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Augmented Reality: More than Just a ‘Game Thing’


Many leading companies are moving beyond the pilot phase, to real-world uses of augmented reality. Here’s how executives can begin to weave immersive technologies into customer, employee and partner interactions.

Long in development, augmented reality is now poised to remake experiences in our personal and work lives. Although the technology is decades old — i.e., the first head-mounted display was invented in 1968 — recent investments in and proliferation of augmented, virtual and “mixed-reality” applications have skyrocketed.  

Whether it’s used to help electric utilities install and optimize wind turbines, or bring smiles to the elderly in dreary nursing homes, early adopters are using AR to orchestrate the future of both work and play. And when you consider the massive bets being placed on augmented and virtual reality by technology visionaries such as Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google, it’s clear the AR future is imminent.

Augmented Reality Isn't Just for Gaming

Getting From Point A to B

The real value of AR won’t be found in applying it to processes as they exist today. Rather, businesses need to rethink processes and interactions as journeys. Nearly every interaction we have as consumers or employees today involves a journey of some kind, be it through physical space or cyberspace. In all cases, the time spent getting from Point A (the start, or beginning) to Point B (the destination, or conclusion) is the setting for enhancing the interactions among people, places, things, content, scenarios and next-best-actions, using AR during linear progressions and processes. Said differently, time and physical space are the canvas, and AR content is the paint.

The field service worker, for example, could overlay a repair diagnostic on a piece of equipment. The home-buyer could view the finished house (plus interior) from the sidewalk of the empty lot. The commuter could turn his drive into a game, earning points for changing lanes. 

To harness AR, businesses need to understand the critical elements of the AR journey (see below). Every business process within a journey has a main character that moves through a “plot,” often involving time and space. Plots are the central “actions” that manifest any business process.

Figure 1

These reimagined experiences, in the form of AR journeys, will propel outsized revenue uplift, next-gen levels of customer engagement, and full captivation of customers’ and employees’ attention. Everywhere that humans move through space and time presents an opportunity to change the customer interaction. 

If Tesla Had Invented Pokemon Go!

Imagine a task – say, your morning commute – that results in some amount of tedium and stress. Now imagine if Tesla had invented Pokemon Go! instead of Niantic, and with all due consideration given to safety, suggested different routes and streets to take to rack up points? 

What if you could also reduce the drudgery by augmenting the commute with interesting details, motifs, characters or plot twists? How could you gamify the turning points for your car (Waze-like shortcuts could become part of a game — perhaps breaking up traffic jams as a result) and roads you have to take (enhancing every step of your journey with characters, situations or side adventures)? Your day is brightened — and all the players involved with building out the ecosystem can monetize their input, based on the usage, repeat engagement, scale and creative recombination of the platform.

One could imagine the emergence in five to 10 years of AI-driven “journey experience services” that create, calibrate, diagnose, gamify, reverse-engineer and suggest — like Pandora does with music — the perfect “genome” of the things you see, interact with, decide and experience during your journeys of personal time, as well as those that wrap around work processes. Included will be the setting, information, tone, characters, suggested things or experiences to buy, side-destinations to take, friends to include and more.

The potential for AR technologies to change our personal and business lives may also usher in the next chapter of what some are calling “The Experience Economy.” Say you’re on a five-hour plane ride from JFK to SFO. What if you could plug into your AR Game of Thrones immersive channel and dynamically interact with different characters, settings or kingdoms? When you get bored, how about venturing into the world of Stranger Things, Harry Potter or the dancers of La La Land? 

The rise of the experience economy means that even stalwarts among the traditional media and entertainment companies may — quickly — encounter Silicon Valley juggernauts as their biggest competitors.

Getting Started with AR

Here are some of the critical steps leaders should be engaging in now to make AR feasible in the near future:

  • Recraft processes as journeys. Pilot sample functions that could be enhanced with existing AR technologies. For example, if your business has a field service process and you don’t have an AR strategy in place, it’s time to get going – immediately. 

  • Strike new, innovative partnership approaches. New models will evolve to reduce development costs, access external capacity and share the risk and reward from integrated product development. Success will be achieved by companies that offer the best experiences to capture customer spending or spot a new market opportunity, or focus on areas that boost employee productivity and quality. 

  • Address data privacy and security. The use of AR only intensifies the need for data privacy, since wearables (as well as smartphones) are capable of tracking user behavior down to the most minute detail. While use of this type of data is necessary in order to hyper-personalize the user experience, it can also raise privacy issues, especially in consumer-facing applications. Users should be made aware of and have a say in what information is stored, with appropriate steps taken to ensure the security of enterprise data.

To learn more, please read our in-depth report “Augmenting the Reality of Everything,” or visit us at Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work.

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