Following news of its recent collaboration with Lenovo, Michelle Ryder caught up with Jon Arnold, VP of Sales, EMEA at RealWear, to discuss the opportunity for channel resellers in adding assisted reality technology to their portfolio
Michelle Ryder (MR): RealWear recently announced that it has collaborated with Lenovo. What does this mean for channel resellers?
Jon Arnold (JA): We’re extremely excited about Lenovo’s partnership with RealWear. The collaboration will bring assisted reality to more places than ever, for both our existing resellers and will significantly activate the growth and robustness of our already powerful global channel.
Under the agreement, Lenovo will offer RealWear’s HMT-1 family of assisted reality wearable devices through its global sales network. Additionally, Lenovo has officially certified the RealWear family of assisted reality devices for use on its ThinkReality cloud platform, expanding frontline workers’ access to optimised, hands-free 2D assisted reality applications. This is really big news for frontline workers who need to stay connected, during and beyond the current pandemic.
MR: How does RealWear currently operate in the UK channel, and how will the collaboration with Lenovo work?
JA: We believe that RealWear has a compelling channel story to tell. Selling solely through a two-tier channel model in EMEA, within the last quarter, the company has gone from having four distributors in EMEA to 20 distributors, and now has around 200 partners. It’s a number that we will grow carefully through the rest of 2021 and 2022. We support our partners with a comprehensive partner program that makes for an excellent combination where channel and end-user customers benefit not only from best-in-class technology, but also from leading support.
Through RealWear’s channel-first strategy, we have developed close relationships with local partners; such as independent software vendors, resellers and distributors, while maintaining relationships with the end customer.
From a channel perspective, Lenovo will purchase from RealWear’s distributors and will act as a RealWear global reseller. In addition, Lenovo can provide great services and solutions including financing, leasing, return and upgrade programs, device-as-a-service bundles, and subscription bundles, making it easier for enterprises to buy in large quantities. This is very exciting. We think that Lenovo’s ability to offer this consistently, globally and at scale, will be very compelling for large enterprise customers and the broader community.
Perhaps, most importantly, Lenovo is endorsing the category of assisted reality, which RealWear has pioneered. We are honoured to see that yet another multi-national company is providing market validation; and in particular giving a nod to our product family as the gold standard. Thanks to RealWear’s very noise-tolerant voice recognition user interface, there is a very substantial ecosystem of hands-free optimised apps (through our global ISV program) and enthusiastic customer references. We’re confident that this agreement will subsequently grow the market for RealWear and its channel partners.
MR: What is assisted reality and how does it differ from augmented reality, virtual reality etc.?
JA: That’s a great question, as it’s important to make and understand the distinction between each of them. Unlike augmented reality (AR), assisted reality is a reality first, digital second experience. It fits squarely on the extended reality (XR) spectrum, but is far closer to the reality of the physical world versus an immersive experience. This is attractive to frontline workers and safety experts because assisted reality enables a person to view a 2D screen within an immediate field of vision, hands-free.
With assisted reality, information and data is not typically overlaid with the real-world view. In RealWear’s case, the device is essentially a head-mounted, voice-controlled wearable, which provides the user with a micro-display that fits just below their line of sight and views like a 7” tablet. There are also numerous meeting collaboration applications available on the platform such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx Expert on Demand, Zoom, TeamViewer, AMA Expert Eye and Vuforia Chalk, to name a few.
In Industry 4.0, AR and virtual reality (VR) often get the spotlight as the next great leap in boosting worker productivity, but there is a subtlety there. AR and VR technologies aren’t always practical when used as manufacturing or frontline tools and can be a risk for workers in many use cases. Assisted reality gives users hands-free access to the right information right when they need it, allowing for full situational awareness, which is particularly relevant in potentially hazardous environments
MR: What opportunities does assisted reality present to resellers, looking to diversify their offering?
JA: We see assisted reality as a great opener for resellers to tap into new industries that they’d typically consider to be peripheral to their core IT customer base. That’s because assisted reality is a sweet spot where IT and audio visual solutions come together seamlessly.
Additionally, many resellers and customers are triangulating IoT with IT. This is where resellers can offer a broader IoT packaged solution to connect humans with machines and back-end cloud data and services. It’s a great opportunity to enter as a broader solution provider. After all, that’s what a customer expects to find in a partner.
Let’s dig into this a bit, as it’s very interesting. Technologies such as assisted reality not only add to the IT/ AV/IoT mix but present resellers with the opportunity to explore new applications in other vertical markets, not least when traditional sectors – such as retail, hospitality, sports, and entertainment – have all been badly impacted by COVID and the various lockdown restrictions, which in the short-term, limits the commercial opportunities they present. Assisted reality gives resellers the opportunity to expand their target customer base and tap into core vertical sectors – like oil & gas, logistics & transportation, manufacturing, healthcare and automotive, to name a few – that have delivered key/essential services throughout the pandemic and, importantly, will continue to do so in the post-pandemic world.
Once onboard with the idea of offering assisted reality technology as part of their offering, solutions-oriented resellers shouldn’t solely be looking at the transactional resale value of hardware as the key metric of success. It really is an opportunity for resellers to show how they can add value, as there are a number of support services that can be wrapped around the assisted reality offering. This ranges from training for end-users to custom built apps developed to address particular use cases. Configuration services are also part of the assisted reality package, putting resellers in a position to deliver the hardware pre-configured for the end- user, so that all they have to do is simply turn it on and it works on the company Wi-Fi, out of the box. From what we see, it is not uncommon for companies to opt for tailor-made apps and software, which presents another revenue opportunity for the channel and reseller community.
MR: What is the outlook for companies using technology like RealWear as we look ahead to a post-pandemic world?
JA: During the pandemic, the travel restrictions that were imposed impacted the maintenance or uptime of essential equipment, some of which is used to produce the materials used in the production of personal protective equipment. In such scenarios, assisted reality wearables played a major role in helping core sectors and essential services to function, despite the lockdown restrictions.
Many companies and industries accelerated their digital transformation plans as a result of the pandemic, and deployed assisted reality technology to greatly mitigate travel, a requirement at the time. The consensus from our customer base is that this technology is here to stay now, and while the pandemic was a driver for change, the benefits for companies – including cost savings and Co2 emission reductions – are too great to ignore in the post- pandemic world.
MR: As we look ahead to 2022, what can we expect from RealWear?
JA: Going forward, we will continue focusing on assisted reality. We will continue educating and refining our story and our product line-up to meet the needs of the modern industrial worker. One thing that is great about having a platform is seeing incredible innovations by our partners and customers. It’s all about the art of the possible. So, expect to see more use cases that we hadn’t even thought of, in new industries. Specifically, we have a strong prediction that remote collaboration is only the tip of the iceberg, because our partners have developed a broad range of tools that are optimised for our device, including workflow and digital IoT visualisation.