IFS Labs Sri Lanka gets 'hands on' with VR & AR development

In the modern age of software, it’s no longer enough to simply have an application development and programming department.

A new breed of emerging (sometimes experimental) app development and data fabric exploration needs to be part of the total ‘IT shop’ that a vendor uses to drive forward its technology proposition — this is the world of labs.

Enterprise IT vendors have been building these kinds of operational departments for a while. IBM’s alphaWorks (now called developerWorks) is perhaps a good example. Oracle, Microsoft, SAP and many others have established similar operations to explore ideas and build so-called Proof of Concept (PoC) working models of both hardware and software.

Embrace failure

This is the kind of department where you’ll likely managers say things like “70% of our innovations work… and that figure is far too high for me”… or perhaps, “if all our ideas worked, then we’re not pushing ourselves hard enough to innovate” — so failure is embraced and speed of thought is championed.

The Computer Weekly Developer Network team recently got to meet with enterprise applications company IFS at its Sri Lanka headquarters in Colombo to explore the work its IFS Labs division is currently undertaking.

Under the leadership of Bhagya Kandage in her role as manager of software development, presentations were provided by Harshana Yapabandara, who is principle software engineer for IFS Labs and Kasun Perera, who is also a principle software engineer for IFS Labs.

IFS is known for its Field Service Management (FSM) software and its wider stack of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and digital operations management software.

Yapabandara demonstrated new Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) headset equipment (running with IFS software) that allows service engineers working in the field to get contextual information displayed on their Heads Up Display (HUD) to allow them to perform equipment maintenance jobs more effectively.

“What this does, effectively and practically, is allow a customer to send lower skilled employees to do more complex jobs,” said Yapabandara. “It also allows these same customers to direct more skilled employees in the execution of their tasks so that they are carried out in the correct order.”

Locally in Sri Lanka, IFS has been demonstrating this equipment in schools to inspire students to think about new and emerging applications development when they start to make their career plans.

Tracking trends

Team leader Kandage explained that IFS Labs exists as a function to help the company track the latest trends, often in places where technologies are still embryonic.

“We then explore ways of working out how we can architect elements of these still-nascent technologies into the IFS stack. We develop a Proof of Concept model to see what works and what doesn’t… and then ultimately we may push the more effective new functions forward into product development,” she said.

Successes in hard core development for IFS Labs in Sri Lanka have included IFS Touch Apps, which are mobile app extensions for IFS applications. Based on the Microsoft Azure Cloud platform, the Sri Lanka programming team has developed a full referernce architecture and reference framework to support this technology.

Additional Sri Lanka built additions to the IFS stack include IFS Streams. This is a ‘push notifciations’ technology that resulted from a Xamarin-based Proof of Concept development.

IFS Labs development timeline

  1. Proof of Concept
  2. Concept ‘Handover’ (annotation & documentation)
  3. Product Development
  4. Early Adopter Release
  5. Release To Market (RTM)

AR in the case of this story means Augmented Reality, but in the world of Field Service Management (FSM) and the need to guide engineers working in the field, it also (actually even more directly) refers to Assisted Reality… and this is part of the way hands-on engineers will now expect to be able to work.

Pass the virtual grease gun please!

Harshana Yapabandara, principle software engineer for IFS Labs Sri Lanka.

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