data and the knowledge residing in ticket resolutions, manuals and work instructions, making that expertise available to every employee the moment they need it. XR can also speed up the onboarding process for new workers and improve productivity by providing immersive training, ongoing education and support on the job.

XR training can be divided into two use cases — both critical to the efficient and effective training required for the enterprise. The first use case, Immersive Training and Learning, is delivered in a completely immersive VR experience. Particularly well-suited for replicating any work environment or situation that’s dangerous, rare or expensive to recreate in the physical world, Immersive Training and Learning offers a safe and realistic virtual environment where learning by doing is made possible — this can increase cognitive retention by as much as 30 percent.

As a natural extension to Immersive Training and Learning, Just-in-Time Training follows the workforce into the field, providing diagnostics and decision support, digital step-by-step instructions and remote expert assistance.

Dive In Now

If enterprises haven’t begun their XR journey yet, they run the risk of falling behind their competitors. To get the most out of XR, you need to find a partner who knows how to develop and implement an XR road map that prioritizes the highest-value use cases, is inherently secure and is integrated into institutional systems.

IBM iX has the technologies and experience to help enterprises plan, deliver and scale XR across business divisions from field services to sales and operations. Learn more about what IBM iX can do for your business.

Further reading from Armando Ortiz.