Digital Realty’s Ricky Cooper dives into the future of wearables – and if they have a place in the working world.
When you hear the words “wearable tech”, thoughts spring to mind of a park full of runners wearing the latest fitness tracking device. Or maybe that tech-loving friend with the latest smart watch or the fashionable lady with her connected ring – gone are the days of diamond rings! What’s certain is that most of us don’t associate wearable technology with the enterprise and productivity. But that’s already changing.
So many areas, such as healthcare, manufacturing and retail, are now talking about incorporating wearables, though it is heavily influenced by the consumer market. From healthcare to retail, it’s hard to think of a sector that isn’t both excited and concerned by what changes this new era will bring. The initial focus may have been on the use of wearables by individuals in their personal lives, but there’s likely to be a much greater opportunity for businesses.
According to recent findings from research firm MarketsandMarkets, the global wearable technology market is forecasted to grow to almost US$31.3 billion by 2020. So, although this market is primarily driven by consumers, the wearable technology market for enterprise and industrial application is still expected to grow at a high rate during this period.
Perhaps the best example is Google Glass. When launched in the Spring of 2013, the head-mounted display was foreseen to be used by people as an extension of their mobile phone. Yet, despite the fanfare and widespread noise in the media, it failed to gain significant traction outside the early adopter market.
However, Google is now focusing its Glass efforts on the business sector. Google believes the product’s heads-up display and camera can allow it to become a useful device in areas such as medicine, manufacturing and supply chains. Rather than needing to refer to a screen, staff can interact with applications and data displayed on Glass. The implications for workflow and productivity are significant.
The other obvious example of wearables is smart watches. In a market dominated by companies such as Apple, Samsung and LG, these devices have been positioned as consumer friendly, yet also have significant potential for business.
Wearables with enterprise apps
The opportunity to add enterprise-specific apps to the watches means wearables have become aids to productivity. Take Microsoft 365, for example, which allows users to add calendar invites to their diaries straight from an email. Simple but effective and can be done on an Apple Watch. Sales staff, too, can check stock levels and place customer orders on their wrist. Managers can send out live feedback and training updates to employees with connected devices.
Wearables are also showing huge potential as health monitors. Smart watches and sports bands can already monitor heart rates and temperatures. Future advances are expected to add the ability to check other vital signs, such as glucose and blood oxygen levels.
Companies are also racing to embed sensors in clothing to monitor biometric information during exercise or sports. Feeding this back to a central point can help trainers tweak an individual’s technique to boost results.
The true power of wearables comes not just from their on-board capabilities, but also their ability to connect to other devices, the internet and cloud-based resources. They become an end point for business applications and data stores.
For patients, this could involve vital signs being captured by their wearable devices and automatically sent to a doctor for review. Treatment could be ordered before the patient is even aware it’s required.
For enterprises, connecting wearable devices with digital centres opens up vast new opportunities when it comes to managing mobile work forces and equipping employees with the information they need in order to be effective and productive.
Businesses are just getting started with wearable technology, but what’s encouraging is that this new technology is already opening up new doors and has even greater potential. Acting as sensors or end points connected to centralised data centres, wearables can collect and provide information that empowers employees and gives organisations a competitive advantage.
However, businesses must first decide if they need wearables. If they do, they must learn from the consumer model for wearable tech and focus on what their employees want. Employees are more receptive to technology that aids them in their work, and not those that get in the way.
Ricky Cooper is VP EMEA & APAC at Digital Realty