The new year kicked off with the most anticipated event in consumer technology—CES 2014. Those who managed to keep up with the onslaught of new gizmos might have noticed a theme. Among self-driving cars, flexible displays, 3D printers, and app-controlled drones, the theme that stole the show was “Internet of Things” (IoT), specifically wearables. Already the consumer space is flooded with products—most still in their infancy—targeted primarily towards the health/fitness conscious and the quantified selfers in all (or any) of us. These range from fitness bands that track our every move to smartforks that help us lose weight—just check out this video.
Given this flurry of activity in the consumer space, one can’t help but think of the impact wearables will eventually have on the enterprise. Similar to the way iPhones now populate the workplace, we won’t have to wait for history to repeat itself when it comes to wearables. Because it turns out employees are already wearabling their wearables to work. In an interview with CNBC, Fitbit CEO James Park revealed that “corporate is one of the fasting growing parts of our business,” adding they are currently involved in 30 of the Fortune 500 companies’ wellness programs, including British Petroleum, Autodesk, and eBay.
As large companies like Google, Sony, Nike, Lenovo, and Samsung throw their hats into the ring, the wearables market is bound to trend upwards. But before we start speculating, let’s take a look at some statistics. Per an article from Business Insider, the projections for the wearables market are scattered. On the high end, ABI Research estimates the wearables market to be around 485 million annual device shipments by 2018 and on the low end, IMS Research projects annual device shipments to be around 50 million by 2016. According to Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunication (TMT) Predictions 2014 report, sales projections for smart glasses, fitness bands, and watches are about 10 million units in 2014, generating $3 billion in revenue. While most of this data is speaking to the consumer market, wearables in the enterprise won’t take off until 2020 per a recent Forrester report. Although a rough estimate, in this report VP and Principal Analyst J.P. Gownder explains that “the enterprise space—though certain innovations find their way in quickly—requires all sorts of changes to infrastructure. By the nature of it, you can start to see what’s going to happen, but it takes five to seven years before it becomes pervasive” (Source: Fast Company).
Wearables in the Enterprise
A handful of innovative wearable-technology use-cases have already emerged in the enterprise. An obvious one is wearables in conjunction with employee health programs to help companies reduce insurance costs while increasing employee productivity (fewer sick days). Fitlinxx, a company that primarily focuses on enterprise wellness programs has posted a few case studies on how companies can benefit from such programs. Companies that have highly-secured facilities could also leverage wearables to perform continuous and automated authentication tests using Bionym, an enterprise-focused vendor that uses a three-factor authentication-to-guarantee uniqueness. It does this by measuring heart patterns with an electrocardiogram (ECG). Once authenticated, a worker remains authenticated, on all devices and applications, until the band is removed.
Countless industries will utilize wearable devices to achieve improved efficiency, most notably medical professionals and law enforcement. In a blog post, J. P. Gownder points us to Motorola Solutions’ “Connected Law Enforcement Officer of the Future,” which demonstrates how law enforcement officers will one day employ wearable technology to catch bad guys. With such sophisticated tools, officers will be better prepared and aware of their surroundings and situation. Gownder adds that, “for factory floor workers, surgeons, automobile and aircraft mechanics, retail sales people, public safety professionals, transportation and logistics workers and workers in many, many other professions, enterprise wearables (of various flavors) promise to soon become essential tools in their everyday jobs—just as PCs, smartphones, and, increasingly, tablets have become de rigueur productivity tools for information workers.”
In the following post, I’ll discuss the state of wearables today, along with the major challenges that impact its adoption in the enterprise.