Two years ago, Walter Bauch received a sweet gift and a stern challenge. Both came from his son.
The gift: his first-ever smart phone. The son’s challenge: “Dad, this phone is your last chance to start using social media apps.” Bauch, then nearing 50, was excited to share the news with his good friend and tech-loving colleague, Ralf.
In the mid-1990s, Ralf Krieger purchased one of world’s earliest smart phones. He soon learned how to push that nascent device well past its limits. Krieger similarly probed and prodded a still-budding invention dubbed the World Wide Web.
Around that same time, Krieger randomly bumped into Bauch at the Mercedes-Benz Global Training center in Stuttgart, Germany. Both had come to prepare for new roles as company coaches. They struck up a conversation. Soon, they were working together.
Cue the theme from TV’s “The Odd Couple.” The 1970s sitcom questioned whether two polar opposites could share a Manhattan apartment. In this real-world scenario: Can two digital opposites share a job without driving each other crazy?
Without further suspense, the answer to that question: A resounding yes.
Twenty-three years after their chance meeting, Bauch and Krieger continue their collaboration at Mercedes-Benz Global Training. They teach service employees the latest in vehicle repair techniques while leading sales professionals through features of the newest models.
And in keeping with Bauch’s growing digital appetite, they rely heavily on Microsoft HoloLens to conduct faster, more engaging training sessions, they say. The training center is now equipped with more than 100 HoloLens units.
Training participants don the mixed-reality headsets to view 3D digital models of the vehicles and their internal parts, allowing them to fully see and grasp complicated fixes on transmissions, brake assemblies and other components.
But that tactic offers an even larger lesson for their audiences, Bauch and Krieger say: It’s never too late to discover modern technology.
“People come in and hear my story,” says Bauch, 51. “They realize: Here is this guy who never used a smart phone until two years ago and now he is using HoloLens in his job. People do not believe it.
“This is the signal we send out to our visitors: It’s not the age of the user that matters. This device is for people of all ages. Our oldest participant was 89. He attended with his 60-year-old son. I will never forget what he told us: ‘I wish I’d had this technology when I was young and handsome.’ ”
“This,” Krieger adds, “is exactly why Walter and I are a great combination. I push things to the limit. I want to try this out, try that out. Walter is a bit more the person who is asking question for deeper explanations. He brakes me a little bit, allowing us to rethink and create even better ideas.”
Krieger’s lifelong tech passion seems to have influenced his friend – even in the evenings, when Bauch is far from work.
Mercedes-Benz Global Training educates employees worldwide in management, products, branding and sales. The network spans 800 trainers working at 150 locations across 120 countries. Employees can also access a variety of training sessions via the company’s Global Training App.
In Stuttgart, some 450 employees absorb classroom wisdom each day in a modern training center.
These days, after leading training efforts together for more than 20 years, Bauch and Krieger say that HoloLens injects an unprecedented level of transparency into their process. This is essentially “Show and Tell” 2.0, but for highly skilled adults.
By introducing mixed reality, Bauch and Krieger say they’re also motivating employees to try out new technologies to improve their jobs – from the repair garages to the sales floors.
“One of our participants, a sales professional, told us that HoloLens would allow him to need only one car in his showroom,” Krieger says. “He envisioned using HoloLens in a way that his customers could touch the physical car but also see, through mixed reality, how that same model would look if they wanted different components.”
Meanwhile, service employees wearing the device can look at an actual Mercedes-Benz vehicle, gesture with their figures at the engine and immediately see a 3D model of the transmission appear next to the car. The 3D transmission’s gear sets are spinning as if the car has been placed into “drive.”
The two trainers typically use between five and 15 HoloLens devices during their sessions.
“If you’re talking with service staff in retail, they only want to use technology if they see value,” Bauch says. “If you cannot deliver that, you would not get them to use a new technology at all.”
“People who wear the HoloLens during our demonstrations,” Krieger adds, “are happy to use it and have fun while using it. We have created a visual, easy and inspiring way to teach complex content.”
At his home in Stuttgart, Bauch sometimes wears HoloLens in the evenings. He enjoys testing the device’s functions as he performs simple, domestic tasks like preparing a meal or watching television.
Some nights, Bauch even falls asleep in a cozy, black leather chair in front of the TV, HoloLens atop his head. “My wife wakes me up and says, ‘Hey, guy, you should remove that thing.’”
His son recently commented: “Two years ago, I showed you the smartphone technology and now you’re coming up with things like that? You are totally crazy.”
But as Bauch likes to say, he is “living the technology.”
“Ralf and I are fascinated by the possibilities of mixed reality,” says Bauch, project manager for HoloLens applications at Mercedes-Benz Global Training. “We both want to see where the boundaries are, especially in a challenging work environment. “
At work, the main idea behind their HoloLens applications is to consolidate complex, technical concepts for the people in their classes, effectively simplifying their lessons in visual and relatable ways.
“Our participants and colleagues in the training center trust our experience and believe what we are saying,” Bauch says. “We would lose our reputation as competent trainers if that would not be the case.
“When bringing new technologies to our colleagues, it requires people who courageously walk a few steps ahead of the latest digital developments.”
That assessment brings a smile to the face of Krieger, who also scouts for emerging technologies and trends to share with the training center team.
“I try to inspire them with new ideas,” says Krieger, 50, who lives near Stuttgart. “Either Walter or one of my other colleagues are picking up these thoughts and implementing them in existing projects or creating new ones.”
Top image: Ralf Krieger and Walter Bauch wearing HoloLens at Hannover Messe in April. Photo by Cyrus Cambridge, Edleman. All other photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Global Training.