For years, enterprises have struggled to deliver on the promise of augmented reality (AR) in solving real-world business problems. But one organization that has embraced AR technology appears poised to buck the trend: The Est\u00e9e Lauder Companies, which has deployed AR to better serve customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.\u00a0\nThe 75-year-old operator of more than 25 beauty brands has built a software platform to help it get AR services to market more quickly while enabling consumers to virtually \u201ctry on\u201d makeup without a trip to the beauty counter. The Virtual Try On (VTO) AR platform helps consumers gauge the look of lipsticks, mascaras, foundations, eyeshadows, and other beauty products before they decide to purchase them.\n[ Be sure to learn the secrets of highly effective digital transformations \u2014 and beware the 7 myths of digital transformation. | Get the latest on digital transformation by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletters. ]\nConsumers may access this contactless try-before-you-buy experience anywhere via their connected device of choice. Brands such as Est\u00e9e Lauder, Clinique, and MAC trialed the platform last year as the pandemic made in-store experiences untenable.\nEnabling consumers to try products through digital channels and share those images on social media improves customer satisfaction and broadens the consumers\u2019 willingness to experience new products, says Chris Aidan, Est\u00e9e vice president of digital technology and engineering. \u201cUsing our Virtual Try On Augmented Reality Platform, consumers are able to see the exact tone and pick \u00a0products they know are \u00a0going to look good,\u201d he says. \u00a0\nAR must solve a business problem\nThanks in part to the pandemic enterprises have been showing strong interest in AR, with related inquiries up 34% year over year, according to Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. Yet despite the growing interest, AR technologies tend to stall at proofs of concept and \ufb01eld trials, Nguyen says.\n The Est\u00e9e Companies\n\nChris Aidan, vice president of digital technology and engineering, The Est\u00e9e Companies\n\n\nAs with most things tech-related, the biggest hurdle for AR adoption in the enterprise has been a business challenge rather than a tech obstacle. Many AR solutions failed to answer key questions, such as: What business problems are we trying to solve? What AR solution do we apply? And: How do we apply it?\nThe pandemic may be providing the perfect storm AR needs to boost adoption. Consumers\u2019 growing preference for using personal devices to discover products combined with their reticence to come into contact with shared surfaces are making them receptive to trying out new digital experiences in lieu of typical in-person retailing. Indeed, AR-assisted VTO proved critical for Est\u00e9e during the pandemic, as social distancing regulations limited consumer interactions with beauty brands. It also solved a major problem of launching a standard solution to market.\nThis AR platform solved a process pitfall\nHistorically, when an Est\u00e9e brand considered a VTO AR consumer experience, it spent about six months building its own solution from scratch. This siloed approach resulted in a hodgepodge of solutions across the company\u2019s technology portfolio.\nMoreover, each brand was burdened with the initial development cost and complexity as well as the ongoing operational costs of maintaining the infrastructure and team required to enhance the consumer experience.\nUsing VTO, a channel-agnostic platform with intuitive templates for adding content, Est\u00e9e brands can build such services in as little as 10 weeks and at 50% the cost of deploying a standalone solution. \u00a0\n The Est\u00e9e Companies\n\nRicky Wong, global head of digital product management, The Est\u00e9e Companies\n\n\nMoreover, they may tailor an AR service to their own needs for web, mobile, or even in-store experiences on tablets and smart mirrors, as consumer head back to retail counters, according to Ricky Wong, Est\u00e9e\u2019s global head of digital product management.\n\u201cIt\u2019s very much about enabling the high-touch experiences that not only meet but stay ahead of ever-changing consumer expectations,\u201d Wong says of VTO, which garnered an IDG CIO 2021 FutureEdge 50 award for notable pilots of emerging technologies. \u201cWe think about our digital strategy in that context.\u201d\nEst\u00e9e is closely tracking engagement KPIs, including number of sessions initiated, time spent in a VTO application or website, and customer satisfaction, enabling it to collect consumer behavior data from one brand and apply those insights for other brands, which will help the company better personalize the experience. For example, Est\u00e9e can apply data gleaned from a consumer\u2019s interaction with Clinique\u2019s mobile VTO experience to tailor their first MAC in-store VTO experience.\nTackling the change management challenge\nThe biggest obstacle the VTO platform strategy faced was securing buy-in from Est\u00e9e\u2019s broad brand portfolio, the leaders of which feared relinquishing control. Est\u00e9e brands operate with a decentralized decision-making process that permits each brand to design and build its own digital solutions to maintain its brand identity, as well as its look and feel.\nTo overcome this challenge, Wong, Aidan, and their tech cohorts took a multipronged internal go-to-market approach, which included regular meetings to assure skeptics that the platform would benefit their business. \u201cWe did a fair amount of advocating and evangelizing on why this approach makes sense,\u201d Wong says. \u201cIt was a journey for sure.\u201d\nTo persuade brand decision-makers to adopt VTO, the tech team initiated pilots that illustrated how VTO can accelerate time to market while reducing costs. It also embarked on an internal \u201croadshow\u201d that highlighted key perks, including multi-region and language capabilities, easy-to-use content management system, and reusable components for mobile apps.\nSuch efforts helped VTO establish credibility and trust with the Est\u00e9e\u2019s brands. Almost every Est\u00e9e brand has deployed VTO in one or more channels, or is considering doing so over the next several quarters, Wong says.