The Industry Leaders talks with Suzanne Edwards, the Managing Director of Enlighten AR, about the emerging industry of Augmented Reality and becoming a mentor to other women in the technology sector.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
My background is in teaching, but I recognised the need to find more innovative ways of engaging young people using AR. I soon realised that greater use of technology for increased engagement also had huge potential for business use: Augmented Reality can make processes easier across all industries and is ideal for B2C sectors, such as tourism. The FELTAG agenda has also challenged the education sector to ensure 20 percent of learning was online by 2020.
What kind of work does your role involve?
I am the company Managing Director and manage work schedules and processes. I am a bit of a jack of all trades as an owner/director of a small business. Just as importantly, I am an ideas person, and my creative thinking leads to the best possible solutions for my clients. We are very much a team at Enlighten, and our weekly meetings are used to bounce ideas around and ensure our clients are happy.
What gets you excited about your industry?
The huge potential – we’ve only scratched the surface so far!
Think of any business sector, and there’ll be a way that it can benefit from Augmented Reality. We’ve supported colleges with mental health information for students and the Armed Forces on PTSD, but we’ve also used AR for marketing, tourism, manufacturing and training.
By providing information directly to a user’s smartphone, we can streamline virtually any process and give them vital information in the palm of their hand.
The possibilities are endless.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it; letting people see that you aren’t Superwoman is perfectly ok.”
For example, I’m not an accountant, so sound financial advice is vital to me. But, you also need to be authentic, so while you should listen to all the advice, smile and say thank you, you should also do what you believe is best for you and your business.
Nobody knows your business like you know it, but some say that “it’s lonely at the top”, and it’s often difficult to trust your own judgement. Therefore, a good mentor is invaluable.
How do you support aspiring leaders in your field?
This is a passion for me, particularly when it comes to supporting women in tech and the STEM sector. I highlight this on LinkedIn repeatedly, encouraging women to strike out and become industry leaders.
I’ve been involved with university initiatives and sector-specific programmes, such as the West Midlands Combined Authority Creative Scale Up programme. I also offer work experience and intern placements when I can.
Helping others is a privilege — after all, as AR has the potential to be a $150 billion dollar sector, there’s more than enough for all of us to benefit. Now that I feel a little more confident in my own abilities, I have signed up to be a mentor myself.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
I often attend focus groups and, as outlined in the answer above, look to liaise regularly with sector specific programmes.
AR is an emerging industry, and we all learn from each other through social media, webinars, seminars and newsletters.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
Enlighten AR were tasked to provide a solution to a steel manufacturing company to eradicate human error in construction projects. The impact of errors is huge, as problems can lead to steel walls having to be taken down and rebuilt.
The solution was complex, but we were able to develop an AR programme embedded with a series of codes that guided employees through work processes and pointed them towards video tutorials on their smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Up until that point, they had been using a written manual running to hundreds of pages, so the potential savings there were within the millions.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I’m not sure I could legally claim the money myself!
But how would I spend it if I could? — I think that I would want to give as many people as possible peace of mind. That would involve the charities I support, family and close friends, and my team at Enlighten AR. We’ve worked on finding solutions to mental health issues, and, while money cannot solve such complex problems, $10 million will go a long way to support happiness through financial security.
I would use part of the money to develop my business too, as this would provide good jobs and help other companies to develop.
How do you define failure?
I think failure is very much a state of mind. If you don’t give up, then you haven’t failed. If you treat setbacks as lessons, you can grow and push forward. That’s not to say you should blindly carry on regardless. Sometimes, knowing when to move on is the best thing you can do. Actively making the decision is not failing, it's opening the door to new opportunities.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
AR has so much to offer, so I want to see its mass adoption. This can only be achieved through people like me shouting about it through our networks.
But, the growth of AR needs to be done with a firm focus on the end-user. We need to develop technology that ensures people can get the best use out of it without the endless pop-ups and advertising that plagues related sectors such as news websites.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Augmented Human: How Technology Is Shaping the New Reality, by Helen Papagiannis. It tells of how the boundaries between the digital and physical are blurring. Augmented Reality is quickly advancing into a new phase of contextually rich experiences that combine sensors, wearable computing, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence.
How should people connect with you?
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