How the Enterprise Is Saving Wearables
by Patrick Gray | August 26, 2015
The revolution of wearables
A funny thing happened on the way to the purported “wearables revolution.” After years of consumers being the first to embrace new technologies and enterprises largely coming along for the ride, the reverse process is occurring when it comes to wearable technology like Google Glass and Apple Watch. When Glass was announced in 2013, the world was seemingly mere months away from every consumer sporting Google’s eyewear and mumbling “OK Glass” to trigger its computing functionality, just as Apple envisioned a runaway consumer success with Watch. However, consumers have largely panned wearables after a brief flirtation with fitness-oriented devices, and the consumer release of Glass has been indefinitely shelved while analysts suggest Watch is largely failing to meet Apple’s sales expectations. Despite limited consumer adoption, Google in particular has refocused Glass on enterprise users, and competitors are following suit.
Hardware that’s finally catching up with enterprise use cases
What’s interesting about the enterprise space is that we’ve had rather obvious use cases for wearables for well over a decade. Almost from the dawn of computing, enterprise customers have been attempting to deploy portable devices that deliver actionable data to employees when and where they need it, while capturing environmental information and helping employees react to it. In the industrial space in particular, use cases abound—from field technicians’ viewing augmented-reality service manuals to plant technicians’ closing work orders with taps on their wrists moments after completing inspections. We lacked not compelling concepts, but the hardware and ubiquitous connectivity that allowed us to implement these scenarios.
Historically, enterprise technology vendors simply could not achieve the scale to deliver these technologies at reasonable price points. Much as the latest innovations in smartphone and tablet development originated in the consumer space, so too have recent innovations in wearables. Impressive hardware at compelling price points abounds, but unlike consumer-oriented smartphones and tablets, consumer use cases are rather tenuous. In an industry like oil and gas, a single user with Google Glass could quickly identify a half dozen ways to integrate it into existing systems to make life easier. But even the best minds at Apple and Google have yet to convince consumers that these devices will make their lives better.
The year of the (enterprise) wearable
Many analysts have predicted that 2015 would be the “year of the wearable,” and while the theoretical market includes anyone who owns a modern smartphone, sales haven’t matched expectations. With consumer sales flagging, wearable manufacturers are continuing to iterate rapidly to gain traction in this evolving market. This constant development creates unprecedented competition on price and specifications, a boon for enterprises. Not only has the hardware finally arrived to execute wearable enterprise use cases, but nearly all the major consumer wearables manufacturers are leveraging existing, mature development and technology platforms that have proven themselves on smartphones and have massive communities of knowledgeable technicians and implementation partners.
Combine the ready availability of hardware, use cases, development tools, and increased interest in the enterprise space by wearables manufacturers, and you have a perfect recipe for launching wearables initiatives. With consumer interest still forthcoming, unlike most consumer-oriented technologies, wearables manufacturers are interested in enterprise needs and wants, and they factor these concerns into future generations of devices. This combination allows for ample opportunities for rapid ideation, experimentation, and prototyping.
American author Mark Twain’s adage that “the secret of getting ahead is getting started” applies strongly to wearables. Even with an abundance of use cases, in general there are few well-defined best practices around wearable use, and a lack of widespread adoption requires a “fail early and often” mindset when launching wearables initiatives.
At a high level, getting started with wearables requires little more than developing a concept, implementing a prototype, refining, and repeating. I recommend the following steps.
Step 1: Assemble several key resources from a variety of positions that could adopt wearables. While you may tend to focus initially on the management and technology ranks, include those who would actually use and benefit from the devices, and brainstorm concepts for using wearables in a few key process areas.
Step 2: Shortlist one to four ideas, and refine them to the point that you can storyboard how a wearable device would impact a process, noting the users, the actions they would perform, the outcomes generated, and the capabilities required to realize that vision.
Step 3: Employ a competent partner or your own internal resources to create real prototypes on actual devices, allowing the group that developed the initial concepts to touch and feel an actual product and refine it based on the prototype. With a reasonably polished prototype in hand, create a roadmap to an industrialized version of the prototype, and then execute. With the right resources and a targeted concept, this process can be completed in as little as five months.
While Apple and Google likely wish that consumers were flocking to wearables as they did with smartphones and tablets, now is the perfect time to explore their use in the enterprise space. In an interesting role reversal, enterprises just might define the use cases for wearables and be the first to expose consumers to these devices in the workplace, a refreshing reversal of years of consumers’ technologies arriving in the pockets of end users.
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