Pokémon GO has sparked a frenzy. There have been stampedes in Central Park and statues erected in Norway. The game has even saved local businesses in some areas and engaged tourists in some countries. Pokémon GO is the first augmented reality phenomenon of its kind, reaching 50 million downloads in just 19 days, and has since exceeded the 100 million mark.
This makes for entertaining conversation over dinner tables and on social media. But for IT leaders, there are also some very interesting lessons to be drawn from the game’s success (and stumbles). With the right IT strategy, augmented reality (AR) can open up opportunities for businesses large and small to tee up new user experiences for their customers. But before any of this can happen, IT teams need an infrastructure that can wrangle geo-distributed data types, support massive scale, and drive business outcomes using analytics.
Adopting an Augmented Reality Mindset
Customer experience is essential to business success. These days, customers expect a seamless and effortless experience when interacting with a product or an organization. Pokémon GO’s popularity is party driven by its AR user interface. The game’s rapid adoption likely has opened up opportunities for businesses to use AR to take their engagement with customers to a new level. If Pokémon GO can send us out to roam our cities for digital creatures, why can’t a real estate company use the same technology to transform how people search for properties? One can easily imagine users interacting with AR technology to see the homes for sale in a particular street and visualize the layout of a house they like, inside and out. What about grocery shopping? AR could completely transform the chore, bringing it from a dreaded task to an immersive experience. One can imagine a world where shoppers look at an aisle through their phone and are able to see on-sale items with pricing and other information. AR also could inject a social element into grocery shopping, highlighting the most popular items in the store on a particular day.
So how can IT enable such experiences? Enabling truly immersive AR requires customer-generated data to be stored and analyzed on a scale that few enterprises are set up to handle. Additionally, such experiences are often compute-resource heavy and rely on IT to scale available infrastructure as demand spikes so that customers get a seamless experience. Most importantly, organizations need to think about building applications differently. The majority of web and mobile apps (commonly referred to as “cloud native” apps) have very different design characteristics than traditional, monolithic applications. For example, cloud-native applications rely on microservices to disaggregate components of the app’s business logic. Additionally, cloud-native apps frequently are built using open-source components, which often require a different approach for vendor strategy, as well as day-to-day IT management operations.
For the above reasons, creating a truly cloud-native app that transforms customer engagement can also require a top-down transformation in IT infrastructure and processes.
Making Augmented Reality a Reality
Scale is just one hurdle to overcome when wrangling the onslaught of data generated from AR apps. IT teams also have to manage data consistency and data protection, which can be challenging, especially in situations where users are interacting with the app in multiple geographies and data is coming in at a high volume. Take, for example, the player rankings for Pokémon GO. Those leaderboards require analysis of data that’s collected from various parts of the world. As businesses seek to offer similarly immersive experiences based on AR, IT teams will be called upon to create a robust infrastructure that can ensure that precious customer-generated data is protected and available for analysis.
This can be a challenge, especially for IT teams that need to deal with existing systems. Traditional storage systems were not meant to handle the geo-distributed nature of business today and often rely on application developers to do the hard work of ensuring data consistency. Additionally, due to inherent scale limitations, they often lead to data silos being built up, which makes the infrastructure complex and costly to maintain. To get the full value of a data set, it needs to be stored in one single, global repository. Modern object-storage platforms are built to provide a single namespace for massive amounts of data, enabling them to serve as better platforms for AR applications.
Reaping the Rewards of Augmented Reality
So now that we have looked at the ways business can adopt augmented reality and what the infrastructure supporting that looks like, let’s take a look at the opportunity that exists in the data that is generated through these applications. While deeper engagement on the part of customers is a great outcome in itself, the data created by the resulting micro-interactions can yield tremendous insights for businesses as well. As an example, let’s go back to the immersive grocery-store app that we discussed earlier. With customers using the in-store AR app in every aisle, the grocer can capture extremely specific data about which aisles customers walked through, which ones they skipped, and which AR-created virtual items they clicked on. The list can go on – the possibilities are virtually endless.
This data can be analyzed in a variety of ways using analytics technologies like Hadoop, Flink, etc. to yield meaningful insights for businesses. Companies that can mine these insights and use them to provide better, more targeted offerings will gain a tremendous competitive advantage.
There are a couple of critical factors needed to win at augmented reality. For starters, an infrastructure that can scale in real time is mandatory. Furthermore, an infrastructure that can support microservices is also key. Niantic has struck viral gold with Pokémon GO and it won’t be long before other businesses begin using augmented reality to create the next viral app. By thinking about processes and the infrastructure required to support such immersive experiences, IT teams have a real opportunity to be seen as enablers in transforming the customer experience for their businesses. Pokémon GO is just the tip of the AR iceberg.
Varun Chhabra is the Director of Product Marketing for EMC’s Advanced Software Division. In this role, he leads product marketing for multiple emerging technology products including their Elastic Cloud Storage: ECS, OpenStack-based cloud platform: VxRack Neutrino, and storage automation: ViPR Controller. Previously, Varun served as Director and Group Manager of Product Marketing at Microsoft for the Microsoft Azure platform.
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