Can Emerging Tech Support Local’s New Normal?

While the world continues to struggle with the fatalities and economic distress caused by a global pandemic, a sub-theme has started to emerge in daily discussions. Broadly in the category of silver linings, people are making new discoveries about themselves and the ways they conduct their lives and work.

Technology and commerce breakthroughs will understandably be at the back of most people’s minds while the Covid-19 crisis continues to unfold, but some of them may improve public health and reshape in-person commerce in the long run, transforming the ways we gather, do business, and even keep other safe.

This is one of the ways innovation happens. By being forced to try new things, we see new things. That statement is generally true, but in this case, it is amplified by the additional factor of distress. By being pressed in various ways, resourcefulness has emerged. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

One rather tame and low-stakes example of tech innovation in the current crisis is remote work. Some companies (not all) will discover that it’s a more streamlined operational orientation. Some will realize that having everyone come into an office five days per week was not about much more than habit and repetitive motion.

That will vary by company and vertical, but there are generally lots of benefits to #WFH for self-starting or deadline-driven execs. That includes stress relief from commuting, less pollution and additional flexibility in employees’ use of their own time. As a result of social distancing, many companies will make that discovery for themselves.

With that backdrop, I’ve been looking for other types of new discoveries that could be blessings in disguise. Just like remote work, these aren’t new concepts but ones that are now given the chance to shine. For example, I spend lots of time analyzing virtual reality, which could be a valuable virtual event tool.

But more to Street Fight’s main focus, what discoveries or business approaches could benefit local commerce? One of them could in fact be VR’s cousin, augmented reality. Its ability to help people visualize things or facilitate “see what I see” co-presence could help local service pros socially distance.

This comes about as high-touch local businesses are hit the hardest by shelter-in-place ordinances. We’re talking everything from dentists to cosmetics sales. There’s also home services, as social distancing protocols preclude the traditional ritual of service pros visiting your home to fix something.

This is where AR remote support could get the chance to prove themselves. For example, companies like Streem bring the industrial AR concept of remote assistance (a.k.a. “see what I see”) to home services. A remote expert or home services pro can see a service issue through your upheld smartphone.

In the vast range of home services, this means that everything from setting up a wi-fi router to fixing a dishwasher can be assisted (or at least diagnosed) remotely. Picture a cable company rep visually walking you through a router setup, including spatially-accurate visual annotations.

A version of this technology has already gained lots of traction in industrial enterprises to reduce travel for experts and machine specialists to fly in to fix equipment. That plus machine downtime is a big cost for these enterprises, one that AR remote visual instructions are well positioned to alleviate.

Back to home services, AR addresses a different pain point: preliminary technician visits. Otherwise known as a truck roll, this includes an initial home visit to scope and price a given job. Streem has claimed to reduce truckrolls by 42% — meaningful savings for service pros.

It’s not just fewer visits but streamlined ones. In other words, the standard practice of showing up with a big truck with all possible tools to handle any job can be replaced with in-advance knowledge of the exact job. That means a lighter dispatch, clustering like-jobs, or ordering parts faster.

These benefits resonate in normal times and are validated by Streem’s recent acquisition by Home Services giant Frontdoor. But the benefits of AR for local commerce are especially pronounced now in light of social-distancing protocols. Your sink can still get fixed as you shelter in place.

This could also be the inflection that AR needs to get over early consumer and enterprise adoption humps. Of course, there are more important factors than the health of the AR industry, but it and other technologies could benefit from perspectives the “new normal” pushes into the mainstream.

More altruistically speaking, and coming full circle, we could all end up better for it. Even in non-quarantine times, technologies like Streem can bring better customer experiences as well as logistics and operations to home services. It may just take challenging times to force that perspective faster.

We’ll see many more technologies and practices that follow this principle, a hopeful silver lining at an otherwise painful time for the world. We’ll continue to look for other such technologies and practices that could follow this pattern, and advance our lives and work in the long run.

Tags:
Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at www.mikebo.land