WebRTC secret to remote field support success

Smart glasses, broadband internet, and better phone cameras all play a role, but the rise of webRTC protocols takes center stage in the story.
8 December 2022

Eyes on the problem: digital tools are transforming the ability of subject matter experts to deliver remote support. Image credit: Shutterstock.

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If you’ve ever wondered about smart glasses – for example, where Google went wrong or how businesses use the technology today – it’s worth looking up the events of 2018. This was a breakthrough year for WebRTC protocols, a game-changing set of standards that allows real-time video and voice chat to take place inside web pages. WebRTC’s capabilities had already been popular for a while, featuring in apps such as Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger. But when Apple added support to its Safari browser, the appeal of WebRTC protocols became universal.

This caught the attention of Rama Sreenivasan – CEO and co-founder of US tech firm, Blitzz. As a researcher at MIT, Sreenivasan had spent time carefully growing organic, thin-film sensors for medical applications. But the deposition equipment was sensitive and had a habit of breaking down. And waiting for busy field service engineers, who had to make their way through traffic, felt like a long route to solving the problem.

Instead, if the equipment technicians could see what he could see in the lab and instruct him on how to make repairs, the whole process could take place remotely. To Sreenivasan’s engineering mind, it was a no-brainer and inspired him to co-found Blitzz – providing support centers and inspection firms with the technology to offer their expertise and carry out their jobs remotely. But to make it viable as a business, he knew that the customer experience would have to be seamless.

Given the use cases, potential clients would inevitably be in scenarios where something had broken and anxious to find a solution. “You can’t force people, who are already frustrated, to download an app,” Sreenivasan told TechHQ. And thanks to the now universal browser compatibility of WebRTC protocols, they wouldn’t have to.

One-click support

Today, Blitzz’s digital tools connect support teams with their customers in one click. Clients receive a text message that links straight through to the firm’s secure video platform, where – just as Sreenivasan had envisioned – technicians and other support staff can solve customer issues remotely. And while the contribution of WebRTC protocols is key, there are other technology developments that came together to make the remote experience a success.

Improvements in phone cameras made it possible to capture sufficient detail and zoom in on customer issues. The growth of broadband internet and advances in mobile bandwidth played a role too. “Visual information is very data heavy,” Sreenivasan points out. Being able to put everything together – the technology and the customer experience – unlocks tremendous value. Sreenivasan estimates that digital field support tools can solve 80 to 90% of problems remotely. And that adds up to a lot of savings.

In the telecoms sector, to give just one example, firms can save hundreds of thousands of dollars every month and eliminate thousands of site visits. And today – when companies are reporting not just on their financial performance, but also considering their impact on the planet – reducing truck rolls reduces the emissions that go with them.

Gathering visual data helps in other ways. The information can be reused for training and makes it easier for staff to share their experiences. In support centers, remote service platforms allow reps to resolve tickets faster. Blitzz’s systems leverage AI tools such as image recognition to quickly identify useful product data such as serial numbers. And this makes it easy to pull up other relevant information such as repair manuals and engineering notes.

Talent on tap

For central support teams that are already talking to customers over the phone, upgrading to a video platform to enable remote field service operations isn’t a big leap. Onboarding is straightforward and reps can be quickly up and running with new capabilities such as labeling key features on-screen. For example, to assist a customer on troubleshooting a broadband router, a service engineer could digitally point to the connections that need to be made and in what order.

Even when engineers do need to make a trip to a client’s site, having a remote service platform can still make a difference. It allows more experienced staff to share their thoughts with the technician on site – for example, if an issue turns out to be trickier than expected. Sreenivasan adds that this opens the door for firms to retain senior team members, who may want to reduce their hours, but retain a wealth of problem-solving knowledge.

Digital platforms make it easy for companies to keep talent in the loop as consultants. There are tech upgrades that make a difference too, which brings us to smart glasses. Field service applications are proving to be a big hit with smart glasses, at least where there’s a clear need for the technology. The big win is hands-free operation, and again subject matter experts back at base can annotate the digital view seen by the field service technician.

Without a doubt, technology – supported by capable protocols and applications – is bringing with it a new age of remote troubleshooting and inspection opportunities. Google may have been ahead of its time with smart glasses, but designs by makers such as NuEyes, Realwear, and others show that the technology does have merits and is popular for key business applications.