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Competing in the new industrial economy doesn’t only require technology, it requires skill. Businesses need greater visibility into their operations, greater agility to adapt to changing customer requirements, and a workforce capable of working in harmony with smart equipment and real-time data.

As APX Labs, we’ve been empowering customers to hone their competitive skills since 2010, when we began developing our Skylight platform to bring wearable technology to manufacturing, logistics and field service operations. We’ve watched the market embrace our solutions. We’ve seen the hardware landscape mature with the arrival of more powerful and lower-cost smart glasses. We’ve iterated our software to access more data, back-end systems, content, business scenarios and partners to offer a clear path into the future for our customers.

Today, the market is at an inflection point. Stronger use-cases and data showing productivity improvements as high as 46%, error reduction rates of 30% and capacity utilization higher than 20% are proving the benefits of our approach. At the same time, recent political events have shown that the future of the industrial hands-on workforce needs to be part of any larger conversation around the future of industry; that we need to invest in the development of their skills in conjunction with other critical technologies like automation, robotics, IoT and Big Data.

That’s why, going forward, we have chosen to reorient our brand and identity explicitly around how our technology solution empowers both companies and the people who work on the front lines of industry.

That’s why APX Labs is now Upskill.

Upskill the business by upskilling the workforce

What do we mean by “upskill?” In the broadest sense, skills are what people bring to their jobs that can’t be replaced by machines. But they can be augmented by machines. And in the age when people and machines must work side-by-side to produce the goods the world demands, our goal is to enable the skills of hands-on workers to complement the growing capabilities of the smart, connected industrial workplace.

We do this by using wearables like heads-up displays and smart glasses to connect the workers who need to keep their eyes and hands on their equipment in a convenient way to access digital documents, applications and data, integrating them more closely with the business and giving them much greater flexibility. Companies can replace antiquated paper-based processes and burdensome classroom training with systems that give hands-on workers the information they need as they are working, in real-time.

Workplace skills on demand, in the flow of the job

Our solution upskills workers by accelerating their learning. Various studies have shown that having reference material in their line of vision reduces the cognitive load and enables rapid development of muscle memory. Equipped with smart glasses, workers with no prior experience doing a complex task can match the performance of unequipped veterans almost immediately, working faster and with fewer errors.

Experienced workers can also easily capture their informal, undocumented “tribal knowledge” and pass it along to new hires, so companies will not be crippled by retirements of their most senior and skilled employees. Companies can make changes to workflows in their assembly, logistics and services processes without taking workers off the production line for retraining. And for workers, having a deep set of skills around a single job task does not mean becoming obsolete if that task gets automated.

The common thread to all of these capabilities is that they empower the human worker to do more, not less; to work more efficiently and safely, reduce the tasks that workers dislike about their jobs, and help solve the problems of knowledge transfer.

Improved productivity leads to improved competitiveness

Beyond upskilling the workforce, our solution can upskill the entire business by making it more competitive and productive. Our customers have seen benefits in a number of scenarios, including providing timely step-by-step instructions to assist in complex assembly tasks; showing workers the shortest path through a warehouse to find what they’re looking for; and connecting teams working in the field or at a jobsite with information and expertise anywhere, anytime.

We’ve designed our platform to deliver value today using mainstream, proven hardware and integrating with the enterprise resource planning and content management systems that our customers already use. But unlike other products built to address one specific workload, we’ve created a software environment that gets deployed and managed once, but can be easily extended to more workers, more systems, more divisions and more tasks on the customer’s own timetable, using the standard IT skills and resources they already have at hand.

That simplicity is a core part of our value. We want to make it as easy as possible for companies to get the most out of our Skylight software platform at production scale, because that’s where the value of empowered workers really starts to show up on the bottom line.

Upskill now for the future

The timing of our company renaming to Upskill comes on the eve of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos – where the WEF has recognized our company as a Tech Pioneer, and where many of the world’s most prominent global leaders will discuss important issues, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We are part of that crucial conversation. With all the change sweeping through the industrial economy, it’s easy to lose sight of the value of people and the skills that they bring to their work. It’s also clear there are consequences when the future of industry is dominated by visions of automation, IoT and data-driven processes without also considering investments in people. It makes it difficult for employers to attract the talent they need to fill jobs of the future from within the domestic workforce, because younger people don’t want to work in “dead end industries,” and it creates political currents that threaten the open economic and trade environment that all businesses need to thrive in an interconnected world.

At Upskill, we don’t see it as an either-or choice. To stay competitive, investments in technology must also include investments in people, and investments that elevate human skills cannot be overlooked.  As we develop the next generation of wearable solutions for enterprise, we always will keep that goal directly in our line of sight.

Written by Brian Ballard, CEO of Upskill