- While HP is technically accurate when it calls its new offering a first for the print industry, this type of XR solution isn’t exactly new.
- HP xRServices is largely a remote collaboration and support platform. While wearing a Hololens 2 headset, the user can reach a virtual expert who appears in their headset view.
- By using XR to deliver consistent, real-time feedback from a virtual expert, HP xRServices does not require the same allocation of resources that many of the more traditional methods demand.
By Colin McMahon
HP has unveiled is XRServices solution, which it calls the “first print-industry mixed reality service.” This announcement represents HP’s continued investment in extended reality (XR), as the firm has already introduced a virtual reality (VR) hardware line with its Reverb series of headsets. Even so, there is no first-person hardware this time as HP xRServices is designed to work with Microsoft Hololens 2, an industry-leading augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) headset that is frequently used in business applications.
As opposed to hardware, HP xRServices is a software solution that is designed to work specifically with the Microsoft Hololens 2 to enable higher levels of productivity, more advanced levels of remote collaboration, and additional support. While HP is technically accurate when it calls its new offering a first for the print industry, this type of XR solution isn’t exactly new.
How HP xRServices is Tailored to the Print Industry
In its press release, HP highlighted three primary advantages for its xRServices solution, notably:
- A reduction in necessary travel (and travel expenses).
- Higher levels of support for clients.
- Reduced employee onboarding times.
For those who are new to these types of solutions, HP xRServices is largely a remote collaboration and support platform. While wearing a Hololens 2 headset, the user looks at a potentially broken HP print device. They can then call a virtual expert who appears in their headset view. Because this expert can see everything the caller can, they can provide relevant real-time guidance in performing the fix. The result is increased uptime and a lower potential for lost revenues. Rather than waiting for an expert to show up, the caller can often perform the required service on the spot—provided they have the right tools on hand.
What exactly makes HP’s xRServices solution tailored to the print industry? Anyone calling in through the solution will be connected to a virtual HP engineer, meaning they will have instant access to print industry expertise. In addition, HP xRServices works with HP’s Print OSx, so a manager can view transactional data in conjunction with the information gathered from performing whatever task was required. This analysis can be used to plot new optimization pathways, showing employers and decision-makers where weak points exist in the workflow and providing external insight into how said problems may be fixed or adjusted.
A worker wearing a Hololens 2 conducts a hardware inspection with a remote expert.
How HP xRServices Tackles the Skilled Worker Shortage
Research has shown that many older skilled employees unexpectedly retired in 2020, and newer information reveals that the rate hadn’t slowed down by Q3 2021. These mass departures represented a sudden and expensive loss in knowledge, skill, and experience. Employee turnover is one of the least-discussed drains on a company’s revenue and productivity, but it is also one of the costliest. According to Gallup’s estimations, replacing the average employee can cost anywhere from half to twice that employee’s annual salary—and this number is likely on the conservative side.
Employee training is an expensive and time-consuming process, and there are certainly no guarantees that all new hires will be equally effective. If you put 20 people in a room and lecture them for two hours, odds are good that each attendee will come away with different amounts of learned information. This situation only becomes more complicated when the information is a step-by-step guide to operating and maintaining sophisticated print hardware. And as anyone who has tried to resolve IT issues by calling tech support can attest, telephone-based consultations often aren’t much better.
By using XR to create an experience that delivers consistent, real-time feedback from a virtual expert, HP xRServices provides an effective educational tool. Perhaps more importantly, it does not require the same allocation of resources that many of the more traditional methods demand. Although HP xRServices is not unique in this regard, it is still a positive that is worth mentioning.
Epson Moverio and Alternative Solutions
HP and Microsoft make an intriguing partnership, but I can think of a few solution providers that may take issue with HP calling xRServices an “industry first” solution. Epson is just one example of a competitor that has also been in this space for a while. With the launch of its Moverio product line in 2011, Epson has been manufacturing enterprise-centric AR glasses for about a decade. This offering has made enormous strides over the past 10 years, and Epson now markets this hardware as part of a larger solution—one that has use cases very similar to those touted by HP xRServices. Similarly, hardware-agnostic remote collaboration and support also comes from PTC (with a focus on the industrial space) and Konica Minolta (with its AIRe Link visual support tool).
I don’t bring these competitive offerings up to take the wind from HP’s sails. I am genuinely excited about the company’s continued investment in this space, and this is a quality product that will surely be supported and improved over time. These competitors are highlighted merely to stress a truth—this is where our industry is heading in the future. Sure, XR failed to blow up in 2016, but the technology has greatly improved in the past five years.
The Bottom Line
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for remote workflow solutions. It has also exacerbated the skilled worker shortage in many industries. XR solutions like HP xRServices represent a natural evolution, one that looks not to rebuild to a pre-pandemic normal but to advance into the next phase of working. It will be an essential component of tomorrow’s hybrid workforce that is not bound by physical location. Among other things, XR is a document capture technology, much like the smartphone—so these types of solutions will also be critical for the print industry.
HP’s xRServices offering may not be as innovative as its press release claims, but the firm is still an industry leader. Savvy competitors can and should challenge and respond to HP’s XR investments so they are not left behind in the future.
Colin McMahon is a Senior Editorial Analyst at Keypoint Intelligence. He supports most of Keypoint’s Production services with podcasts, blogs, and other types of deliverables. A graduate of Concordia University, Mr. McMahon is a published author, an avid researcher, and enjoys working with the latest in imaging hardware.
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