Wearables In The Workplace: 3 Realities

Enterprises are the place for wearables innovation, but security and integration challenges await CIOs.

Shane O'Neill, Managing Editor, InformationWeek

September 22, 2014

4 Min Read
(Source: Accenture)

Internet Of Things: 8 Pioneering Ideas

Internet Of Things: 8 Pioneering Ideas

Internet Of Things: 8 Pioneering Ideas (Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Consumers may be giddy about the Apple Watch and the augmented reality possibilities of smartglasses. But if you really want to see wearable tech in action … you need to go to work.               

Wearables are on track to evolve in the opposite direction of the consumer-driven smartphone: from the enterprise outward, according to industry analysts and consultants.

[Epson, Jawbone, and Oculus join the Salesforce Wear ecosystem. Read Salesforce.com Adds Devices To Wearables Platform.]

"Wearables offer very specific solutions to specific problems -- which is not the right model for consumer adoption, but works well for enterprises," said J.P. Gownder, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Doctors are trialing Google Glass to access a patient's vital signs without taking their eyes away from the procedure. Service technicians on top of a wind turbine are testing smartglasses to access work orders and take photos while keeping their hands free. In potentially dangerous areas like construction sites, smartwatches are being tested to monitor heart rates and provide safety and location-based alerts.

These are not just time-savers. There are serious profits to be made when wearables improve how workers do their jobs. In fact, Gartner forecasts that the use of Google Glass and other smartglasses will help add more than $1 billion per year to company profits by 2017.

Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty, who works closely with Accenture's Technology Labs to develop wearables applications, said in an interview with InformationWeek that the first wave of employees to use wearables are mobile workers who use their bodies and hands. Think: manufacturing floor technicians, doctors, police, and construction workers.

"Wearables speak to a shift in the enterprise to the experience of individual workers, their productivity, and their hands-free access to specific information," said Daugherty.

Yet such a technological and human behavior shift comes with hard truths about choosing the right wearables for your business and integrating them within enterprise systems. Here are three realities CIOs should bear in mind when deploying wearables, according to a recent Accenture research report.

Wearables are not stand-alone products

Wearables will be just as much a part of the IT infrastructure as tablets, smartphones, and desktops, and enterprises need to write APIs that integrate wearables with ERP, CRM, and work order management systems.

Such integration is nothing to sneeze at and will include, "allocating budget for wearables hardware and app development; retraining staff to handle management of wearable devices and apps, and hiring wearables expertise as needed; and establishing governance across the business to ensure continuity."

Battery life and WiFi connectivity are big issues
One of the trade-offs with wearables is that companies will need to invest in the expansion of wireless networks to give remote workers more WiFi connectivity. The battery life of wearables will be another critical issue. Most wearable devices offer hours of occasional use and about an hour of intense use before needing a recharge.

Employees will have to adjust to using wearables on an as-needed basis or get in the habit of swapping out devices part-way through a shift.

Accenture offers this advice on managing wearable power consumption:

"Enterprises can use battery hibernation and additional battery packs, turning off chip sets when not in use, disabling WiFi connections in certain areas, or employing geofences to limit usage in sensitive areas."

Wearable devices will intensify security and privacy concerns
A smartwatch will just be another device IT groups will have to secure as they would any other mobile device. Accenture recommends that companies expand official security measures to protect against data leaks when wearables are connected to the corporate network.

CIOs will also have to appease employee privacy concerns about being monitored. The fact is that wearables can capture personal information on people's habits, behavior, and health, as well as enterprise information that's deemed intellectual property. Companies should adjust data privacy policies for use of wearables within corporate boundaries.

For instance, geofences can be used to disable wearables in off-limits areas like bathrooms and research labs.

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About the Author(s)

Shane O'Neill

Managing Editor, InformationWeek

Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. Shane's writing garnered an ASBPE Bronze Award in 2011 for his blog, "Eye on Microsoft", and he received an honorable mention at the 2010 min Editorial & Design Awards for "Online Single Article." Shane is a graduate of Providence College and he resides in Boston.

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