How We’re Supporting Customers on the Ground Right Now, Even from a Distance, with Zebra Remote Expert

When travel stopped, the need for “on-site” support and service grew tremendously among organisations seeking to expand technology utilisation. So, Zebra found new ways to be there on the front lines.

A man wears a Zebra HD4000 head-up display
by David Beer
February 18, 2021

It’s incredible that, even in the middle of a global pandemic, you can have an expert show up ‘on site’ at a factory, warehouse, retail store or restaurant in a matter of days – or, in some cases, minutes – to help design, implement or maintain complex technology solutions. Then again, it is mostly because of the pandemic that this has become possible.

Though remote IT teams have been leveraged for years to help configure, manage, and diagnose systems for geographically dispersed organisations, there has often been an expectation for someone to be available on the ground if needed to assist with requirement definition, solution planning, implementation and scaling. When lockdowns started and travel was restricted, technology providers such as Zebra had to find ways to support deployments and service equipment without being physically on site at customer locations. In fact, business continuity in this regard was mission critical.

Essential healthcare providers, retailers, warehouse operators, manufacturers and logistics companies were under extreme pressure to expand and scale their operations at a lightning pace. Even utilities, public safety agencies and government entities had to adapt to help protect their workers and the communities they serve. They all needed their technology systems online and running optimally at all times if they were to keep up with demand without compromising anyone’s safety. So, we moved quickly to put people and systems in place that would enable us to “be there” for – and with – customers as they were conducting facility walk-throughs, setting up new equipment, configuring software solutions and even training their workers.

In other words, COVID-19 may have disrupted many things, but it didn’t interrupt delivery of our professional services thanks to our creation of Zebra Remote Expert.

This is Far More Than Just “Virtual Assistance”

Customers all around the world rely on us to help guide them through the discovery, design, development and deployment of very complex technology systems. I’m not just talking about multi-layered mobility architectures, either. In a typical day, we will:

  • conduct discovery workshops with retailers who want to put intelligent automation solutions to work in their stores;
  • facilitate solution design sessions that must factor in the people, places, processes and systems impacted by the technology platform within the scope of dozens of safety, security and performance criteria;
  • collect data from implementations to help inform recommendations on solution and process refinements, resolve issues, and improve performance.

Each of these actions are very strategic and require input from multiple stakeholders with widely varying skill sets, experience and know-how. That’s why we created the Remote Expert enablement service tool utilised today. We wanted to be able to have all hands on deck anytime we were called in to help, whether the experts were coming from within Zebra or our global channel ecosystem.

The Very Real Benefits of Augmented Reality When Engaging with Remote Experts

Anyone can pick up the phone and try to help someone troubleshoot an issue. But resolutions can be achieved a lot faster, and with far less challenges, when the experts are actually seeing what you’re seeing. Video chat tools aren’t always the most efficient way to collaborate with front-line workers as many may only have access to handheld mobile computers and, even then, may need both hands free to show our engineer, IT and professional service teams how something is working.

That’s why we are increasingly using the Zebra HD4000 head-mounted display to give remote experts complete visibility into the current situation.

When synced with the right augmented reality (AR) software application, front-line teams can send a video feed to Zebra’s remote experts in real time so they can walk those on the ground through the best next steps to take. In fact, we recently employed Remote Expert technology to complete a solution design survey for a manufacturer in the Czech Republic. Live video was streamed through the HD4000’s head-mounted camera allowing two local engineers to give a remote Zebra expert a virtual tour of the facility. By using augmented reality and onscreen annotations, the team was able to confirm the site design and record the observations for further analysis. This enabled solution implementation to continue in the middle of the pandemic without delay.

A snapshot of the Remote Expert service experience with an engineer on site wearing the HD4000 and a remote consultant looking at the camera feed on a computer from his home.

This type of virtual – and visual – collaboration is very much like what one might experience when calling IT for troubleshooting assistance on a tablet or laptop. Instead of “remoting” in via an app on the device to initiate a screen share, the HD4000 solution lets remote experts gain the same line of sight as the person wearing the camera-equipped glasses. We’re quite literally putting ourselves in your shoes so that we have a full understanding of what you’re experiencing, and that is proving to be extremely beneficial to our team, partners and customers. Nothing is lost in translation and we can provide real-time guidance based on facts, not assumptions.

The Unexpected, but Welcome, Perk of the Remote Expert Service Delivery Model

I think everyone was surprised at how much work can actually be done from a distance. I’m not talking the standard two metres, either. Experts located thousands of kilometres away from one another can converge on a single customer location in a quarter of the time it took when travel was involved to effectively host a discovery workshop with a dozen stakeholders, walk a project site, and even help a customer team install new equipment.

Before, it may have taken a day of travel for a half-day meeting or site visit. Now, our engineers, sales representatives and service teams can spend the first half of a day "on site" at one customer facility and the second half at another facility on another continent. This maximises resources to everyone's benefit, as our experts are readily available for focused customer support. The Remote Expert service has actually proven to be quite convenient for everyone.

It has also been a fantastic cost-control tool. Though Zebra often absorbs many travel expenses for support-related actions, there are times when our customers pick up the tab. Now, customers can reallocate that money to items that make a more significant impact on operational execution and retain the same level of service and support they’ve always had. It’s a win-win.

Our Commitment to Customers

No matter what challenges you’re facing or what type of changes need to be made, we’ll be there right next to you, working through it together. In fact, you might find that the speed and agility with which we can now move through projects is quite impressive considering there is very little movement of people to and from the implementation sites. 

And, even if everything were to resume as normal tomorrow (wishful thinking, right?!), we’ve proven that it’s not necessary for customers to incur the travel costs of having someone on site for every workshop, deployment, upgrade or diagnostic-related call. Sometimes, a quick video chat via AR will suffice. Other times, more extensive “on site” support is warranted. In situations where the task is just too complex for your team to tackle on its own, we’ll provide the skills and knowledge to get you up and running at peak performance levels in no time!

In fact, one of the best ways we can celebrate and honor those working hard to keep things “business as usual” is by ensuring they have the full support needed to succeed in these challenging times.

Whether you require a design consultation for a new technology solution you believe will introduce greater efficiency or you want to quickly scale a platform that’s already in place, the Zebra Professional Services team will be there, ready to help however we can. And, if you’re not sure which technology will best deliver the tools you need to improve business performance, we’ll connect you with the right experts to help you get answers quickly – even if they’re halfway around the world.

Not Sure If a Technology Solution Will Work within Your Four Walls? Need a Second Opinion on an Issue or Opportunity in the Field? Let Us Take a Look.

Contact our Professional Services team now for remote expert support.

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David Beer
David Beer is currently the Director of Zebra’s Professional and Learning Services business unit in EMEA where he is responsible for the sales and delivery of solutions to Zebra’s customers and partners. David has more than 20 years of experience within the technology industry and has led teams within sales, technical, product management, software development, program management and solution delivery disciplines at both a regional and global level.
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