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The Future of Wearables: What Will Drive Demand?

With the recent launches of several new wearable devices from well-known technology brands and a slew of personal fitness devices already penetrating the consumer market over the last year and a half, wearable technology has taken center stage in 2014 as the next big thing in the tech space. While only 7% consumers currently own a wearable device, according to research by the Acquity Group, the adoption rate is poised to increase in the not too distant future.

For consumers, widespread use will spike when the price and aesthetics of wearables are indistinguishable from prescription lenses, sunglasses, jewelry, or any other fashion accessory. The fact that we’re still referring to “smart” products is actually hindering the growth of these technologies. The “tech” of wearable tech needs to become second nature. Just as we’re accustomed to our phones playing music or taking pictures, we will soon be accustomed to our stylish watches counting our steps.

Some innovative companies are getting there, embracing style and creating products that blend into our day-to-day lives. A great example is Cuff, a San Francisco-based startup that created a simple pendant which is interchangeable in several stylish forms of jewelry. The Cuff pendant serves a variety of purposes, from letting you know when you’ve forgotten your phone, to sending a blast notification to individuals in your network when you’ve pressed the pendant in a threatening situation. The reality is that we are just grazing the surface of potential behind the intersection of fashion and technology for wearables.

As we wait for consumer wearables to mature and develop, the real jump in the adoption curve will come from the enterprise side. Why? Because of the many potential use cases and applications for wearables in the enterprise that can deliver tangible business benefits.

The payoff is quicker.

In an enterprise setting, wearables can improve employee efficiency, increase collaboration, reduce nonproductive time, shrink decision time frames, minimize exposure to hazardous conditions, decrease travel time and much more.  

In the oil and gas industry, for example, where operating a deep water drilling rig can cost up to $1 million per day, equipping drilling engineers with wearable technologies that can enable real-time video feedback from the control room can help improve operations and prevent downtime, cutting costs in a matter of hours. In the healthcare industry, we see how wearables can increase patient engagement, allowing surgeons to get updates on a patient’s vital signs, while still looking directly at the surgical site. For retailers, wearables can help enable a quick visual reference for employees to show them how a display should be arranged. And finally, on a construction site, wearable technology can ensure that workers are wearing the proper safety equipment in hazardous areas. The possibilities are endless. 

So, how do we get there?

For most companies, the question will be – where do we start? As the wearables industry begins to mature, today’s businesses must begin exploring and testing the most promising uses to derive the most value.

To avoid the stumbling blocks, companies should take several factors into consideration before selecting the right technology:

-       User interface and experience – The human factor is extremely important with wearables. These devices should be used to empower employees to pull the relevant information they need to perform their jobs effectively, not just to push information to them.

-       Business process modifications – Rethink how these technologies will change your workflow. Companies should ask questions such as, “What systems or information does employee X need to do this?”, “How can this device help simplify the task?” and “Is there a way to make this device part of their uniform to make it easier to use?”

-       IT infrastructure – The device(s) selected must integrate seamlessly into existing ERP, CRM, and work order management systems, and will likely require application programming interfaces (APIs). Determining the enterprise manageability of the apps deployed to the wearable is critical.

-       Data analytics and visualization – It is imperative to evaluate the type of information that wearables can potentially collect and what the business can do with it. For example, a manufacturing company could build a web portal for a holistic view of the data that workers consume, such as maintenance books or customer profile.

-       Privacy and security – Enterprises should understand the privacy risks wearables introduce, and adjust policies in corporate boundaries. Geofences can be utilized to disable displays in off-limits places like bathrooms, labs or other areas. Businesses should also be wary of data leaks when devices are connected to the corporate network.

Overall, wearables provide a significant value proposition for helping employees do their jobs more efficiently, effectively and safely. Forward looking companies will experiment with what works today and join dozens of other innovators in launching pilot programs. It’s up to these businesses to dictate what the next iteration of these devices will look like. And once they achieve critical momentum, a wearable workforce, and soon, a wearable world, will not be far off on the horizon.

 

Brent Blum is Wearable Technology Lead at Accenture

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