Information technologies are more efficient when integrated into a larger workflow than when used in isolation, requiring separate system design, user training, activity tracking and maintenance. The deeper the integration of an AR experience within the context of a larger system of enterprise technologies that are designed and delivered to improve performance of an operation or a user, the greater its potential impact.
Real Time Medical, a software provider for medical workflow management, defines context-awareness in workflow management as the “exhaustive mapping of all contextual parameters that can influence current and future workflows, as well as the dynamic ability to automatically assess the optimal workflow to a single conclusion, execute on that workflow, and ensure the completion of the process.”
Context-awareness in workflow management is a rapidly expanding field with applications in many domains from manufacturing to field service. An April 2014 white paper co-authored by Accenture Technology Labs and ClickSoftware is a helpful resource to get acquainted with context-aware workflow management concepts and the benefits of the approach.
At this time, Augmented Reality is being integrated into workflow software systems on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis. For example, an interactive user manual for installing a new part into an existing engine will benefit from augmented labels and animations. The initial pilot and proof of concept require the user to put down the user manual and to open a new AR application.
In the future, context-awareness in workflow management will permit the AR experience to be introduced in sequence, without the user needing to change applications and interfaces. Contextually aware workflow management will fuel the adoption of AR as well as contribute to increases in productivity and reduce errors and delays.
Enterprise AR developers must also study advances in, and integrate their systems with new technologies for recording interactions and activities of users with the digital assets of the business as well as of the real world. For example, the Experience API (xAPI) for learning and training architectures tracks user interaction with digital assets and stores the records in a standardized manner.
With regards to workflows in manufacturing environments, both AR and activity recording are very much at the center of the European Union-funded TELL-ME research consortium that is developing a workplace reference model. From the project’s publicly deliverable D4.3, entitled Integrated Industrial Workplace Model Reference Implementation – Issue 1.
The overarching aim is to extend the integrative framework to provide WorkPlace as enhanced Service (WPaaS++), where the enhancements are concerned with the augmentation of the performance of work-users of a workplace.
The main idea behind how we support the deployment of intentional schemes is to separate consideration of Spaces and Places, in our case WorkSpaces and WorkPlaces. WorkSpaces express the intentions of the underlying business model, and WorkPlaces express the deployment (= physical localisation) of this business model in the real world. By separating out the aspect of physical localization and “designing for its anticipated change”, we make it easier to experiment with different deployment strategies. In this way, we can take advantage of new possibilities (offered by technologies such as Additive Manufacturing) and apply the Mix-Match-Optimize training process itself (ideally delivered as an enhanced Service) to obtain optimal matches (of the available mixes) with respect to various types of production: lean, on-demand, and around-the-corner.
This approach—of describing the workflow and the spaces in which the work is performed—helps to build an intelligent learning system to detect where adding the digital information may streamline processes and where it may be unnecessary or unproductive.
Enterprise Resource Planning
Knowing what a business has in the physical world is also a requirement for planning the future needs of the employee and the enterprise as a whole. According to the TechTarget portal for enterprise data managers:
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is an industry term for the broad set of activities that helps an organization manage its business. An important goal of ERP is to facilitate the flow of information so business decisions can be data-driven. ERP software suites are built to collect and organize data from various levels of an organization to provide management with insight into key performance indicators (KPIs) in real time.
ERP software modules can help an organization’s administrators monitor and manage supply chain, procurement, inventory, finance, product lifecycle, projects, human resources and other mission-critical components of a business through a series of interconnected executive dashboards.
Although examples are lacking at the time of writing, it is not difficult to imagine the many ways that AR in the enterprise will provide value and offer an alternative way to visualize data within ERP software systems in the future. Enterprise AR architects and developers will be increasingly informed about developments in the ERP software domain and vice versa.