More than $14 billion worth of wearable computing devices are in use today. Within a decade, that number will have grown to $70 billion. Make no mistake—many of those devices will be or already are walking through the doors of your organization worn by employees, customers, business partners, and upper executives.
That’s a dilemma for CIOs and other tech leaders. Some may be tempted to simply create a no-wearables policy but that approach is a non-starter. To understand why, think back to the introduction of the iPad a few years ago. IT departments did not necessarily welcome having one more device and operating system to support but most had little choice because the iPad’s functionality and cool factor made them irresistible to top executives who quickly started bringing them to the office and insisting they be able to work on them. And so tablets quickly gained a foothold in the workplace and BYOD was born.
Those same forces will propel the adoption of wearables, with perhaps added pressure because many of these devices are considerably more affordable than the first tablets were. They are also much more personal, and more likely to vary according to individual preferences than either smartphones or tablets. Here are some business priorities to consider as you put together a policy for wearables in the workplace:
How will you know when wearables enter your workplace? You likely won’t and chances are they already have in the form of such devices as FitBit. Granted, you don’t really need a policy if all a user is doing is monitoring his or her own activity level and calorie consumption for health purposes. But wearables makers are racing to connect these devices in many more ways—transferring health information to healthcare providers, mixing in smartphone, chat, and email capabilities to name just a few early uses.
It may be easy enough to ban Google Glass, with its high price tag and obvious camera. But some wearables are indistinguishable from a bracelet, a wristwatch, or even a ring. Clothing, especially athletic clothing that contains sensors and gathers information is already on the market. How will you be able to tell who’s wearing what?
Since banning wearables is a non-starter, consider instead asking employees to sign a policy that states how these devices will and won’t be used.
Wearable devices may pose potential security risks. For one thing, many of them use Bluetooth, which can carrysecurity risks. Beyond that, there’s the fragmented nature of the marketplace, with different standards and operating systems, the fact that the devices may move on and off your network frequently, and as they are increasingly used for email and other business communications, may carry sensitive company data.
On the flip side, some wearables function as authentication devices, a useful trait in a world where every week seems to bring news of a new security breach. As these devices become more affordable and readily available, they may provide an opportunity to dramatically up your company’s security.
Consider creating a white list of wearable devices whose security you’ve evaluated and requiring employees to notify IT if they wish to bring wearables not on that list into the workplace. And look into wearables as an authentication tool for executives with access to particularly sensitive information.
Privacy, of course, is the biggest concern voiced by Google Glass detractors, and it’s one reason you’ll need to create a policy covering any wearable device that can record images or audio within your workplace (if your existing policies don’t cover this contingency).
But privacy concerns are magnified by the fact that so many wearable devices gather extremely personal information about the wearer such as activity level, heart rate, calorie consumption, and weight. There could be grave consequences if this type of data is accessed through a security breach that is in any way connected to your workplace or your network.
Besides remaining vigilant over data loss protection, consider notifying employees who bring wearables to work that they are responsible for the data carried in these devices and that your organization will not be liable if that data is breached.
Lack of Standards
One ongoing problem is that each of these devices seems to come with its own operating system and proprietary apps, though the recent announcement of Google Android Wear constitutes one attempt to create a standard and there will likely be others.
For the moment, the lack of standardization is another wearable-related challenge. In time, the market will undoubtedly settle around a small number of standards, as has happened with smartphones and tablets. When that happens, it will be easier to get a handle on such issues as security and support. On the other hand, once standards are in place, the market will expand much more quickly.
This is another good reason to consider a white list: You can limit the number of different wearable platforms on your premises.
There are many possible uses for wearable in a business setting, and—especially once a standard has been established—many more will arise. This is another reason why simply banning wearables won’t work. Even with today’s limited-use wearables, there’s an obvious logic for employers providing employees with incentives to use physical fitness wearables and, for instance, meet a daily 10,000-step goal.
What other uses are coming? From robotic insects with sensor skins, to augmenting or even replacing human limbs with something better, possible future uses for wearables stagger the imagination. Take a look at what’s coming—and start crafting that policy today.