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Enterprise AR apps call for strong use cases, requirements

Developers, hone your AR app pitches with these tips on building use cases and requirements. Get ready, because augmented tools are ready for enterprise prime time.

Enterprise augmented reality use cases are rapidly increasing, and developers should hone their pitches to lead AR adoption efforts.

Use Siri? Then, you're using an AR app to enhance your connection with the digital environment -- e.g., your iPhone.

For enterprises, AR opens up opportunities in an entirely new paradigm. "The combination of AR, VR [virtual reality] and mixed reality solutions will bring enterprises new ideas we haven't even considered yet," said Badri Rajasekar, CTO and SVP of engineering at TokBox, at the recent DeveloperWeek Conference in Oakland, Calif.

While AR apps for consumers are widely used, currently, many enterprise leaders don't recognize business uses for it, said Anamita Guha, product manager at IBM Watson, at IBM Index in San Francisco. When use cases are identified, developers often have to pitch hard to get buy-in from their organizations, she said.

To build effective AR applications, developers must carefully define use cases and elicit requirements to create meaningful user experiences. Use cases must show business value beyond that of most app development projects, because, in most projects, AR will require investments in new tools and staff training.

"Proving usefulness is the first hurdle developers and architects must jump to get management support for AR app projects," said Michael Ludden, director of product at IBM Watson Developer Labs and AR/VR Labs.

Follow the verticals into AR

Michael LuddenMichael Ludden

Enterprise developers should study vertical industry AR use cases that could work in their businesses. Marketing departments are early AR adopters in enterprises, Ludden said. Another growth area is AR apps for asset tracking, where image recognition, rather than barcodes, are used for warehouse and retail product location.

Ludden also pointed to AR uses in manufacturing, which use video and audio information for field repairs. For instance, to repair a pipe in a home's plumbing, a worker can use a smartphone or tablet to show a remote technician in a home office the pipe and provide advice on making repairs.

Manufacturing asset usage and functionality management are common AR use cases that enterprises could emulate, said Tom Witkin, producer at MoatBoat, an AR tool developer in San Francisco. "Walking around a plant full of machinery, you can point your device at a machine and verbally ask how it's functioning, how much it's being used and what else is going on."

Badri RajasekarBadri Rajasekar

In healthcare, AR apps assist doctors in diagnosis, allowing them to show remote colleagues what's happening with a patient via audio and video, Rajasekar said. And in education, AR apps provide visual and audio enhancements to the traditional classroom experiences, he said.

Finding enterprise AR use cases

How can enterprise developers build compelling use cases for AR? To start, determine what the project will actually accomplish, and largely focus on things people couldn't do before or do as well in the past, Guha and Ludden said. For example, AR apps can enhance enterprise services with digital accessibility features, such as augmented hearing, touch options and geolocation for people who are legally blind.

Tom WitkinTom Witkin

One way to find enterprise use cases for AR apps is to target UIs that underperform in some way, such as not fostering interactivity. "AR makes things tangible in a way that our current app interfaces don't. AR makes them very approachable," Witkin said. Interfaces for applications for training staff or teaching customers how to use a product could be a good fit.

When gathering requirements for AR projects, Guha advised starting with these basic steps:

  • The combination of AR, VR and mixed reality solutions will bring enterprises new ideas we haven't even considered yet.
    Badri RajasekarCTO, TokBox
    Ask the same requirement questions for every other application effort: Who is going to use this application? What problem does it solve? Why do we and our users care?
  • Focus on the value that could be added by AR features, such as audio, 3D, video, etc. Why is AR necessary for this enterprise application?
  • Once some uses have been identified, consider on which AR platform will that manifest most effectively. Where and how will the AR app be placed? Will it live on an on-premises server or on a cloud platform? Will it be developed and deployed on a platform as a service? Once established, these parameters will determine development tool choices.
  • To ensure the best user experiences, set up a panel of users from inside and outside the organization to try out each iteration. Be ready to iterate and gain feedback from real users whenever possible.

Rajasekar sees many AR app projects falter on the operational side. So, in the requirements and design phases, developers must answer several questions:

  • What will the workflow look like?
  • What endpoint devices will you support?
  • What are design considerations? For example, how will you overlay information?
  • AR apps operate in real time, so how much processing is required to achieve the performance needs?
  • What changes will an AR app require in policies for governance, risk, compliance and security content? Enterprise AR apps are subject to compliance and regulatory issues related to what information may be collected and how that information is used or presented, Rajasekar

With rapid advancements in AR technologies, enterprises must plan to add new features more quickly than usual. "Today, a lot of AR experiences are stand-alone applications and asynchronous," Rajasekar said. "In 2018 and 2019, these experiences will become shared and synchronous through the addition of real-time communication, live streaming and two-way or multi-way live video and voice streams."

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