Wearable technology is popular today among consumers, however proactive enterprises are looking at how they can leverage these devices to benefit their business. These devices include smartglasses, smartwatches, fitness trackers, biometric devices, and even augmented reality headsets. Wearables offer new and unique attributes and applications in a wide array of industries, and will serve as a platform for business innovation. As the new devices make their way into the enterprise, IT organizations need to start planning how to address wearable-related challenges and best leverage the devices in their environment.
Value of Wearables
Wearables offer promise to organizations in various industries looking to benefit in areas such as increased process efficiency, enhanced employee engagement and customer service, and improved worker safety in dangerous work conditions.
Opportunities for adoption will surface in areas where hands-free capability offers increased convenience or safety, distraction free access to information improves focus or productivity, and where unobtrusive access to real-time and highly contextual data can improve job efficiencies. These capabilities will leverage innovative wearable applications that leverage the unique qualities of wearable technology, rather than users needing to pick up a smartphone to communicate or view data.
Adoption rates for wearables is predicted to increase substantially over time by many experts and analysts, eventually becoming commonplace in many organizations. The outlook for wearables in the enterprise is attractive and supports some compelling use cases, which should warrant the CIO’s attention.
Business Insider predicts the wearables market will grow at a healthy rate of 35% over the next five years, with the smartwatch market leading the product categories (smartwatches 70% of wearable shipments by 2019). They predict that Apple Watch will drive growth and occupy 48% share of all wearable shipments by 2017.
A survey from Robert Half Technology indicates 81% of CIOs said they believe wearable computing devices will become common workplace tools. Among this group, the majority expect to see workplace-wearables within five years.
Research from Forrester indicates while consumer interest in wearables is strong, enterprise demand for wearables is even greater. Today, 68% of global technology and business decision-makers say that wearables are a priority for their firm, with 51% calling it a moderate, high, or critical priority.
The following scenarios demonstrate how companies might integrate wearables into their business workflow.
Healthcare – Healthcare workers leveraging data from patient biometric sensors for proactive health monitoring, surgeons using hands-free smartglasses to conveniently view health information during an operation, or emergency medical personnel receiving real-time health records/alerts on patients.
Public Safety – Firefighters viewing building blueprints before entering a building or using a wearable strap to monitor their vitals to quickly detect problems. Law enforcement using hands-free smartglasses to view criminal records or real-time notifications while interacting with potentially dangerous individuals.
Retail/ Customer Facing – Retail sales personnel accessing product availability, purchasing history, or giving product suggestions without leaving the customer. Customer service associates able to provide contextually relevant, personalized services to customers using smartglasses.
Field Services – Field technicians performing repairs while using augmented reality to view hardware schematics, or transmitting live voice/ video (“see as I see”) to an expert for remote assistance.
These and other use cases have the potential to be game changing applications that provide significant benefits, however to maximize this opportunity organizations must address some challenges.
New Data Sources – Significant amounts of data will be produced (personal and enterprise), requiring solutions for data processing, storage and security. Collection of personal data will open up questions related to data privacy and ownership. Making this data consumable by integrating it into business processes will be key to producing actionable insight.
Infrastructure – Network and datacenter infrastructure will need to handle the larger amounts of data, some in real-time, without exposing sensitive details or negatively impacting performance. Many innovative, new applications will require real-time, highly contextual access to data to fully recognize benefits.
Security and Policies – Current policies that don’t apply to wearable devices (always-on, producing personal data, unobtrusively taking pictures or recording video) will need to be expanded (including BYOD) to include wearables.
Application Design and Integration – Wearable applications will require a new design approach and architectures to address the smaller user interface, limited I/O, and smartphone communication and dependencies.
To get a jump start on wearables enterprises should:
Identify benefits – Identify and test initial use cases that add the most business benefit, collaborating with the end-users to gain valuable feedback and buy-in. Partner with vendors to evaluate how various device types could be used specific to the business.
Extend current policies – Update IT policies (including BYOD), communications plans and training strategies impacted by new wearable technology, addressing differences between enterprise and employee-owned devices. Address privacy, legal, and ethical issues, which could vary by industry, geography and demographic boundaries.
Address security risks – Additional measures should be taken to secure and protect identity and privacy information, as well to address regulatory concerns that will require compliance measures. Device security and tracking will be important to ensure the often small, inconspicuous devices are used for only authorized purposes.
Enterprise application integration – To interoperate with enterprise applications, wearable technology and applications will need to be integrated into the broader application ecosystem, including enterprise software platforms and endpoint device services.
Although enterprise-wide deployment of wearables may not explode in the short term, organizations should start strategizing sooner rather than later to understand the issues – and develop a well thought out plan for wearable technology.