The current global pandemic has brought about an unprecedented change to countries all over the world. It has impacted travel, trade, logistics, real estate, access and has disrupted the economies of hundreds of countries.
It should come as no surprise that technology corporations large and small have also had to adapt, changing the way they support customers domestically and internationally. One way our own work has shifted is in reevaluating the way we perform deployments and migrations, including enabling a large global pharmaceutical manufacturer divestiture.
Prior to the major shifts in how we work, the original plan was to migrate their environments at their sites through onsite support, including travel logistics for WWT experts to perform complex multi-week changes—all the while minimizing downtime to the plant. However, given new limitations, we will now be partnering with Microsoft (MS) to deploy their HoloLens2 Augmented Reality devices at locations across the globe in order to safely guide the technicians and onsite employees virtually.
Shifting to deliver critical business outcomes
Over the past few months, we have worked very closely with our customer to develop a pandemic contingency plan for their critical sites. First, we had to establish the mission statement and priority. The mission was clear: “Guarantee the success of both their divestiture and acquisition.”
The priority was to protect the timeline to successfully migrate all their critical manufacturing, research and development (R&D) and commercial sites and continue to make progress towards the divestiture from their parent company. However, with social distancing and other global efforts made to reduce the spread of the virus, the original schedule and entire operation were both at risk.
The economic disruption has also caused shortages in equipment availability, delays in delivery and the reduction of available onsite staff to physically install the equipment. Many and varying governmental restrictions were also in effect for each site across different countries, such as travel restrictions and site access lockdown.
These limitations and increasing usage of personal protective equipment (PPE) have also created further complications in the plans, as many of the business-critical site migrations were essentially halted due to the enhanced requirements of onsite support from WWT and our partners. The impact/costs of these delays would be significant to our customer, and to us as well if we could not deliver our professional services to them in such a critical time to their development.
Use case 1: Deployments and site migrations
Through workshops and architectural design sessions we determined that the best path forward was to continue our deployment plan and schedule as designed, but in order to achieve the desired outcome we needed to revise our approach to enable remote deployments and configuration.
Shifting to an almost completely remote deployment methodology introduced certain risks. The equipment being deployed at customer sites comprised numerous technologies that the onsite technician may not be familiar with. Describing something verbally and it being misconstrued or misinterpreted can lead to significant delays, further complicated by possible language barriers.
However, by leveraging a form of remote visual aide, we would enable our team of engineers/architects to provide holistic remote support throughout deployment/installation. This dramatically reduces the mean time to repair (MTTR) for any faults that may occur with the installation and ensures its successful on-time completion.
Additionally, by being able to communicate through augmented reality, the remote engineering team can feel confident that the install has been done to specification. This will greatly reduce troubleshooting times by eliminating potential sources of the issue (cabling, loose wires, etc.). The troubleshooting itself will also be enhanced by ensuring the right steps are being taken (power on/power off the correct device).
With the addition of the augmented reality component, the remote team can quickly diagnose and direct unskilled onsite personnel to correct any issues during the event. The use cases are endless, however, the key targets are:
- physical equipment installation direction;
- diagnosis of any issues that may have occurred from shipping or interpretation of installation/deployment guides;
- cabling direction;
- circuit test/turn up;
- out of band configuration; and
- power on/power off support.
Given these requirements, we decided to employ the Microsoft Virtual HoloLens2 at each site to remotely assist the onsite staff. We decided to deploy one headset per site, to be leveraged by the lead install technician.
The headsets allow integration with MS teams, they are Wi-Fi enabled and have a cellular option in cases where there is no available network. The technician would be able to wear the headset with full video/audio being sent to the remote WWT engineering teams and partners, who would then direct their actions in real-time. They would have their hands free then to work on the actual deployment.
Due to limited and crucial timelines, it is expected that the multiple simultaneous deployments will need to take place for the customer's manufacturing and R&D sites. WWT is providing two teams to remotely support these overlapping deployments. Each team is comprised of a set of architects and engineers responsible for each technology involved.
These site deployments and migrations are complex and require a significant amount of on-site coordination and skillset. However, given the current pandemic, this is no longer a viable option and will require “smart hands” to be supported by remote expertise exclusively.
The deployment for each site includes the following:
- Install lead (wearing HoloLens2) physically onsite
- Compute/virtualization engineer (remote with mobile device)
- Network engineer (remote with mobile device)
Use case 2: Regulated testing and validation
As part of a regulated industry, the customer is required to provide evidence to a quality auditor that a system configuration/installation has been done in a controlled fashion. This qualification process includes visual validation of the IQ (installation qualification) and PQ (performance qualification) testing.
This typically requires an onsite quality tester to be present to visually inspect/audit the installation and testing. With the leveraging of the remote headset capability, this can be moved to remote support and removes the requirement to have someone travel to be physically present at the site.
Return on investment
The HoloLens2 devices would of course bring their own cost to the project, but the justification for their use yields a significant return on investment for both WWT and for the customer. Considering the global nature of the deployments, significant costs can be reduced or avoided that would otherwise have to be incurred:
- travel expenses (hotel, flights, car rentals, meals);
- work visa expenses;
- higher partner expenses related to the additional skillsets required;
- security for higher risk areas of the globe;
- international insurance; and
- corporate entity requirements.
Strategic use cases
By utilizing our practical approach to enterprise architecture and by partnering with the customer and understanding their long-term vision for their business, we have also identified multiple strategic use cases for the augmented reality technology. This goes well beyond the tactical use cases discussed above and further justifies the ROI.
The customer's manufacturing and R&D uses are nearly endless, and the usage of these visual aids in developing new products, new manufacturing processes and speeding research is now a huge part of their overall business imperative.
In the past two decades, technology has played an increasingly crucial role to the way businesses operate and communicate with one another across the world, and this role is changing yet again. Leveraging the technology behind virtual augmented reality devices like the MS HoloLens2 is one crucial way WWT has found to support our customers and give them stability now and in the future.
This strategic and cutting-edge approach allows us to provide expertly skilled resources to remotely guide crucial customer migrations and deployments without sacrificing quality or expertise, nor causing undue delays or cost to wait for the availability of physical onsite resources.
Through this type of remote support, we are protecting both the customer and our own employees. In this way, we are looking to the future and continuing to embrace and utilize technology to drive digital transformation for our customers, helping them achieve growth and success.
Learn more about our efforts around business continuity.