When people discuss wearable tech, it’s typically as a consumer phenomenon. Smartwatches, Fitbits, Google Glass — these products seem like they’re for hipsters only, not mainstream consumers.
But if anything, it’s the opposite. It’s probably true that most people will feel silly wearing Google Glass, for example. But it’s also probably true that there are countless business contexts where your boss will want you to wear Google Glass.
Let’s look at some of the most promising future applications of wearables in the enterprise.
Google Glass (or something like it)
Let’s start with them. So mocked. They probably don’t have a future as a consumer device, at least in the short and even medium term. (Long term, who knows?) But they — or something like them, such as the Vuzix M100 — most certainly have a future in the workplace.
The first and obvious application is on-premises security. From police departments to private security firms to the military to bar bouncers, Google Glass has obvious applications.
Other applications include retail (think of store greeters), medicine (one hospital in Boston is already using them in the emergency room, and a number of startups like Pristine are well along the way to developing Glass apps for surgeons), and any kind of hands-on work done in remote locations — think oil drilling, mining, and the like.
Fitness trackers and health insurance
This is a bit Orwellian but also perhaps unavoidable if you work for a big corporation and they think they can reduce their insurance bill by getting you to wear a Fitbit or equivalent device, they will. Some companies may even see and promote it as an employee perk, since a lot of people get value out of fitness trackers.
Cutting down health costs is a huge priority of governments and private sector actors alike, and the idea that using the bio data our bodies generate could help to do this is a powerful one. The idea is that insurers would pay you to wear fitness trackers, and then pay you even more to behave healthfully; since most people in the United States get health insurance through their employers, the way to roll this out would be via large employers.
The privacy and security applications are immense, but so is the drive to make this system a reality, whether you want to or not.
Wearable tech will also make quick inroads into the retail space. Apple’s iBeacon is already a potential enabling technology there. Many startups and large retail firms are working on ways to identify customers as they walk in the door.
As the internet keeps putting pressure on retail, retailers will increasingly try to differentiate by offering a customized, pleasant experience. Identifying a customer as they walk in the door and having a Google Glass-wearing attendant capable of giving them personalized attention (and nice attention, since the attendant knows they’re monitored) is the kind of retail experience that wearables will enable and that large retailers will want to adopt. Yes, you’ve seen it in Minority Report.
As wearables start proliferating in the enterprise, they will start to pose the same kinds of problems that mobile have been posing: shadow IT as employees bring their own devices and try and connect them to company systems; security and privacy issues related to more data being collected and disbursed in more places; standardization and platform choices; and so on.
CIOs need to start thinking about this right now. Did you think mobile in the enterprise was a mess? Just wait for wearables.