Getting Ahead of the Game with Webex Expert on Demand
Being ahead of the curve has its advantages. There may be some risks in adopting something new, but when it comes to applying the latest tech advancements to real business problems, companies that take those risks have a better chance of coming out ahead.
Hirschmann Automotive strives to always be ahead of the curve. Headquartered in Austria, the company employs 5,500 people worldwide, with seven plants and several sales offices across the globe. We aren’t one of those companies that sit on their hands for years before trying something new. We pride ourselves on innovation in our products, especially in our specialty areas: contacting and connector systems, sensor systems, special cable assemblies, and over-moulded technology.
Because we constantly seek new ways to innovate when it comes to our products, we need the latest and greatest options for the solutions we choose. We love to test the most cutting-edge tools out there and be the first to offer feedback that will get us the best results.
I have been with Hirschmann Automotive for just over two years, starting out in a position where I was tasked with creating and stabilizing infrastructure. My role has since evolved, and now my chief responsibility centers on discovering innovative and creative ways to solve problems. Our global scale poses unique challenges for the business, which is why I’m constantly searching the market for new solutions.
Pushing the Envelope
One of our latest endeavors was to explore virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) solutions for various areas of our business, particularly in our vast production environment. As far as production is concerned, our knowledge base is here in Austria, but our production plant for the North American market, for example, is in Mexico. If something isn’t working properly at one of our plants, technicians have to call Austria, and even then, they might not be able to solve the issue. Then it becomes an issue of flying someone around the world to assess the problem in person.
A few years ago, I took Hirschmann Automotive through a Cisco Webex deployment. Many companies have recently adopted Webex because they’ve needed work-from-home solutions during the pandemic. For us, however, we recognized that our international scope required robust videoconferencing capabilities, and adopting Webex was just part of our forward-thinking mindset. Hirschmann Automotive is entirely Cisco-based on the network side and we are also moving that way on the server side. Webex was the best product for our needs, and it fit into our existing infrastructure seamlessly.
After that deployment, we saw a shift in employees’ mindset about travel and in-person business. Two years ago, we had maybe 100 people using Webex. Today, we have more than 1,000. Some of this can obviously be attributed to the pandemic, but the true value of videoconferencing capabilities was an eye-opener for many of our employees. Together with the management, they realized that many of these costly and time-consuming international flights are no longer necessary in times of modern technology.
As happy as we were with Webex, we still faced some challenges that videoconferencing couldn’t fix. While we eliminated a lot of domestic and international travel time and costs, we still required quite a bit on our production side. VR/AR was the route we saw to changing that, and also getting our production machines up and running again faster. Once other departments saw we were looking into VR/AR options, they started to voice their interest.
A Solution as Rugged as Our Plants
In February of 2019, I came across a RealWear booth at Cisco Live in Barcelona. At this point, we already had a small team testing out the different VR/AR solutions on the market. Those tests did not look promising, though. A production plant is a pretty rough environment, and every solution we’d explored featured hardware that was too delicate for our primary use case.
What I saw at the RealWear booth was entirely different. The hardware was almost rugged, and my first thought was that our production team wouldn’t destroy it right away. It was also a great solution for us because of how easily we could implement it in our existing Cisco-based environment with Webex Expert on Demand.
This is where working for such a bold company pays off. Management jumped on board, so I reached out to Cisco right away. Within a few months, we were in testing mode with the first release of Expert on Demand.
The risk with being an early adopter of new solutions is that they’re often underdeveloped. This was no exception. We found a few issues with the prototype—but we believed strongly in the idea. That simple, durable solution without too many features was exactly what we needed, so we stuck with it.
Then, in the summer of 2019, they released a second version of the prototype, which fixed most of the issues we identified. From there, the idea took off. The possibilities were clear, and we were ready to buy.
Fits and Starts
It was now time to plan the implementation of Expert on Demand. We knew we wanted the solution in all our plants, but we prioritized by asking the production team which locations required the most in-person troubleshooting. Based on their answers, we set the implementation plan to address our Morocco plant first, followed by our plant in China. We estimated a total of six months to get everything up and running in all our plants globally.
Unfortunately, we planned implementation for our Moroccan during the first week of March, just as coronavirus was wreaking havoc worldwide. The problem at that point was that RealWear and Webex Expert on Demand are not products that we wanted to just ship to the plant and hope for the best. We had attended RealWear Connect in Amsterdam where we talked to other companies like Shell and Heineken, who had already done large-scale implementations of RealWear. They advised running implementation workshops to help users learn to use the hardware and gather user feedback. We had planned those workshops, but everything was suddenly on hold.
We did, however, end up sending two RealWear devices to our plant in Romania. This plant was in the middle of digitizing all their processes and our digitalization department had to run a critical implementation phase there. Of course, our technicians were unable to travel, so they asked if we had any ideas for making it work.
Despite not being able to travel to conduct face-to-face training, we were able to train the teams remotely. This enabled them to start using the solution within weeks, which speaks to the ease of use of Webex Expert on Demand.
It turns out that we’re on the right track if we can offer the training from the very beginning. Every day, we can start the implementations like we originally planned, and we’re convinced that the feedback will be great from the start.
You Too Can Open up a World of Possibility
We owe a significant amount of our success to Cisco and our global technologies partner and supplier, NTT. NTT made the whole testing and implementation possible. They helped organize workshops and were on our side when it came to giving feedback. And on the Cisco side, we are lucky to have a great account manager and technical solution architect. They also put us in touch directly with the folks responsible for Expert on Demand, which is how we got the latest releases before they were widely available. On behalf of our entire team a special appreciation goes to Martin Fischer (Hirschmann Automotive), Thomas Scheer and Parthasarathi Kar (Cisco), as well as Andreas Fluhrer and Rene Duda (NTT).
By using RealWear and Cisco Webex Expert on Demand, we were able to improve on our existing collaboration tools to work more efficiently. Remarkably, we increased first-time fix rates and improved the speed of getting to first-time resolution, all while significantly reducing travel expenses. We saved time, money, and the frustration of traveling thousands of miles. We’ve also discovered the potential of offering our customers a better real-time support or to have them remotely view our plant processes. That customer-facing service could become a real competitive advantage.
Companies shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks. The major industry leaders dare and risk breaking new ground and take on the role of pioneers. With the support of great partners on every step of our way, Hirschmann Automotive is revolutionizing the way we run our global business.