It’s safe to say consumer wearables didn’t gain their popularity overnight. We’re slowly but surely seeing wearable devices pop up on Main Street more frequently than before. But they haven’t yet become so ubiquitous that the benefits of wearable technology in business are obvious at first glance.
Consumer smart glasses were a pretty big flop. Smartwatches started out slow, but are becoming more popular over time. Fitness trackers are of course quite popular, as are VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive which are “changing the game” — pun intended, sorry not sorry — in the PC and console gaming spaces.
But that’s the consumer market, not enterprise. And while the benefits of wearable technology in business settings seem to still be open to at least some level of debate, it would seem many companies are in fact shifting toward adopting wearable tech. And the companies that already have? They seem to like it a lot.
Right now, 79 percent of wearable adopters say they’re strategic to success, and 76 percent say they improve performance. And a staggering 86 percent say wearables increase investments, too.
In the realm of enterprise, wearables have boundless applications affecting nearly every level of business in every type of industry they glance toward. And the implications for employees and customers alike can be quite tremendous … even lifesaving.
The Applications and Benefits of Wearable Technology in Business are Boundless
The benefits of wearable technology in business wildly outweigh the negatives
There are applications for wearables that will produce returns on investment regardless of what industry you’re in. And that’s not some lofty proposition aimed ten or fifteen years down the road, either. Wearables can have an impact in most fields today, right now.
Wearables can be used to bolster communications, provide jobsite safety, track employees, manage time cards automatically, and improve customer service. And those are really just a few simple examples of what wearables can do if we manage to utilize their full potential.
These perks aren’t exclusive to smartwatches or glasses, either. For instance, fitness and wellness trackers can improve the health and quality of life of employees, which saves the company on healthcare costs, reduces sick day usage, and ultimately makes workers more productive overall.
Wearables can be used to improve a user’s situational awareness. They can be used to free up a user’s hands so they can operate robotics or machinery … or even be used to let them be operated remotely.
The applications for wearable technology in business settings are as numerous as their implications, and it really boils down to the company’s own ingenuity and willingness to explore fresh, new concepts in their professional environments or in customer interactions.
Wearables in Construction
Imagine, if you will, a construction site fully loaded with wearable mobile devices, all managed remotely by an offsite IT team utilizing advanced endpoint management tools.
The architect is able to tour her blueprints in 3D CAD thanks to VR headsets, spotting trouble areas and making adjustments on the fly. She can then upload changes to the construction team, even when that team is continents away from her office.
Meanwhile, construction workers at our imaginary jobsite are utilizing wearable safety technology. Helmets equipped with sensors, smart protective eyewear with virtual heads-up displays and in-ear communications, hands-free harness systems that detect falls and grip up as needed … these are just a few examples of the ways personal safety wearables can save lives.
In the case of an emergency, workers will automatically transmit their locations and health vitals, allowing first responders to see who needs help first and where exactly they need it. And those workers imperiled at the job site will get faster, safer, more reliable care as well.
In terms of productivity, these smart wearable endpoints will allow for hands-free access to supervisor or management instruction, improved communications (even at loud, busy worksites), and other vital and nonvital notifications.
Let’s not forget the more mundane functionality, either. Workers can clock in and clock out automatically with virtual timesheets that mark the precise times someone goes into or exits the jobsite. Company emails can be read on break privately via their heads-up display. The applications really are quite limitless.
Wearables are Changing Healthcare in Big Ways
If you’re wondering how wearables will change healthcare, or if you’re asking “can wearables transform medical research?” The answer is a pretty hearty and resounding yes on both fronts.
Wearables for healthcare already do exist. One example is the Epson Moverio, a pair of smart glasses that work sort of like a stud-finder, but for human veins. This allows medical staff to draw blood and set up IV bags more quickly, without the annoying, painful, or even potentially dangerous act of sticking needles into arms multiple times to find the vein.
You’ve probably already seen fitness trackers, right? Well, there are quite a few applications for that level of technology in medicine, too, some of which haven’t actually been realized yet.
Wearables can be (and already are!) used to monitor a patient’s vitals, uploading constant, persistent data to dynamic virtual charts in real time. Nursing stations could get that data too, helping nursing staff pay closer attention to more patients more efficiently and letting them allocate their time to those patients who need it the most..
Wearables transmitting physiolitics — measuring, calculating, and transmitting physiological data points in real time — could drastically improve healthcare outcomes for patients. And we’re sure nurses would like the idea of reduced workloads, too; less paperwork, automatic logging/ charting, and less running around checking vitals manually would mean nurses and doctors alike are more free to focus on hands-on healthcare.
There’s a great deal wearables can and will do for patient teaching, too. A patient could take a wearable home to track their vitals and general health status, notifying doctors remotely if said patient experiences dangerous vital levels, or monitor patients for dangerous behavior.
Wearables to detect stress. Wearables to track sleep. Wearables to monitor blood pressure. The applications and implications for wearables in the healthcare industry are too numerous to count. And it’s a great field to watch, too, as we see more and more wearables infiltrating that space.
Move Over, BYOD. BYOW Is Going to Make a Splash
The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement took the IT and endpoint management worlds by storm in recent years. But the further spread of wearables might usher in another big movement. Get ready for BYOW … Bring Your Own Wearable.
A Salesforce Research survey found that 54 percent of companies aren’t yet supporting BYOW, but plan to. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of respondents say they aren’t planning on supporting it.
In the wearables vs smartphones debate, smartphones are still rather obviously more prevalent in the consumer space; BYOW won’t really take off until more employees start coming to work with their own wearable devices. But that consumer market gap also grants IT a little more freedom in that employees might be more inclined to carry two separate devices — their own personal smartphones and company-owned wearables — while they work.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM) endpoint management solutions are getting overshadowed these days by Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) and Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) platforms. EMM and UEM are frankly better equipped for BYOD and BYOW. But since BYOW is only barely in its infancy, those legacy solutions still have real-world applications for a wider range of wearables than they do for smartphones.
The Dangers of Workplace Wearables
All of these perks do come at a potential cost, though. Any big tech rollout will undoubtedly be coupled with a plethora of challenges, and wearables are no exception.
Each new device introduced into the workplace could be seen as another attack vector for hackers and other cybercriminals to exploit. Today’s wearables mostly still lack adequate encryption, and these devices are more easily left in places they shouldn’t be left, or accidentally brought home. Wearables require top-flight endpoint management if you hope to protect intellectual property and other sensitive data.
Wearables might increase legal liability, too. There are always threats of bodily harm due to misuse or malfunction to take into consideration. There are also questions about complacency, too. For instance, will workers get so accustomed to the safety wearables can provide that they behave unsafely, being overly-reliant on the tech? Are wearables safe enough for your workplace environment?
There are also questions on the business and accounting ends of the spectrum, too. Compliance issues might be a pretty big concern depending on your industry. And then there’s the potential cost inflation from medical costs, employee benefits, and more. And that’s before we consider overhead, initial investment costs, and initial ROI.
Big Brother’s Small Wearables
There’s of course another negative that simply must be considered before wearables can be implemented: the big brother angle.
Employees and customers alike both enjoy and expect certain levels of privacy. They simply would not tolerate the idea of wearables being used to “spy” on them; monitoring behavior, or snooping on private conversations, or otherwise violating their individual rights are obviously a huge no-no.
Would most companies exploit this technology to spy on employees? We certainly hope not. But many employees will be highly skeptical of wearable deployments, and it’s really the company’s responsibility to prove they’ll use them honestly, more than it’s the employee’s responsibility to place blind faith in the company.
Using wearables to collect analytical data to measure productivity and improve overall workplace performance? That’s a good thing. It benefits employees individually and as whole teams. And tracking an employee’s movements for safety purposes, rather than looking for excuses to infract them, could also be seen as positive.
On the other hand, using wearables to monitor employees and seek out potential areas where they might be punished will likely be seen by the majority of staff as a breach of their privacy and freedom. And that’s likely going to damper productivity more than it would improve it.
Are Wearables Worth It?
In the late 1990’s, a video game called Fallout featured a wearable computer called a “PIP-Boy” which, when worn on your forearm, provided players with loads of important information.
The PIP-Boy displayed your health and other physical attributes. It showed your quest information — basically your daily tasks that needed completing — and told you what was in your inventory. It even featured detailed map information, working remarkably similar to modern day GPS.
The PIP-Boy wearables were so handy in the Fallout games that it became a wonder why nobody had developed them in real life. Of course, that was the late 90’s, before the advent of smartphones or Fitbits or having access to the Internet on anything short of a stationary, wired desktop or laptop computer.
For some gamers who enjoy the RPG genre, that was our introduction to the concept of IoT. It was still an era when only some of us had any internet, period; the notion of an Internet of Things would’ve been lost on just about anyone back then.
Today however, consumer wearables like the PIP-Boy — in smaller, less dramatic form factors anyway — are perfectly obtainable, and provide much of the same functionality. And in terms of business applications, these wearables are just as suited for helping slay office challenges as their fictional video game counterpart was at helping slay deathclaws and radscorpions twenty-something years ago.
At the end of the day, we’re faced with one very simple question: Are wearables worth it? The short answer there is yes.
The benefits of wearable technology in business are limited only by the creativity of the stakeholders at the pitch meeting. And when you couple this tech with innovative endpoint management solutions, scalable deployment becomes more of a “when” preposition than an “if” one.