Digital is the new physical as pandemic drives social distancing across industries

The increasing adoption of Extended Reality (XR) is supporting business continuity as the Covid-19 pandemic drives digital transformation

Orange, Digital transformation

The last few months have been unprecedented in driving physical to digital and we can visualise and model this rapid transformation, as the latest in a series of digital waves. The first wave took place from 1998  when we moved from small data to Big Data and all enterprises followed this move; the second wave (2008-2010) was the shift from on-premise to Cloud; and then between 2010-2012, the third wave was the emergence of AI and IoT. The fourth wave – the New digital Wave - is where we are now. It’s a very new phenomenon because the world is experiencing it together simultaneously. But the previous three waves are all still in motion, although these waves were based on genuine technology innovation and not the result of anything resembling Covid-19’s dramatic impact.

Meanwhile, the New Digital Wave is still taking shape and will help in business continuity efforts. In this social distancing context, there is a growing opportunity for extended reality (XR) which is closing the gap between the digital and the physical, stretching reality across the digital and physical spaces. XR includes Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) where real and virtual environments are created and integrated by computer graphics and wearables. XR will directly contribute in the key area of business continuity and the XR use case is changing every day across all verticals as the enterprise addresses the fundamental health and safety issues arising from the pandemic, as a matter of urgency.

XR - AR, VR and MR - will play a role in the way business changes and adapts. The priority post-crisis will be a return to business and the new normal – but what will this look like?

According to EY research (22nd Edition of the EY Global Capital Confidence Barometer), 72% of companies already had major transformation programs underway and, once normality returns, 43% of responding executives say they will prioritise changes in new investments in digital and technology.

Of course, technology is already impacting many business processes – online shopping and e-commerce are already well established.  The same change process is already underway through Covid-19, through which industry 4.0 – and sectors such as education, healthcare, oil and gas, energy and mining - will add new technology platforms using AR, VR, and MR.

XR will take a leap forward with this new wave of investment, impacting on many areas such as digital workplace, training and simulation, remote assistance and process validation. The benefits of XR are already being realised through the digitalisation of business processes and reduced travel, smart training & collaboration, safety & security intensification, IT automation, design and construction, and maintenance, repair & operations.

By combining IIoT (industrial IoT) with XR and Cloud for any industry sector, customers can virtually connect to a central command and control centre and enable them to monitor on-site operations from anywhere. For example, IIoT combined with the Cloud in mining or the Oil & Gas sectors, customers will have a virtual command and control centre connecting the on-site monitoring team in real-time, using augmented reality for enterprise, connecting field technicians to information.

One of the most widely deployed use cases is a voice controlled micro display with live HD video, AR-enabled, to recognise specific objects in a manufacturing plant and with data overlaid across operations. All the operational elements are connected through an app and connected wearable (glasses), enabling technicians to connect in real-time with remote experts, map the operational checklists and workflows, while monitoring compliance of the operation.

The XR solution is enabling business continuity through real-time audio and video collaboration in an industrial environment. Benefits include True hands-free access to glanceable work instructions, knowledge capture onsite, automatic work logging, see-what-I-see remote presence, Team Leader Oversight (view live videos, interact with multiple team members, coordinate teams), and Integration with Microsoft Teams and third party apps.

The real-time audio and video collaboration offers enhanced white board functionality, annotation, and experts working remotely can highlight on the captured video any elements that need attention. It also supports ‘step-by-step’ digital work instructions and inspection checklist, hands-free access to documents (such as wiring diagrams, installation instructions) and can link workflows to IoT geo-tagged equipment – letting the on-site workers know what tools they need to use next. Critically, workers can get actionable information from the  machinery they service thanks to IoT, helping them make smarter decisions and perform predictive maintenance. Multilingual speech recognition ensures identity authentication through specific voices put into the model; so security is central to the digital matrix and part of the digital value chain. Video recognition is used for object detection to confirm that machinery is in the right place, at the right time.

All this is possible thanks to a digital matrix of the real world – to support business continuity these technologies will need to develop at a rapid pace and ICT consultants working with customer experts will need to identify the right use cases to ensure business continuity, in these unprecedented times.

The digital economy is growing faster than the physical economy and the winners will be those with the ability to leverage data most effectively and secure business continuity, within the new constraints we all face.

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