Do Wearables Have a Play in the Enterprise?

Consumer wearables haven't exactly set the world on fire. Can enterprise wearables do any better? Probably.

microsoft hololens lg 1500x1000

Microsoft HoloLens

Credit: Microsoft

Wearables are a burgeoning technology and have quickly crowded the marketplace as new products seem to hit the shelves on a weekly basis. I’ve been to trade show after show, including CES and MWC, where you would have thought the world had gone wearable crazy and everyone would buy one. Despite the consumer marketing craze at the moment, wearable devices have had less luck with individual users. Google Glass and Samsung Gear greatly missed the mark, and I can't think of any wearable devices, so far, that have shown the promise of longterm mass adoption. I am hopeful about Apple Watch, but we have to wait and see and fitness wearables are accepted in their subsegment, but aren't mass-adopted. 

Being an industry analyst, I have personally tested many of these devices and in my opinion, wearables are not yet ready for mass consumer acceptance. However, enterprises present interesting opportunities for deploying wearable tech. In fact, there are some very compelling cases for wearable computing devices in business, where such deployments could save millions of dollars, cut time for a specific task, and improve productivity, safety and work efficiency, among other potential business benefits.

Enterprise Beats Consumer in Value Proposition for Wearables (Short Term)

None of the wearable devices to date have been able to offer anything that mass markets of users need and do not already have, simply because tablets and smartphones can do most of the things that wearables can do for a fraction of the cost. Again, I'm not applying this to niche wearables.  The high price tag admittedly puts off most users who can't see the point of investing in an expensive piece of tech that has almost nothing special to offer.

While fitness wearables such as Polar Fitness watches, and Intel's Basis Peak, offer incentive for purchase – motivating us to stay in shape or lose weight – that reason may not be strong enough to justify the steep price point for the mass market. The reality is, the mass market isn't that interested yet in investing $199 to help stay in shape. Many of what I call "vertical wearables" do their jobs well, but they still have some work to do in terms of comfort and practicality.

In contrast, the short-term value proposition for businesses appears to be much higher. For example, wearables could boost employee efficiency and save work time by allowing them to access data and instructions, while leaving their hands free to handle tools, machines and equipment.

Wearables could lead to huge cost savings in enterprise processes that are normally rather expensive. Take for instance, oil drilling companies that spend millions of dollars identifying and exploring new drilling sites. They could benefit from equipping their on-site workers with wearable devices that can fetch real-time video information from the control room. These devices could help control staff communicate changes in plans, cutting down response time and total working hours. They could also monitor conditions and alert workers to safety concerns. While your smartphone may have some of the same capabilities, in an environment where workers need to have their hands free to work safely and efficiently, like construction sites, the oil drilling industry, and other service sectors, wearables have a strong case for use.

Where and How Wearable Devices Fit in the Business Space

My company does custom forecasting essentially "fixing" broken subscription reports. As a 20-year buyer of such subscription reports, I will tell you that for new product categories, they are wrong 99 percent of the time. With that said, I do look at what others are pushing. According to the estimates of APX Labs, creators of smartglass software, there are nearly 40 million desk-less workers in the United States who could benefit from wearables across many unique sectors including healthcare, manufacturing, retail or wholesale, government, construction, transportation, resources and utilities. This number passes my "smell test," as it's not saying wearables will replace devices like laptops or phones.    

Wearable technology could be implemented in various sectors spanning retail, manufacturing, real estate, construction, healthcare, logistics, and law enforcement. The introduction of Microsoft's HoloLens, which I have personally used, could have potential to change our work landscape across many different industries. The "holographic" overlay technology that HoloLens introduces, could give workers the opportunity to engage with our environment in new and innovative ways. Imagine how much easier training and collaboration could if we are able to project a holographic image into our workspace. Offsite trainers would be able to show employees how to work through complex tasks by projecting instructions over the real life projects. Teams could share design ideas in a three dimensional space, so conceptualization is optimized. We could even explore a new environment, think space exploration, without ever leaving the safety of our rooms. HoloLens has promise for wide commercial adoption if they execute to what I have seen and Microsoft has said, and another better option doesn't come along.   

Other than Microsoft, some forward thinking commercial companies are already ahead in the race to integrate wearables within their operations, and Salesforce is one of them. Salesforce Wear Developer Pack is a front runner in open source starter apps, including reference applications, tools, and codes for developing wearable business processes that can connect to the cloud-based Salesforce1 Platform. 

They are opening up new opportunities for wearable app development. Another excellent example is Evena Medical's use of Epson's Moverio smartglasses to accurately detect patients' veins for drawing blood, or administering intravenous fluids and medications. However, what enterprises have done with wearables thus far is barely scratching the surface of potential. There is plenty of room for exploration by businesses and opportunities for development from wearable device makers. 

I'm really excited about Vidyo, a global leader in video collaboration who, among other things, has the most scalable video CODEC. With these new face wearables, the industry needs high quality and low resources, and Vidyo delivers just that. 

Wrapping Up

While early wearables haven't lived up to anything close to mass adoption potential, I think wearables in the enterprise are a large, untapped market segment in military, law enforcement, EMS, healthcare, maintenance, assembly, design, and transportation. But for wearable technology to mimic the success that other disruptive technologies have had in enterprise, they need to bring true business value of saving money or making money. Only then, will wearables become a true winner in the workplace.

(Note: Daniel Newman, adjunct professor at North Central College School of Business and Economics, contributed to this article.)

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