P&C Insurance Inspection

Five Use Cases for Streaming Video in P&C Insurance

P&C Insurance InspectionCustomer expectations and stagnating market conditions have disrupted the financial services sector, including P&C insurance carriers. Says Ernst and Young:

There was a time when financial services companies enjoyed all the benefits of a stable business environment and customer loyalty. Then came the financial crisis, which undermined confidence in traditional providers, and the rise of disruptive technologies, which led to a surge in Internet adoption and a newfound trust in online competitors. The result is an industry facing many uncertainties, such as fickle customers, disruptive technology and nontraditional competitors.

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The Case for Centralized Customer Contact

An equipment operator discovers a strange issue with his machine. He calls his local field technician because that technician has been helpful in the past. The field tech doesn’t answer because is busy on another job. Four hours later he calls back and spends an hour troubleshooting with the customer. They determine that the tech needs to drive out to have a look himself.

Does this workflow sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone.

It’s not uncommon for customers to directly call field technicians when they need help. There are many reasons for this behavior–they may not know who else to call, or perhaps they view a direct call to a tech as a fast track to getting their issue solved. On the other end of the line, technicians freely give out their direct phone numbers in an effort to build relationships and ensure high customer satisfaction. While the intentions are good, in practice this free-for-all support process results in longer response times for customers and massive inefficiencies for service organizations.

Though customers may believe they can get faster answers by going directly to a technician, the inverse is actually true, given the charter of the technician versus a dedicated customer support resource. Unlike a dedicated customer support person, a technician may be busy on another job. It may take several hours before he can call back. The technician may also not have expertise with the customer’s question, requiring escalation to a different or more senior technician. In either case, time is wasted, slowing time to resolution and bruising customer satisfaction.

What’s more, direct customer-to-technician calls incur real tangible costs to service organizations. For one, it’s unlikely that any tech-to-customer troubleshooting over the phone is billed. “Free support,” then, is lost revenue. In addition, field technicians are among the most scarce resources at a service organization. Any time spent answering simple questions, routing calls, or giving free support is taking time away from paying customers (diminishing their overall customer experience).

So if the customers-to-tech phone call is so detrimental, what’s the ideal workflow to balance efficiency and customer satisfaction? How about this…

A heavy equipment operator discovers a strange issue with his machine. He calls a central support number, which instantly routes him to a knowledgeable support agent. The agent gathers information about the problem, and works with dispatch to schedule a visit from the field tech. Thanks to the phone agent’s diligent pre-dispatch diagnosis, the field tech is armed with all the information they need to come prepared fix the problem the first time.

One might argue that forcing a customer to call an 800 number, navigate a phone tree, and talk to a randomly selected support agent is a subpar customer experience. And at first glance this may seem true. But given the choice between having an issue solved (1) quickly by a random person, or (2) slowly by your friend, most customers would agree that shorter downtime beats warm and fuzzy.

By eliminating ad-hoc support and implementing proper support channels, service organizations can provide higher customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and more efficiently use their most valuable resource – field technicians.

Technology, Millennials, and the Field Service Brain Drain

As times change, so do populations, and in turn workforces.

In the past, stable long-term career opportunities and the satisfaction of fixing something motivated young people to take hands-on jobs. But as millennials become a larger share of the workforce, motivations have changed.

Younger adults and recent college graduates are out looking for the most dynamic job they can find. Without the motivation to work 30 years for a pension, job tenures trend shorter and “company men” are rare. Further, young workers look for jobs where technology gives them the same advantages in their work that their iPhone does at home.

What does this mean for the field service team? Applying yesterday’s recruiting methods to today’s prospective employee base means a struggle to hire and keep workers.

Across industries, field service leaders express concern at the demographic shift in their workforces. Particularly in the heavy equipment world, prospective hires lack in mechanical ability what they bring in technological savvy. Combined with a growing demand for services and an “aging out” of seasoned experts, “brain drain” is a major concern among service teams.

To combat the brain drain, service teams must rethink not only the hiring process but the structure of the organization.

To attract great talent, service teams must look ahead to the millenial future. Millennials are are tech-native creatures. They understand the positive leverage technology can provide, and want to use this in their work. The service team must create a culture that embraces technology, and advertise that culture to attract young talent. Then, service teams must follow through on this advertised promise. They must tool up with technologies that make work faster, more efficient, and more accurate. Whether that’s an iPhone for every technician or a robust IoT strategy, leaders in the space embrace the new. And they don’t just do it to recruit from the millenial workforce, because…

Upstream technology investments pay downstream dividends.

Yes, a brand new iPhone for every technician makes for a nice job perk. But beyond the shiny metal and glass handout at employee orientation, a robust mobile strategy brings other benefits. Consider this: A technologically-connected workforce protects against brain drain. An example follows:

Seasoned technicians are the “brains” of a field service operation. They draw on their accumulated knowledge and experience to not just solve problems, but also mentor junior staff. This second component of their charter is the service team’s best protection against brain drain, and must be emphasized. Luckily, most service teams already have informal workflows by which junior, less mechanically savvy techs ask their senior colleagues for help. Forward looking service teams take these existing practices, and enhance them, trading out phone calls in favor of live video. Using the camera on their iPhone, a junior tech can give a senior tech “eyes on” an issue, receive guidance, and solve the problem fast.

So to those with an eye toward the future and a healthy skepticism of the status quo, the path is clear. A strong embrace on new technologies serves each stage of the team’s lifecycle, from hiring to mentorship to service operations.

What does your service team’s technological roadmap look like?

Getting smart…Why the future of field service may lie in smart glasses (part two)

Field Service Blog

 

pristine eyesight smart glassThis is the fifth post in a five-part series exploring field service optimization thru technology. In the last post, we looked at the why despite Google removing their Glass Explorer program in field service at least the future of Glass and other competitor products is very much alive and well. Now in the fifth part of the series we continue our exclusive interview with Pristine IO CEO Kyle Samani as he outlines some very significant savings that can be made through the correct application of smart glasses in field service…

Indeed when it comes to genuine cost savings the early statistics from Pristine make a very compelling case for adoption. Something Samani is clearly keen to get across in our conversation. His business is built on offering significant savings to their client base. “I think the ROI of implementing smart glasses actually delivers far more than a smart phone or tablets did when they first appeared.” He begins

“Our data is still young but looking at our primary customers these companies are going to save millions of dollars by using our technology.”

What is particularly compelling about the smart glass argument, and Pristine’s approach is that such savings are far more tangible than those discussed when we talk about other devices such as smart phones, laptops, tablets etc.

As Samani puts it “It’s not all theoretical efficiency gains, this is money going right back on the bottom line. This is cash.”

“Our general line in the sand we’ve drawn is if the cost of downtime is above $2,000/hour then we get really excited because we know we can deliver you an awful lot of value.” He surmises.

Perhaps we are putting the cart before the horse here though.

Of course such talk of tangible cost saving is attractive to any company, but what exactly does the Pristine product do and how can it be used to offer such significant rewards?

Samani describes the Pristine app as the only pure solution to stream live audio and video from Google Glass (or any other smart glasses) to any other device within the world in a secure capacity so it can be deployed in an enterprise setting.”

Basically the app in combination with a pair of smart glasses will provide a true “see what I see” experience which will in turn enable people to collaborate remotely, whilst the engineer (or even customer) on site are able to keep their hands completely free.

In Samani’s own words “Rather than actually sending a technician to a site now customers can put on the Glass and walk through what the problem is whilst being is remotely connected to a service centre.”

“If field service companies can centralise their workforce somewhat then their field workers can get a better quality of life and their customers are getting better customer support in every case.”

“The goal here is to save field service trips, so to save cost and also to help companies deliver a better customer experience.”

With such remote access tools becoming readily available, this could genuinely open the doors to many companies centralising their operation, bringing their most experienced engineers into a central hub,

One immediate thought around such a proposition is that this could literally change the way field service operations are structured.

With such remote access tools becoming readily available, this could genuinely open the doors to many companies centralising their operation, bringing their most experienced engineers into a central hub, and outsourcing a large amount of work to less skilled (and therefore less expensive) local workers, or even getting the customer to take on the work themselves.

This is certainly something that Pristine are seeing within their growing customer base.

“We’re seeing our customers equip both their existing customers and their existing field engineers with the technology. The goal is to deliver a player to every single case.” Samani explains.

However, the benefits of such a move aren’t solely financial there is also the soft benefit of improving the work/life balance of existing engineers.

“If field service companies can centralise their workforce somewhat then their field workers can get a better quality of life and their customers are getting better customer support in every case.” Samani asserts

“They [the field engineers] used to fly around 50 weeks a year now they fly around 20 weeks a year – it’s a totally different lifestyle for these guys and they spend more time with their kids and their families.”

A noble, if exceptionally forward thinking sentiment of course.

However, there are certainly the seeds of not just change but revolution being sowed as smart glass manufacturers, empowered by companies such as Pristine turn their focus onto field service.

This is a good point to bring up the fact that whilst Google are the most prominent manufacturer of smart glasses they are certainly not alone.

In fact both Epson and Vuzix sit proudly on the Pristine website front page alongside Glass. Pristine already work with pretty much every manufacturer of Smart Glasses available – a market Samani believes will continue to expand.

“Just Like there are 100 different mobile phone makers there will be 100 different manufacturers of Smart-glasses.” He explains “We’re going to be rolling out lots of different hardware to our customers. Our customers are going to get cost benefits from there being more choice and competition and they are also going to be able to choose the device that is right for them and right for their needs”

Of course developing a product to sit across a number of devices has it’s own challenge and as our recent research outlined there is a preference amongst field service companies for native applications (i.e. applications that are developed specifically for the device it is to be used on rather than device agnostic apps).

Is this a potential issue for a developer working in a fledgling market that is, by it’s definition, going to be fragmented as a number of companies release their own products?

Well it would seem that here smart glasses have been able to take advantage of the evolutionary path of the smart phones that went before them.

In short for Samani and his team at Pristine the variety of devices doesn’t raise too many issues. Outlining their working process in greater detail Samani commented “Whilst we are not using HTML5 we are using some web technologies, however we are using primarily Android type platforms. Basically we are now starting to see the types of decisions the device manufacturers are likely to make and are able to design for that.”

“Generally we find that our platform will work out of the box with most devices but if it doesn’t it’ll take one business day of tweaking to get it right.. We’ve encountered most of the variables of change and we don’t expect there to be that many more as the market evolves” He adds It all sounds rather exciting. (Something that is also clearly detectable in Samani’s voice is not just the passion he has for his product but the general excitement that smart glasses will change the world in the not too distant future) But let’s not forget the huge amount of excitement when Glass was first announced.

The Elephant In The Room

There is an old story about a group of blind men and an elephant. One touches the trunk and describes the animal as long and cylindrical, one touches the animal’s side and describes it as a giant wall, and the third touches the tail and believes it is a plant. A man with the gift of sight walks by, sees them and explains to them they are all touching an elephant.

The story illustrates the fact that people can have an entirely different perception of the same experience, and can quickly change their paradigm when receiving another perspective.

In Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he teaches that we can avoid this with Habit Number 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. This is done through empathic listening, a communication style where the listener asks questions to the speaker until they have complete understanding and can empathize with them since they have taken the time to learn the speaker’s purpose and perspective. This communication style is a difficult process for many people. It takes patience to work through the process, and skill to effectively drill down to the root of a complex issue. It is even harder when you are on the phone without face-to-face interaction.

Have you ever been with a group of people, and no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room? Or similarly, what about a situation in which people want to work through an issue but can’t.

It takes sufficient knowledge of a situation to understand the types of information that should be conveyed to a support representative. This is true for the giver or the receiver of the information, so that each has the right frame of reference to ask the right questions. Having a meeting where a team can sit around a table or sketch out ideas or explanations on a whiteboard is a preferred method in many companies, but getting everyone around a table (or elephant) isn’t always possible.

This elephant in the room is a more common phenomena than most people realize. It’s particularly common when working with complex mechanical equipment.

When a customer calls a vendor/OEM with an issue regarding a complex machine, they end up talking around the elephant in the room.. These complex issues cannot be diagnosed simply through a verbal explanation. Even through empathic listening, customers do not often have the background or experience to convey the necessary information to a support specialist over the phone. To ensure that the issue is resolved properly, technicians must often go onsite, often at great cost to the OEM and ultimately the customer.

Field technicians make trips to client sites on short notice, often bringing tools and parts for the machine or device they’re servicing. It could be an issue as simple as needing to reset a machine or adjust its configuration, but oftentimes field techs must make a second trip: the first trip is primarily diagnostic, and the second trip is a repair.

Thanks to new technology, innovative field technicians are now avoiding these trips by using video collaboration tools. Having a customer push a button on their smartphone, they can easily share what they’re seeing and hearing to the technician who can see what they see.

The customer support model is seeing a shift in the way companies engage with their clients. Rather than clients searching for a phone number, and fumbling through an ambiguous phone tree to try and reach a representative, they can have a rich customer support portal at their fingertips. With one app, clients can reach any one of their products’ manufacturers, receiving immediate assistance through a rich video support platform. With the ability to see a client’s environment through a video stream, support teams can guide clients verbally, or with annotated snapshots and diagrams.  It’s a win-win situation where the client sees less operational downtime and the manufacturer sees increases in customer satisfaction.

Now, everyone can see the elephant, from near and far.

 

Getting smart…Why the future of field service may lie in smart glasses (part one)

Field Service Blog

 

pristine eyesight smart glassThis is the fourth post in a five-part series exploring field service optimization thru technology. The future of field service is going to be very different when the Smart Glasses revolution finally arrives says Pristine IO CEO Kyle Samani…

When Google announced the retirement of their Glass Explorer program some corners of the worldwide media denounced this as an admission of failure.

Despite huge early attention surrounding the smart glasses, the product had never quite lived up to the hyperbole and a growing number of less than sympathetic reports featuring Glass (not least to mention the widespread adoption of the newly coined term Glasshole) had meant that a shadow was being cast across Google’s latest centre piece.

For the naysayers the closing of the public beta Explorer program was a final nail in the coffin for Glass. In fact the truth remains very different.

In fact taking Glass out of the famous Google X research and development facility and moving the division into the main Google HQ was anything but an admission of failure. Actually it was a statement of intent – as was putting Tony Fadell (the creator of the original iPod and the Nest smart thermostat) at the helm.

What Google have done however, is take a step back from the world of the consumer and the increasingly blurred lines of fashion and technology and turned far more of it’s attention to the world of business.

An obvious, yet intelligent move given that a) the potential application of Smart Glasse is massive within industry – especially in field service and b) no one product has truly been able to meet the needs of and exploit the massive potential of wearables in field service.

Of course having the hardware is great, but to unleash the real power of such a device we need dedicated apps. For that we need developers that truly understand the audience they are working for.

So Google established the Glass at Work program.

A program where they selected the brightest and the best development companies working on Glass and gave them the support needed to help them flourish.

It’s a select group with only ten certified Glass at Work partners listed by Google currently. One of those companies is Austin based Pristine.io and to find out more about what the next chapter holds for Glass (and other similar products) in field service, we caught up with their CEO Kyle Samani.

The company is young, but they have a strong vision and are also clearly ambitious. “We started Pristine a little under two years ago” Samani begins “I started Pristine in May 2013 because Google announced Glass in February 2013. I just got really excited about the potential of a hands free computer in the workplace and I’ve been doing this full time ever since and having a blast” he adds.

Indeed Samani has the credentials to do well. As mentioned in the introduction, an understanding of the end-users that Pristine’s product is designed for is a large factor in their potential success and Samani whose background prior to launching Pristine was in the design and development of EMR systems for healthcare organisations was certainly well placed to step up to the plate

“I studied finance at NYU and I’ve been programming ever since I was a kid. I’ve always been at the cross section of business and technology” Samani explains.

So what led him to launching Pristine? Is it a case of being the right guy at the right time in the right place?

“Pretty much the moment Google announced Glass that’s when I had my Eureka moment – I thought that’s what I’m going to go and do.”

He admits “Someone was going to go out there and make the software to make this thing useful for the enterprise and I was dead set from the moment I saw it that it was going to be me.”

And it certainly seems that Samani has getting things right so far as his fledgling company has rapidly grown in the two years since inception.

Pristine now has over 20 employees and perhaps more importantly over 30 customers. Also whilst a background in medical systems provided a natural opening for Pristine, their customers are not confined to this space.

In a way that somewhat mirror’s Rugged Tablet manufacturer Motion Computing ,whilst they exploited a niche within the healthcare sector, it was soon apparent that within the horizontal sector of field service there lay a far greater prize and this is now a core segment.

As Samani explains “Our customer base is pretty broad, it does include healthcare but it also includes a lot of other companies outside of healthcare as well.”

“For example right now we are working with a large manufacturing company that produces conveyor belts, so big heavy industrial machinery, and those guys are seeing a huge amount of potential in the platform. We’re also working with companies now in the auditing space within food production for example.”

He continues outlining the variety of companies that could benefit from adopting Smart Glasses into their work-flow.

“Basically we’re seeing adoption of our technology in any environment where you have heavy equipment that if it’s not functioning, it’s going to effect the profit of the business operation. From lab diagnostics in a hospital to packaging equipment in a factory.”

“We even have one company we are working with in construction and for them a big bottleneck in terms of getting their work done is just getting an architect out on site.”

“So they are using our technology to replace the six hour flight and five hour drive. That’s essentially wasted time and expense for them but now they can have a guy on-site with a pair of smart glasses and an architect dialing in remotely avoiding the wastage”

[This is part of the Field Service Optimization thru Technology blog series. Click here for the next post…]

Click here for the next part of the blog series

 

Understanding the Optics of Augmented Reality

Microsoft recently announced their most technologically ambitious project since Kinect: the HoloLens. The HoloLens is a pair of smart glasses, not unlike Google Glass, Vuzix M100, and the Epson Moverio BT-200. There are also a number of startups and Asian OEMs working on their own smart glasses including ODG, Atheer, Meta, Innovega, PivotHead, Sony, Toshiba and more.

But HoloLens is different. It’s the first *true* augmented reality (AR) hardware platform. None of the commercially available smart glasses, nor any of the other devices that have been announced offer anything even remotely comparable. Although they’re all technically glasses, the HoloLens has been designed with very different use cases in mind, which in turn drove different product decisions in hardware and software.

Other platforms render the screen display in a single plane that floats directly in your line of sight (e.g. ODG, Meta, Atheer) or peripheral vision (e.g. Glass, Recon). But Hololens is different: the “screen” is designed not to be perceived as a screen. Rather, HoloLens tricks your eyes into seeing virtual objects layered into the physical world. In HoloLens, there is no (perceivable) screen. The difference between these two optical technologies can be hard to grasp, so I’ll walk through an example to illustrate the difference.

The commercially available large-screen hardware devices – Epson, Atheer, Meta, ODG, etc – are literally screens that float in front of your eye at a fixed distance. The screen resides in a single plane, even if the glasses can simulate 3D. To understand this, picture an 100” TV that’s 10 feet away from you and travels everywhere you go. Next, imagine that you’re watching a video of someone throwing a dodgeball at the camera (your face). Although the screen consumes the majority of your vision, it won’t really feel like the ball is going to hit you. Your eyes can clearly perceive that the screen is still 10’ away, and that the ball is trapped in the plane in which the screen exists.

Now imagine the same thing in HoloLens: you see your opponent throw a ball at you from across the room. Your instincts kick in and you move your head to avoid the ball because you actually think it’s going to hit you in the face.

The difference between floating screens that simulate virtual objects and holographic virtual objects is profound for AR applications. Games, for instance, can become incredibly immersive. Why stop at virtual dodgeball? Why not virtual Call of Duty or virtual Street Fighter?

HoloLens AR adds similar depth (pun intended) to remote collaboration use cases. Imagine virtual hands guiding you through construction – “place these boards together at this angle between those boards” – or a surgery in the OR – “drill there at this angle and stop . . . now” (Disclosure: we’re working with industry leaders in both of these use cases today without HoloLens. Microsoft, hurry up!). Enterprises will see *tremendous* ROI from this capability, particularly in field service, but even more broadly where teams need to collaborate for hands on activities such as audits, tool diagnostics, and more. With HoloLens, interactive virtual hands will guide your physical hands through the exact process necessary to fix the device in front of you.

But HoloLens isn’t the only game in town. Magic Leap raised a whopping $542M to commercialize what it calls “cinematic reality.” Although the optical technologies that Magic Leap is pursuing are different from those in HoloLens, they seek the same end: virtual objects layered into the real world that appear real.

Holographic technologies will reshape the design process across many industries, transforming architecture, interior design, city planning, industrial design, and more. In 10 years, we’re going to look back and wonder how creatives in each of these industries ever designed anything using 2D renderings of 3D objects in virtual space. In 10 years, these creatives will design everything in pixel perfect 3D holographic space.

 

The Strengths and Weaknesses of HLS in Real-Time Communications

Part one of a two part series….

When considering in-browser video solutions, HLS and WebRTC are the two contenders for modern standards-based solutions. Each of these technologies has a set of advantages and limitations which shape their optimal use cases.

Part 1: The Strengths and Weaknesses of HLS in Real-Time Communications

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is a client-server protocol that was originally designed by Apple to deliver streaming video to their mobile endpoints. HLS uses HTTP to deliver its content, allowing it to be implemented with relative ease, as streaming video is represented as a series of regular file downloads. Since HLS is HTTP-based, video can be securely transmitted over HTTPS to end clients. In addition, this allows HLS to send an individual stream to multiple clients with ease.

Since it is a TCP-based protocol, HLS allows for “reliable” delivery of video content. When chunks of the video are not received by the client, the delivery server attempts to retransmit the video until the client either receives it or times out. Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword, as it introduces delay into the delivery of the stream. For real-time communications, this results in a real-world lag that ranges from hundreds of milliseconds to 30+ seconds. While the adaptive nature of HLS does allow for degradation of video quality in poor network conditions, it does not mitigate the latencies introduced by constant retransmission.

HLS is a protocol that adapts to client bandwidth restrictions by providing streams with varying video and audio quality on the server side. On the client side, the client requests the highest quality stream that it can handle, based on its assessment of its performance. Since the video and audio must be encoded in different qualities, this introduces latency, either at the encoding-client or at the server. This latency can be mitigated by reducing the number of different quality options offered, although that effectively cripples the adaptive nature of HLS.

HLS uses H.264 as its video codec and can use either MP3 or AAC as its  audio codec. Since HLS is an older standard, chip manufacturers have had time to implement support for H.264 and AAC encoding and decoding in silicon. This allows HLS to provide relatively high quality audio and video with less CPU and battery impact. Although H.264 is a video codec that can be appropriate for real-time communications, [AAC and MP3 are audio codecs that are not designed for real-time communications. AAC and MP3 take >10x more time to encode a given audio sample](http://www.opus-codec.org/comparison/), when compared to real-time codecs like  Opus. Another disadvantage about AAC is that at the same bitrate, Opus performs better [in subjective quality tests](http://people.xiph.org/~greg/opus/ha2011/).


Overall, HLS excels in situations where guaranteed transmission of video and the transmission of an individual stream to multiple clients is required. From a use-case standpoint, this applies to one-way live-event broadcasts (sports games, concerts, keynotes, online education etc.). Due to the latency issues that come with the inherent design of HLS, it is not appropriate for a real-time communications scenario. This is doubly true for bi-directional communication, since latencies are effectively doubled.