Microsoft Mixes Up Reality, Video Calling to Assist Remote Workers

Among the products and capabilities Microsoft featured in a run-up briefing to Ignite, taking place next week, is Dynamic 365 Remote Assist, a mixed reality business application aimed at providing "firstline workers" – those it describes as the "first in line to engage with customers, represent a company's brand, and see products and services in action" -- with help from remote experts via Microsoft HoloLens and hands-free video calling technologies.

This app is for firstline workers in verticals such as field service, manufacturing, and retail, said Lorraine Bardeen, GM, Microsoft Mixed Reality, during a press briefing. Such workers represent 80% of the world's workforce, or some two billion workers, she added.

And they're just as much in need of collaboration capabilities as today's knowledge workers, Microsoft contends.

"Dynamics 365 Remote Assist enables firstline workers to solve the problems in front of them that they can't solve without calling in a remote expert," Bardeen said.

Say the assembly line has gone down at a manufacturing facility, and the plant manager can't diagnose the issue. All that firstline worker has to do is pop on a pair of HoloLens glasses and open up a line of communication with a remote expert by clicking to launch a video call from a virtual Teams interface. The remote expert can check out what the plant manager is seeing, assess the situation, send digital content right into the view, and even "draw" on the machinery using mixed reality annotation, Bardeen described.

In working with customers, Microsoft is finding that the mixed reality app is helping firstline workers create an "unbroken workflow," Bardeen said. "They're able to solve problems in minutes that would have taken hours or days -- saving lots of time and money, and stress for firstline workers, as well."

Chevron Sees Transformative Power

Such is the case at Chevron, which is using Dynamics 365 with Remote Assist and HoloLens to improve operational performance, as company personnel discussed in a video shared during the briefing (see below). The oil giant uses this technology in two core scenarios, said Ed Moore, a senior technology strategist at Chevron. The first is remote expert, which allows the company to put "any expert anywhere in the world, in under a minute." And the second is remote inspection, which allows inspectors to see construction and operations in real time.

"We have facilities all over the globe. We have facilities in areas we can't get to all the time. So to be able to digitally transform that expert into the field within a minute or so is foundational and just transformative," Moore added.

"This saves our engineers and our folks tons of time in how they go about doing their normal work -- every single day," said Bisram "Sam" Samlall, a technology and innovation team lead at Chevron. "That's a tremendous reduction in operating expense for us as a refinery, but also it makes their job a whole lot easier."

Chevron already has 100 HoloLens in the field -- "just another device like our laptops and our phones" -- and it hopes to get to thousands of them, Moore said.

Tying Workflows Together

Should you be wondering where an out-of-the-box mixed reality app like Remote Assist fits in with Dynamics 365 and Microsoft's business application strategy, "it's all about the data," Bardeen said. For example, "when a firstline worker gets on the job and starts using the mixed reality application, they need to know ... who's the best expert to call," she said.

This, Microsoft achieves via its Common Data Service, which brings together the frontend and backend data across Dynamics 365, as well as Office 365 data, to leverage communications and collaboration history directly within the app; and LinkedIn data, providing the ability to develop relationships and understand the business network, said Alysa Taylor, corporate VP, Business Applications & Industry, Microsoft. And, lastly, Microsoft also allows external partners to write to the Common Data Service, providing their vertical expertise.

This connectivity between workflows, Bardeen said, is what will "empower companies to optimize their operations, product development, customer engagement, and more."

Dynamics 365 for Remote Assist is one of two mixed reality applications, along with artificial intelligence capabilities, Microsoft discussed in its pre-Ignite briefing.

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