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TrainingZone interviews: Gartner's Tuong Nguyen

5th Mar 2014
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Following a report into the implications of AR (augmented reality) in the workplace, our technology editor Andy Price caught up with one of Gartner's principal analysts, Tuong Nguyen.

The report says it's come to the point where organisations can use AR as an internal tool for processes including employee training - what has caused it to make the jump to this level of maturity?

AR has existed for some time now, but I'd say the first thing that carried it mainstream was about three-plus years ago when GPS and personal nav devices were getting big in the mind of the consumer. That's the first time we saw it being used mass-market, with overlayed data on your smartphone providing you with navigation details about things of interest to you nearby.

The second wave came when Google Glass was initially announced. That brought the appeal back again to the consumer in a way that only a leading brand like Google could do. Devices - whether smartphones, tablets, or head-mounted like Glass – are finally becoming not only robust enough, but the tech is shrinking down to a level where it's practical and affordable for consumers.

Google Glass - do you think this is another example of consumer trends driving business trends?

That's a great way to frame it. I'll give you my perspective on this: it's a bit of a chicken and egg issue because on the one hand, you're right. Initially, you saw it being used in enterprise, but probably in a less sophisticated way because of the technology we had in the past. But now because of this consumer interest, more people know about it and because of this more enterprises are taking note and saying, how can we use this technology? Now it's more functional, more affordable, and so not only in the sense that can consumers afford it, but enterprises can use these existing deployments, equipment and services and bring it into the enterprise, as opposed to making some kind of specific or unique solution just for them.

I feel that this is where the industry is going to start moving forward because a lot of consumer examples are gimmicky - tech for the sake of tech - holding back adoption and uptake. In enterprise they're focused on productivity and enhancing the business process, so there will be more innovation and they'll start moving ahead of the consumer side.

Having said that, flip-flopping from the chicken and egg - there's still an opportunity for consumers: let's say Google decides to do something very interesting in the consumer space with AR, I think the focus will shift back to the consumer, but short of that, I feel the enterprise has more opportunity in terms of interesting deployments.

Is the familiarity on the part of the employee thanks to its previous position in the consumer world - will that improve the ROI for those investing in this technology in business for AR and things like that?

There's definitely an opportunity there because the consumer is more familiar with the concept and the use of technology. On top of that, depending on the situation, BYOD might be an option. So if consumers are more familiar with the device it will make it easier for them to pick it up and adopt its use.

AR in the everyday training room - the report mentions it as an aside, but is it being used in the training room much at the moment?

This very much depends on the segment of the market you're talking about. Gartner breaks out the industries in the following ways: heavy industry; mining, construction, manufacturing. Mixed industry; consumer packaged goods, logistics. Weightless industries; insurance, banking, advertising and such. The industries I feel AR will make the bigger impact in tend to lean towards the heavy, less towards the mixed and not as much on weightless side.

I'll tell you why: the benefit of AR, especially using a head-mounted display - is ideal for situations where the user, or employee, requires one or both of his/her hands or his/her complete attention. In situations such as manufacturing, mining or engineering it benefits the employee to be able to work with his hands, keeping his eyes on the machinery as opposed to staring off to the side at a manual.

The kind of hardware/software involved - hardware would include existing consumer products, but if we're looking at software, is this going to come from existing vendors or consumer software?

Most software at the moment is specific or customised for specific application. I expect this to be the case for the next two years or so.

As we start to see more robust devices and part of businesses' computing power and storage requirements moving into the cloud I think we will have more multi-functional applications. But for the moment we have a situation where, 'I'll deploy this application for my workers to repair only air conditioners' for example, but soon we'll start to extend that beyond to a certain set of air conditioners, or other utilities that the company also creates such as washing machines, printers or refrigerators.

So you think AR will boost more once cloud grows. I'd think cloud would have boosted AR in the first place...

That's a tricky one because they kind of go hand-in-hand at the moment. Service providers, whether involved in AR or not are still moving more and more towards a cloud-based solution. Part of it you have to remember is, if I was working in the field using the cloud, it would involve using some kind of mobile data plan. It's relatively early days for that - one potential inhibitor is the cost of data rates. As a field worker I'm pulling in a lot of data, multiply that with the number of field workers doing that - it could be cost prohibitive for the enterprise to facilitate using AR at the moment.

The second this is the tech behind wireless in general at the moment. Outside of the US, 4G is still considered 'ramping up' as opposed to being as prolific as it is in the US. Using a lot of data - even trying to browse a website when you're in a bad area, bad reception or heavy traffic, it becomes a bit frustrating - there's that issue as well.

I think that's a fair representation - we've come a long way but there's still a number of steps to take us to the next level. We're getting to the point where there is mass interest and awareness in the tech for people to start using it - but in the way that a lot of people will look at the market to want to start using it, we're still a way off.

Part two will be published later this week.

Tuong Nguyen is a principal analyst at Gartner. For more information or to download the report click here

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