Wearable devices made for the enterprise will offer more immediate value than BYOD programs. Here's why.
By now, it's clear that mobility is a fundamental enterprise priority. In Forrester reports, more than three-quarters of business leaders identify a mobile strategy as a moderate, high, or critical priority.
But as the mobile revolution moves forward, wearable devices will be a major factor.
Wearables aren't just a consumer trend; they have the potential to change the way companies conduct business. Perpetually connected wearables will allow workers, partners, and customers to experience more immediacy, simplicity, and context in their work. Field workers and surgeons can do their jobs better while using hands-free smart glasses. Police departments know immediately if the gun lock on any individual firearm in the entire police force has been released via remote sensors. Across a long tail of wearable devices, new enterprise scenarios are emerging.
Three key trends set the stage for wearables becoming meaningful to enterprises over the next 10 years.
The connected world empowers new products
An influx of sensors, networks, and data analytics technologies are reshaping what's possible in mobile computing. Looking ahead, a prototype wearable jacket from the Australian startup Wearable Experiences integrates GPS information into the garment, using haptic feedback and LED lights to direct a user toward a destination.
The mobile mind shift raises user expectations
Workers and consumers now expect that any desired information or service will be available to them -- in context -- the moment they need it. Google Glass, Lumus Personal Display, Recon Jet, and other wearable glasses will fill this niche as developers create more and more applications.
Predictive analytics will make users more proactive
The wearables revolution will be driven by data. Predictive analytics that can anticipate what a user needs will underpin the whole experience. Voice-controlled tools such as Nuance Communications' Project Wintermute will act as digital concierges, helping users manage their time and resources more productively, whether it's helping them find a grocery store or avoid a traffic jam.
As a result, wearables have the potential to become critical tools for enterprises to differentiate themselves in the "age of the customer," a term that Forrester defines as a 20-year business cycle where the most successful businesses will reinvent themselves to serve increasingly knowledgeable and powerful customers.
The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has been successful in many cases, fueled by the reality that something is lacking in the general-purpose technology approach that's been in place for years. Consumers are starting to embrace wearables, though the market is still in its early stages.
But I would argue that wearables provided by enterprises offer more immediate value than BYODs to both workers and their employers. Here's why.
Products designed for the enterprise solve problems
Wearables designed for enterprises can solve particular problems for specific roles. Looxcie's Vidcie head-mounted cameras solve problems specific to technical field work in such industries as aviation, manufacturing, and cable installation. These are complex problems that can only be solved by a small percentage of the field workforce. In the case of the Vidcie product, real-time video streaming allows a field worker to solicit and receive coaching from peers to help fix the problem without the need for a repeat visit to a site.
Better security for the company
BYODs -- particularly across a swath of consumer wearable devices -- don't necessarily adhere to enterprise-grade security standards. For instance, consumers who bring disparate devices to work can't be domain-joined to a network.
Some enterprise-grade solutions are emerging -- but must be used with specific hardware. Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch can be supported with Samsung KNOX, an enterprise platform for security and mobile device management. Galaxy Gear can also employ geofencing, allowing different levels of access to information depending on an employee's location. For example, a doctor might be privy to different information while working in the hospital than when he or she is off duty at home.
Stronger integration with other company infrastructure
Wearables made for the enterprise merge more smoothly with company assets than catch-as-catch-can BYODs. Intel -- provider of semiconductors, software, and interfaces for wearables -- offers enterprise-grade APIs to link wearable devices to standard IT systems. Samsung's Solution Exchange provides APIs for independent software vendors (ISVs) to integrate Gear smartwatches into software systems. Such APIs make it possible to program smartwatch restaurant applications whereby the closest (geolocated) server can pick up and deliver food based on what he sees on his display in real-time.
Lower social stigma
For consumers, wearables are wrapped up in cultural trends -- which often create backlash and criticism, as the derisive nickname for Google Glass users can attest. But enterprise-provided devices will be seen as professional tools that are effective, necessary, and no more threatening than a doctor's stethoscope or a UPS driver's electronic clipboard.
What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.
J.P. Gownder is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, serving infrastructure and operations professionals. He collaborates with other analysts to create the I&O workforce enablement playbook, which helps companies serve a more mobile workforce. View Full Bio
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