Wearable Tech World Feature Article
September 23, 2014

Where the Wearable Device Action is: The Workplace

Corporate and industrial applications – rather than much-publicized consumer applications – will be the initial drivers of the wearable device market. In the enterprise space, compelling applications for wearable devices are coalescing. In the consumer market, dynamics are more complicated.

Consumers are more fashion conscious and price sensitive than corporate and industrial workers. As such, use of wearable devices by consumers will be limited until prices drop and aesthetics of wearable devices become more like prescription lenses, sunglasses or jewellery. The consumer market will also accelerate when workers become more familiar with the devices and discover personal applications.

First wave: labor-intensive professions

The first wave of wearable innovation is unfolding in labor-intensive professions where workers do not sit at desks, such as construction, agriculture, manufacturing, medical, oil and gas and retail. For instance, delivery and retail personnel who work with their hands may gravitate towards a display that projects information in the upper right frame of their field of vision. Immersive displays that occupy a worker’s full field of vision may be useful to those who need to follow step-by-step or detailed instructions such as construction workers following virtual building plans or doctors performing delicate surgery remotely in a telemedicine facility. Wrist-worn displays, which are easier to access, more durable and less expensive than a tablet PC, are appealing in mining, construction and hospital work.

These devices have immediate value for industrial tasks where workers need to be on their feet, to have their hands free to use equipment, and to hold tools. Attachable to a person, they are more efficient than manually carrying a tablet PC, laptop PC, or clipboard for field assignments. 

Wearable technology provides corporate workers with real-time access to resources that may not be available in a remote location. For example, a rigger on an offshore oil platform can use Internet-connected eyeglasses to send video to off-site experts to get advice on how best to fix an out-of-commission pump. Seeing the video, these office experts could assess the situation, provide proper clearance, and guide a rigger on how to repair the problem. Without using the eyeglasses, the process takes longer and costs more.

Rolling out workplace wearable devices

When introducing wearable devices to employees, corporate IT managers should keep these considerations in mind:

  • User Interface and Experience – Ascertain how size influences behavior. Rather than distract employees, wearable devices should empower them. The products should be intuitive and easy to use. Companies should set aside time and resources to train employees on how to use them.

Also, enterprise workers will likely need longer wearable device access than a typical consumer electronics device. To extend battery life, companies should consider hibernation, back-up power sources, and disabling low-priority features.

  • Business Process, Not Technology-Led – To achieve maximum productivity and performance improvements, wearable devices should be aligned to corporate operations. Companies should start by looking for appropriate use cases, evaluate which wearable devices are ideal for which processes, and use proof of concepts and pilots to test their theories. During this phase, they should redesign workflows and business processes to find what fits best. When a company identifies a wearable solution, they should establish a governance standard to confirm continuity across the business.
  • Data Analytics and Visualization— Because wearable devices collect data, companies should determine the amount, type and value they will place on that data. Attaching an analytics engine or Web portal to support wearables could uncover insights to improve operations. The engine could monitor environmental data on air quality and detect early gas leaks. An airline pilot can wear a biometric device that can tell him or her if they have had enough rest to be suitable to fly a plane. These vitals can identify an assembly line worker who needs immediate medical attention after a sudden spike in heart rate indicates a possible heart attack.
  • Privacy and Security— Data privacy and security of wearable technology requires vigilant care. Wearable devices need the same protection required for any mobile device connected to a corporate network.

Final Thoughts

Enterprise use cases for wearable devices are ripe with business value, helping to boost worker efficiency, enhance collaboration, and speed decision-making. To get ahead in this market, enterprises should begin exploring how to put wearables to work.

To learn more, read Accenture’s recent report on Putting Wearable Displays to Work in The Enterprise and findings from its Digital Consumer Tech Survey 2014.

David Sovie is a managing director with Accenture’s Communications, Media and High-tech group. He can be reached at david.a.sovie@accenture.com.

Brent R. Blum is the wearable display research and development lead for Accenture Technology Labs. He can be reached at brent.r.blum@accenture.com.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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