Wearables in the workplace

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Wearables are one of the hottest topics in tech.

Last year, an estimated 21 million wearable devices were sold and over the next few years the number of users will continue to grow. By 2019 it’s forecasted that two in five U.S internet users will own a wearable device.

The pervasion of wearables in day-to-day life begs the question – are they relevant to business?

The simple answer is yes. Salesforce research discovered that most wearable users experience an improvement in their business performance. Furthermore, 79% of adopters saw a strong correlation between investments into wearables and a company’s ability to thrive in the future. An extra 86% stated that they plan to increase their wearable investment over the next year.

Yet, what will a workplace with wearables look like in practice? This article explores the possibilities and risks associated with wearables in the workplace.  

Possibilities of wearables in the workplace

Wearables in the workplace pose endless possibilities for businesses – most notably they improve productivity and efficiency through:  

  • Intelligent apps:

Businesses have the potential to improve their operational efficiency through business apps, set themselves up as thought-leaders in their industry and generate revenue from their solutions.

While intelligent apps designed for wearables are few and far between, this is expected to change soon. Wearable devices are believed to drive 50% of all app interactions by 2017.

Wearable apps designed for business use are already entering the market. Some examples include:

    • Intelligent Forecasting allows sales professionals to get quick views of their trending sales.
    • Vlocity helps staff to identify new sales opportunities and provide better customer service while they’re on the go.

Apps that enable businesses to integrate wearable devices into existing workflows are highly regarded. They foster tight integration with other business functions and improve communication. This ensures that information is not lost – ultimately reducing the risk of missed opportunities and double-handling.  

What’s more, the intelligent business app market is a yet unexplored frontier. Early IT adopters and innovators can get ahead of the curb, provide their own input and design applications to suit their needs – thereby driving the broader development of wearable technology.

  • BYOW initiatives:

It’s a proven fact that staff are more satisfied when they use their own devices. It increases both operational efficiency and productivity.

A recent study found that 70% of employees expect their workplace to permit the use of wearable technology while 46% think their company should fund the wearable technology.

The good news is that existing BYOD policies can be extended to wearables. Introducing wearable technologies through small scale pilot projects can be an effective way to meet employee’s expectations while testing business viability.

  • The Cloud:

Wearables reliance on cloud computing improves connectivity between the digital world and the physical world. This fosters improved communication on two fronts.

The devices provide the discrete dissemination of critical information, so individuals can get updates on business information, yet remain in the moment (and not alienate their companions). At the end of the day it’s politer to check a watch over a phone or computer.  

Risks of wearables within the workplace

As with most ground-breaking changes there are a few risks associated with the implementation of wearables in business. The four stand-outs are:  

  1. Absence of apps

The absence of intelligent apps is a double-edged sword as the cost for building out the systems needed to support devices is high. Industry experts estimate a required investment of $500,000 or more for each wearable business application.  

An organisation must outweigh these costs with the possibilities that wearable devices open up. In our competitive business landscape the cost of doing nothing can be higher than investing in innovative solutions.  

  1. Privacy and security concerns.

Research revealed that 82% of technology users are worried that their privacy would be invaded should they adopt wearables. Another 86% were concerned that wearables would make them vulnerable to security risks.

Wearable devices contain highly personalised information. When sensitive business information is added to this mix, it’s easy to understand why people are concerned about the ramifications. Currently there is no straightforward way to recall personal info should a device fall into the wrong hands.

Any business looking to adopt wearables needs to ensure that this sensitive data is protected. This can be managed through existing enterprise mobility management tools.  To assuage privacy concerns it’s also essential to communicate the types of data that will be collected (and why) with employees.

  1. Not user-friendly
The small screens of wearables are suited to fleeting interactions, such as scanning emails and receiving alerts. Complex actions such as responding to messages and emails are a challenge. Advances in design are being made however – the world’s first smartwatch keyboard application was recently released. This will simplify how users can respond to communications on wearables, and work to streamline devices.
  1. Inconsistent data

Technology departments need to ensure that data maintains consistency when replacing traditional devices with wearable ones.

Mike Pegler, Principal, PwC US technology practice said, “Inconsistency of data remains one of the top challenges for wearable technologies today. For wearables to be effective across both primary and secondary devices, there needs to be an established frequency of measurement. Enterprises must forge partnerships and develop IT and platform alliances to deliver seamless experiences on both the front end and back end of wearable implementations.”

Wearables have the potential to drive efficiencies and profitability for businesses. It is up to IT leaders to ensure the wearables they implement embrace the Internet of Things, transform big data into valuable information, focus on human-centered design and ensure that data is secure.

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