Augmented Reality: Helping Business Adjust to Remote Work Challenges

Augmented reality [AR] superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world providing a composite view. Sounds like science fiction though it is a very commonly used  technology. Gamers are very familiar with it.  Two of the most popular video games in the world  Pokemon Go and Minecraft Earth use AR. If you are not familiar with those games google tiger on your phone. You’ll see an option for 3D and one to see the 3D image in your environment. With just my cell phone and the cloud I can see a tiger in my environment and really get an idea of its veracity, size and movement.

A zebra standing in front of a window

Description automatically generated
Here is an image of a tiger emerging from the rose bushes next to my house. Not real of course just a super imposed 3D model.

In business AR changes the way we collaborate. Just like the tiger appearing in my garden a product lets say a hammer can appear virtually in 3D allowing meeting participants from anywhere to see and interact with the design and the components. They can brainstorm on ways to improve or solve a problem remotely as if they were all in the same room. Another business use is the remote expert. In this example an expert can see an environment and use 3d images and annotations to remotely troubleshoot a problem. Many companies have successfully integrated AR technology. One example is Ford Motor Company who uses AR to design vechiles.

The impact on business will be even greater as more use cases emerge due to covid-19 crisis. Here are some examples I have encountered with my clients in the last few weeks;

Field Service – This client supports business critical equipment and is paid to be onsite with the equipment in case it malfunctions. Now only essential employees are allowed onsite. The technician being employed by my client is no longer allowed to be onsite. Using AR the expert can see the equipment exactly as the essential workers sees it and remotely instruct the onsite employee on how to remediate the issue using annotations and instructions that appear in the field of vison of the onsite employee.

Training – This client creates very complex industrial products throughout the world. Their experts travel the globe training new employees on the production floor. Now travel is severely restricted and in some cases impossible. Using AR the experts no longer need to travel and can provide nearly hands on training from anywhere in the world. They see through the eyes of the trainee and can easily instruct through 3d models and on-screen annotations. An additional benefic gained was the use of real time translation breaking down language barriers.

Sales– This client makes high tech office equipment. They have showrooms to display the equipment and offer pre and post sales support. Now their customers cannot visit the showroom. Using AR their customers can remotely see a 3D model and see how their configuration will actually look in their office space.

AR is here. Its an inexpensive and mature technology when used creativity can add tremendous value to a business process.

Enabling Remote Workers

As we strive to ensure the safety of our employees and create business continuity during these difficult times. I wanted to provide an overview of resources available from Microsoft. The majority of the programs listed are included in most Office 365 licensing. We’ll be adding more programs over the next few weeks and I will update this blog as new information becomes available. To collaborate with peers and share your experiences join the community Microsoft Tech Community: Enabling Remote Work Microsoft has also created a detailed guide designed for IT Pros which you can download below.

Please reach out to me if you need more information. Thank you.

Enable your Infrastructure

Ensure your infrastructure is capable of supporting the increased traffic and optimize performance.

For enterprises and organizations looking to optimize and scale out their VPN capabilities, some of the best practices shown above and recommended by Microsoft are:

  • Save load on your VPN infrastructure by using split tunnel VPN, send networking traffic directly to the internet for “known good” and well defined SaaS services like Teams and other Office 365 services, or optimally, by sending all non-corporate traffic to the internet if your security rules allow.
  • Collect user connection and traffic data in a central location for your VPN infrastructure, use modern visualization services, like Power BI, to identify hot spots before they happen, and plan for growth.
  • If possible, use a dynamic and scalable authentication mechanism, like Azure Active Directory, to avoid the trouble of certificates and improve security using multi-factor authentication (MFA) if your VPN client is Active Directory aware, like the Azure OpenVPN client.
  • Geographically distribute your VPN sites to match major user populations, use a geo-load balancing solution such as Azure Traffic Manager, to direct users to the closest VPN site and distribute traffic between your VPN sites.

Finally, and probably most important, know the limits of your VPN connection infrastructure and how to scale out in times of need. Things like total bandwidth possible, maximum concurrent user connections per device will determine when you’ll need to add more VPN devices.

If your devices are physical hardware having additional supply on-hand or a rapid supply chain source will be critical. For cloud solutions, knowing ahead of time how and when to scale will make the difference.

Enhancing VPN performance to enable remote work provides additional guidance from Microsoft.

Manage remote devices

  • If you need to get started quickly Office 365 provides much of the essentials. Set up Mobile Device Management (MDM) in Office 365 describes how to turn on the built in features MDM features. More advanced features including MAM are available in Microsoft Intune and Microsoft EndPoint Manager. Guidance on creating a POC can be found here. FastTrack  resources are also available to assist in your deployment.
  • Deployment guidance and assistance is available for corporations using Defender ATP. This post Secure your remote workforce with Microsoft Defender ATP provides on overview.
  • In partnership with Commvault they are offering free data protection for devices through 9/1. Please see offer here.
  • As we move to a greater dependence on external connectivity adopting a Zero Trust security becomes a critical security stratedgy, To see where your company is on its journey and recommendations you can take the Zero Trust Assessment.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Move user data to Office 365

Migrate data to Office 365 allowing users to access the data from anywhere.  Microsoft offers free tools to help you migrate your data including Mover and the SharePoint Migration Tool as well as FastTrack services to guide you through the project. Here is the File share to OneDrive and SharePoint Migration Guide.

International organizations maybe faced with data residency requirements and low bandwidth sites. Office 365 Multi-Geo allows you to store select datastores (mailbox, onedrive, site collection) in a region that s different from your tenant region,

Go mobile

Microsoft provides a suite of mobile applications the most relevant to working from hme include Outlook, Teams, Office, SharePoint and PowerApps. Your Office 365 licenses allows for access for up to 5 PC’s and Macs plus 5 Tablets plus 5 Phones. When I work from home I have my laptop docked in my office. I will use my tablet when I’m downstairs in the kitchen and my phone when outside feeding the fish, walking the dog or just getting some fresh air.

Outlook Mobile App

Enable work at home with Teams, Office 365 ProPlus and Windows 10

Microsoft currently has several programs available to assist in enabling remote work including.

  • If you own Office 365 and are currently deploying Teams, we have multiple free programs we can offer to assist. Here is Microsoft Teams admin documentation which provides extensive instructions on deployment. End user training including a very useful quick start guide is available at Get work done from anywhere with Microsoft Teams. If you are interested in learning more about the programs, we can schedule a 30-minute call to review the available resources.
  • If you have users that are not licensed for Teams, we are offering a free 6-month Office 365 E1 subscription to our clients affected by COVID-19.
  • Firstline workers are often the hardest group to reach. Teams offers a solution specifically designed for this use case. Please see Shift App for Teams for an overview. In safety-critical environment our partner RealWear developed a Teams enabled headset allowing field workers to share what they are seeing with remote experts.
  • Microsoft is offering Windows Virtual Desktop at reduced rates. If you are interested, we can schedule a call to review options.
  • Deploy Office 365 ProPlus to remote workers.

Microsoft Teams Shift

Leverage Augmented Reality

Using augmented reality you can provide remote access to sites. As an example a safety inspector can visually inspect a site guided by first line workers while being remote. Dynamics 365 Remote Assist allows field technicians and engineers to collaborate with colleagues and experts from different locations, reducing travel and resolving some of the immediate obstacles facing us all. Dynamics 365 Customer Service or Dynamics 365 Remote Assist may be available free of charge for up to 6 months if you are implementing a solution in response to COVID-19, either on a Microsoft-provided template or custom implementation. 

Keep everyone informed

It is crucial to keep employees up to date during uncertain times. Here are options to leverage Microsoft Technology as a communication platform.

  • Microsoft has created a PowerApps CRISIS COMMUNICATION template and reclassified Push Notifications from premium to standard licensing so you can use the apps full functionality.
    • Key features include:
      • Employees can report their work status (e.g., working from home) and make requests. This helps managers coordinate across their teams and helps central response teams track status across an organization.
      • Admins can use the app to push news, updates, and content specific to their organization, and can provide emergency contacts specific to different locations.
      • The app includes the ability to add RSS feeds of up-to-date information from reputable sources such as WHO, CDC, or a local authority.

Details are available here. If you need help deploying this app we can provide guidance.

Crisis Communication App (layout is responsive)
  • Build a crisis management site in SharePoint to connect people and information here is the blog post and the Look Book so you can add to your tenant.
  • Build a Crisis FAQ bot using Power Virtual Agents.
  • Deliver online events and meetings. Microsoft provides a range of options for meeting. This post provides an overview.
  • Here is the work from home guide Microsoft created for its employees.