Wearable Tech Offers Promise (and Potential Peril) for the Enterprise

Wearable technology is not just for consumers. CIOs who want to stay ahead of the curve need to start preparing for this new wave of gadgets today. Here's a look at the current state of wearables in the enterprise, along with some examples of how your company can begin to realize the technology's potential for business.

Wed, January 22, 2014

CIO — Fitness trackers, smartwatches, smartglasses. Wearable cameras, biometric wrist bands and augmented reality headsets. These are just a few of the types of wearable gadgets grabbing headlines these days.

 Wearable Tech in the Enterprise

At this month's 2014 Consumer Electronic Show (CES), wearable technology took center stage. But while wearables are all the buzz in the consumer tech world, you don't hear as much about wearable tech in the enterprise.

That's going to change.

In fact, some experts think the true potential of wearable tech, the future of these odd yet intriguing gadgets, lies in enterprise or business use. Like the growth of the Internet and the adoption of the smartphone, though, the evolution of wearable tech won't happen overnight. Experts say smart CIOs and IT managers should be proactive in preparing for corporate wearables but also wary of embracing novel and untested devices.

What is the real promise of wearable technology for enterprise? What industries stand to benefit the most? What about security? How, and when, should CIOs and IT departments start preparing and strategizing for wearables? CIO.com spoke with a handful of analysts, experts and executives working with wearables to help answer these questions and more.

When to Expect Wearable Tech in Your Enterprise

"Wearable technology" is a broad term, not unlike "mobile," and it encompasses so many kinds of gadgets and systems that it's difficult to identify the specific gadgets that will become truly relevant to your organization -- or when to expect to have to manage them.

The first wave of the wearable technology, in which companies worked to identify the various available sensors and determine how they could collect and display data in useful ways, is already behind us, according to Forrester Analyst J.P. Gownder, author of the report "The Enterprise Wearables Journey." This coming year will see the beginnings of "Wearables 2.0," during which companies establish business models and find ways to profit on wearables and related services, Gownder says.

Forrester says it will take about a decade for wearables to become ubiquitous in the enterprise. More specifically, Forrester predicts:

  • The next couple of years (2014 - 2016) will mostly see pilots and early adoption of wearables, with vendors still bringing out finalized versions of their products. During this period, enterprise wearables will start to be used in healthcare and public safety.
  • Developer ecosystems for wearables will begin to mature in 2017, according to Forrester, and apps, back-end software and services for enterprises will become readily available through 2019.
  • By 2020, wearable technology will be common within many organizations -- and in the following four years, through 2024, wearables will become instrumental to how many employees do their jobs, Forrester says.

"It's not a gimmick," says CA Technologies CTO John Michelsen. "I'm confident that we're going to be seeing a lot of really good stuff coming from [wearable tech]. The business case is there, the technology is there."

BASIS Smartwatch
Basis Smartwatch

Fitness trackers and health bands will likely be some of the first wearable gadgets to gain widespread adoption in the enterprise, but smartwatches and smartglasses won't be far behind.

"This year is the year of the smartwatch," according to Redg Snodgrass, co-founder and CEO or Wearable World, a group that helps fund wearable-tech startups, connect them with interested businesses and investors, and educate other interested parties. "I think smartwatches will be ubiquitous by the end of the year."

Snodgrass also thinks many different versions of smartglasses will become publically available this year, including Google's Glass, but suggests that it will likely be more than a year before they really catch on.

Today, less than one percent of U.S. companies have implemented smartglasses, according to research firm Gartner. That number could increase dramatically in the coming decade, with as many as 10 percent of U.S. organizations using smartglasses in five years and half of all companies that could benefit from smartglasses distributing them to at least some of their employees within 10 years, Gartner says. Gartner also thinks smartglasses will begin to have a very real effect on the field service industry as soon as 2017, with a predicted $1 billion per year in related cost savings.

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