Google Glass or Hololens, There’s many a slip

By : |February 25, 2015 0
Image courtesy of artur84 at freedigitalphotos.net
Between the labs and enterprise cups, there’s a distance that gets meaner and longer with every new idea that catches tech world’s fancy. If you thought you will soon see your boss jaywalking with that sci-fi glass on or some drones flitting around some factory floors, you really need to read this

Pratima H

INDIA: From the proverbial apple tree to its jam on the table, laws of many forms and degrees have ruled the mankind. Just when we thought we could jump from a mountain, Newton said something. The moment when someone started getting jealous at the sight of slender-necked giraffes and color-savvy chameleons, Darwin popped something. If ever a naïve person fantasized about getting apples in exchange of pea-nuts, there was always an Adam Smith to spoil the dream.

As to the jam, we will come to that later.

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So yes, there is a Cringley’s law in our world too. A short answer for why enterprises do not exactly go berserk the way consumers and geeks do when they hear of revolutionary prototypes like Google Glass, Hololens, Drones, 3D printers et al. The law has always pointed that any new technology takes years before it hits mainstream adoption in a society.

It’s hard to swallow the possibility (or let’s better put it – the lack of it). Come on, why wouldn’t anyone run head over heels to enjoy all this Star Trekk-ish magic! Isn’t Google Glass going to be delightful with the way it allows us to just blink or nod to get things going and our phones, cameras, audio-books dancing to our whims? Isn’t it wonderful to be finally able to print a shoe just the precise teal colour and the fuzzy design we have been thinking of for years but chasing helplessly on shelves? Why can’t factories employ self-running drones and bosses allow Hololens to video-collaborate on a new product?

With or without Mr. Spock, here’s the long answer.

Enterprise Market: No backdoor entry please

Enterprises mean scale. They also mean responsibility, returns, rationale and roadmaps. As consumers we might be able to fiddle with a new noodle can and throw it away if it doesn’t make us happy. But unfortunately or fortunately, CIOs and CFOs do not have the luxury of such garbage bins.

A 3D printer is theoretically quite a marvel but when you open it before an enterprise user, there are inevitable questions to answer. Size, cost, TCO, maintenance, safety to name a few.

As Alex Chausovsky, Senior Principal Analyst, Industrial Automation and 3D Printing, IHS Technology, nails it, “There are approximately 60,000 industrial-level machines installed worldwide, and most of them are found either at service bureaus or MNC with deep pockets. Also, when you compare the speed of additive manufacturing to traditional processes like molding or casting, 3D printers tend to be significantly slower. That renders them apt for relatively low volume applications at the enterprise level, typically for runs of 1,000 parts or less.” In other words, if a manufacturer needs to produce a few hundred objects it is possible, but if a larger scale production run is what we are talking about, Chausovsky raises a doubtful brow.

“What’s the business outcome?” That’s one crisp way to describe this doubt going by what Satish RM, Principal Research Analyst, Gartner offers. “This is and will stay the most important question for any business no matter how great any new technology sounds to be. We may talk of IoT (Internet of Things) in a tech sense but at Gartner we call it ‘Digital Business’ too.

“In the long-term we see Google Glass genre of products being used more in enterprises. So, this could be a great fit for tracking technicians in an automotive factory and saying bye to reference manuals or repair-aids or spare-part kits. Likewise there was a remote-sense robot product that was featured in Davos by Suitable Technologies which is another example of a product with great potential.” He cites.

Jim Handy, a veteran on the semiconductor space from Objective Analysis, a Semiconductor Market Research firm, slices the world of IoT, new-era wearables, new prototypes, drones and printers etc from another angle. “We study markets that are high consumers of the chips that we follow. Not only are the applications mentioned here selling in low volumes, but even the ones that may ramp significantly (like IoT) will only do this if they have a low cost, and therefore a low chip content, so their contribution to overall semiconductor revenues should be relatively small.”

As to 3D Printing, yes because products are designed using complex computer software platforms and are then printed layer by layer, they allow for features that were not possible with traditional machine or human manufacturing techniques. But at the same time the biggest drawbacks for 3D Printing are size and speed limitations, which prevent the technology from replacing many assembly line manufacturing processes, Chausovsky reminds.

That can be a clue as to why although the technology has existed since the 1980s, 3D Printing has really gone mainstream in the last five years. So far some industries that the technology has penetrated are Consumer Products: Clothing, Shoes, Jewelry, Toys, Home Décor, Electronics, Medical Products: Joint Replacements, Prosthetics, Crowns / Invisalign Braces, Industrial Products: Tools, Molds, Fuel Injection Nozzles, Gas Turbine Parts and Pumps.

J. P Gownder, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) Professionals, had observed particularly for new-age wearables earlier that they can be used to make workers more effective and individually productive. “They’ll serve customers more efficiently and effectively with wearables. In the age of the customer, this can mean reengineering customer service interactions, as Virgin Atlantic has done. As more people buy wearables, they’ll become BYO devices that I&O must accommodate.”

On the other hand they can also be deployed as customer-distributed devices that shape new customer experiences. “In this B2B2C model, a company buys or creates wearables to distribute to customers, either for sale or for free. BarclayCard’s bPay band is changing the way football stadiums craft their customer experiences; Southampton FC is using the band to deploy contactless payments with exclusive loyalty offers and to create special in-person experiences.”

He also reckons how Apple Watch builds the market of customer-owned wearables – acting as a digital guide to the physical world – brands will follow W Hotels’ lead: They’re creating an Apple Watch app that will allow customers to check in, unlock the door to their hotel, and make payments inside the hotel.

Do all these examples fill that ‘business outcome’ plate? Read on.

The proof of the pudding – in the SPOON!

An intriguing question jumps at us at this point. Who, after all, would be responsible to figure out the right ‘how’ of these great lab-wonders when it comes to wielding them inside offices and factories? Would it be businesses that will crack the right applications and hence roll a red carpet for these prototypes? Or would it be the job of vendors again?

Catch 22, isn’t it?

Satish admits that’s a tough dilemma. On one hand an area like IoT may depend on value chain matrix where intersections between verticals and vendors across technologies provide clues to niches and applications, he suggests. But ultimately any technology has the potential to find the path to a vertical or use, he dissects. “A Google Glass can be used for education or healthcare.”

Gownder spotted new uses too, specially on the I&O side. The I&O role is changing, as business imperatives now shape technology choices and I&O pros are judged on business outcomes. You can only add value and achieve relevancy if you reframe your organization’s goals and objectives.

Want an example from a real-life I&O leader, he tickles further. “Tim Graham is the IT Innovation Manager for Virgin Atlantic and the driving force behind the Google Glass pilot in Virgin’s Upper Class Lounges at Heathrow. His job, as he described it at a recent wearables conference where we were both speakers: “To use technology to reshape both customer experiences and operational efficiency.” He also notes here Virgin Atlantic’s efforts to deploy Google Glass and Sony smartwatches in the Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow Airport.

Many bold eateries across the world already have started fiddling with use of drones for indoor application as waiters for sushi, drinks and what not inside a restaurant. On the 3D printing side, nearly 50 million low voltage motors were made in 2014 and industrial electronics, such as variable speed drives, represent a large and rapidly growing market. In fact, in 2014, nearly 20 million drives were sold worldwide.

So, it is not as if technologies are quarantined to labs. They are finding routes and detours to enter the enterprise space in new ways.

Wait; haven’t we seen Facebook redefining open hardware, Amazon doing the same with Public Cloud by solving the efficiency and value-model cleverly as a user? Does that mean that a user can have a lot of insight and clout when it comes to wooing the real genie out of any invention’s bottle? And phew, later make money out of the sheer-ability of cracking the application puzzle!

We leave that question for you to chew upon, while we move on along the usual road.

Accelerator surprises

Not all is just fuzzy and gloomy at this time though. There are many factors that if navigated and steered well, can not only iron out the hassles on enterprise-adoption road but might even offer speed and smoothness to the cobbled path.

In Chausovsky’s assessment, certain patents expiring can help the ecosystem a lot. He cites how Fuel Deposition Modelling expiry in 2009 opened and exploded the consumer market in this segment. Like Selective Laser Filling and Laser Melting that can help in pushing down costs or an Advanced Industrial Patent expiry that is just round the corner.

In 2009, expiration of several foundation patents for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) enabled the emergence of lower-cost desktop printers from companies like Makerbot, as well as consumer-facing 3D printer service providers such as Shapeways. He offers another major shift occurring as foundation patents on other 3D printing technologies expire, lowering costs for Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and 3DP from MIT, and widening the range of capabilities available to users.

Out on the horizon now are patents on selective laser melting (SLM) that expires in late 2016, and predicted to lead to increased competition among SLA, SLS, other printer suppliers as new entrants penetrate the market in the coming years. Chausovsky agrees that it is absolutely crucial to expand the ecosystem and fuel growth.

Early adopters are always a ray of hope here. GE’s mission-critical play with 3D Printing in case of use of some next-generation jet engine parts (that was interestingly not possible the same way with traditional technologies given the weight and component factors) or Ford’s rapid time-to-market models or some small business that are printing jewellery (Ron Arad); these are all examples that the enterprise market is not all cold when it comes to new breakthroughs.

Gartner forecasted that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 per cent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020. As to 2020, the connected kitchen will also contribute at least 15 per cent savings in the food and beverage industry, while leveraging big data analytics.

Gartner’s Cool Vendor basket of 2014 showed emergence of several areas. Like 3D printing highlighted an aspect of big change that represents the translation of digital representations back into physical representations, thus debunking the notion that manufacturing, distribution and supply chains will remain discrete chains as opposed to collapsing into one 3D printing, manufacturing and production mechanism.

Similarly, the Internet of Things sees the reciprocal effect of taking information about the physical world and moving it through digital channels in massive quantities to open new doors to opportunity. This challenges the notion that machines will not be peers to human beings in business interactions, and exposes the degree to which machines are invading our every process and situation.

As to Microsoft HoloLens, Handy finds it intriguing because it presents itself as new something and that has been in place since the early 1980s. “Reflection Technology’s “Private Eye” display was used in certain applications to overlay diagrams onto the objects the wearer was viewing. Perhaps this approach will catch on this time, but my outlook is guarded.”

Ultimately the adoption curve will depend on business outcomes and models again, as Satish dices it. “As long as the application justifies cost and ROI for any technology and is a win-win for everyone, specially around ecosystem questions and other issues (read the second part of story for that), it will take good shape. But it is not going to be just about designing a technology but everything else too from warranties, post-production to manufacturing details. That’s where technology-inventors will have to partner somewhere and that too without disrupting existing supply-chain too much.

Eerily enough, this is where we come to another not-so-pleasant law about jams and sandwiches. Whenever you feel you are about to enjoy a delicious jam spread nicely over a bread slice, be ready for Murphy’s warning: Jam slice falls, jam-side down. Always!

Laws, we tell you!