Wearables In The Workplace: 3 Realities - InformationWeek

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9/22/2014
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Wearables In The Workplace: 3 Realities

Wearables innovation will happen first in the enterprise, but CIOs should brace themselves for security and integration challenges.

Internet Of Things: 8 Pioneering Ideas
Internet Of Things: 8 Pioneering Ideas
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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.

(Source: Accenture)
(Source: Accenture)

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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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. ... View Full Bio

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Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
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9/22/2014 | 7:19:19 PM
Re: Bulky batteries
Good point Dave. Battery life will be an issue. I think in most enterprise cases, smartwatches or smartglasses will be used in spurts for specific hands-free tasks -- rather than be in constant use. But regardless, battery life and recharges will be nagging sources of worry, and could off-set the benefits of wearables.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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9/22/2014 | 6:41:28 PM
Bulky batteries
Never mind the fashion statement: if wearables users have to carry around extra battery packs or continually plug in to recharge, wearables won't be fashionable for either work or personal use for some time to come.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
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9/22/2014 | 6:17:05 PM
Re: Utility over fashion
We've seen some very specific, custom-made wearables from technology innovators such as UPS, for use in package sorting, with UPS co-developing a custom, wearable scanner-printer several years ago with HP. But UPS is a company willing to blaze the trail and make a custom gadget, like it did with mobile handhelds for drivers.

But most companies aren't UPS when it comes to custom hardware. For the kind of mass-market industrial uses like this, there needs to be some standard devices that companies can adapt to their needs -- like Glass, or like an Apple or Android watch. Companies would like disposable, consumer-ish hardware, packed with very task-specific hardware.   
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
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9/22/2014 | 4:25:38 PM
Re: Utility over fashion
I'll be interested to see how the Myo gesture-controller armband from Thalmic Labs does. It's a wearable that actually looks useful, as opposed to redundantly broadcasting notifications and doing location tracking.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 3:55:07 PM
Re: Utility over fashion
Thanks Michael. You're right that fashion will be critical to consumer adoption. Consumers want a pretty and personal device -- and an affordable one too. That doesn't matter so much in the enterprise when you're not paying for them and the goal is productivity. I imagine some of that innovation will spill over into consumers' lives as they use smartglasses and watches at work. Things will play out organically. The Apple Watch roll out early next year will be a big litmus test for consumer desire. 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/22/2014 | 3:12:43 PM
Utility over fashion
Interesting article, Shane. It's good to hear more about wearables applied for their utility, rather than as some kind of fashion statement that happens to accept text messages and Facebook notifications. I think some consumer wearables, notably the Apple Watch, do a good job balancing looks and use, but the category has a ways to go for mainstream adoption. At IDF, an exec from Fossil went on and on about fashion trumping deep functionality, so though I don't think looks are irrelevant, it's nice to hear about wearables being considered first and foremost for the use cases they enable.  
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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9/22/2014 | 2:07:58 PM
Wearable worries
These are legit concerns, but bandwidth should rank right up there as well.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 11:45:28 AM
Biz benefits of wearable tech
The feeling out there is that consumers are still treating wearables as an afterthought -- and the Apple Watch isn't likely to change that. Businesses, on the other hand, are the real breeding ground for smartwatches and smartglasses. Any IT leaders want to share their plans for using wearables in business environments?
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