Wearables In The Workplace: The Hurdles, Benefits And Opportunities

A key factor for businesses operating in the modern age is the ability to integrate different technologies into day-to-day operations in order to improve the efficiency, productivity and in some cases the safety of employees.

This narrative known as digital transformation went up a notch in 2016, quickly becoming the go-to phrase for all manner of technology companies as businesses raced to establish their dominance in a world driven by the likes of cloud computing, big data, mobility and automation.

But one tech market that hasn’t quite been able to crack the business world yet is wearables. We’ve seen the rise and domination of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD), but the Wear-Your-Own-Device (WYOD) arena has remained largely unclaimed.

If used in the right way, devices such as sensors and smartwatches have the potential to significantly impact a firm’s operations. So, why are businesses not getting the attention they deserve? And, perhaps more importantly, are they ready to embrace a wearable revolution?

The market

The wearables market, which includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, virtual reality headsets and wearable cameras, has largely enjoyed a successful first few years of life, with many analysts predicting big things to come as devices continue to develop.

For example, online statistics portal Statista has predicted that it will grow to around $6 billion (£4.9bn) by 2018, whilst industry analyst CCS Insight has gone a few steps further and forecast the market to hit the $25 billion (£20bn) mark by 2019.

According to IDC, the wearables market grew 3.1 percent year over year in the third quarter of 2016 as shipments reached 23 million. This growth came despite a disappointing end to the year for smartwatches. Just 2.7 million units were shipped in Q3, nearly a 52 percent decrease from the previous year, as smartwatch interest appeared to wane.

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In terms of market leaders, it’s probably no surprise to hear that Apple can currently lay claim to top spot in the smartwatch arena specifically with 1.1 million units shipped in Q3 2016, followed by Garmin (0.6 million), Samsung (0.4 million), Lenovo (0.1 million) and the recently-acquired Pebble (0.1 million).

But for overall wearables it’s Fitbit who comfortably leads the pack, with its 5.3 million shipments well ahead of Xiaomi’s second-placed effort of 3.8 million units. Garmin then pops up with 1.3 million shipments, followed by Apple (1.1 million) and Samsung (1 million).

Business benefits

It’s easy to think of wearables as being purely consumer-orientated devices, best suited to tracking fitness metrics and showing Facebook notifications, but there are plenty of reasons why they also have a place in the enterprise world.

Certain devices will of course be better suited to some environments more than others, but generally speaking there are clear use cases for just about any industry you could think of.

For example, smart glasses or augmented reality headsets can be used to provide important hands-free information, such as schematics for engineers when out on repairs or blueprints for construction workers.

Smart wristbands can be used to enable enable mobility as employees can get access to information while on the move. With workforces quickly becoming more and more spread out, this can help to boost collaboration and increase efficiency across the business.

They can also track the locations of personnel within a warehouse or shop floor to optimise layouts and minimise wasted travel time, as well as provide businesses with health information about their employees.

“Wearables can provide major benefits for businesses, if deployed correctly,” said Chas Moloney, director of Ricoh UK. “One of the most obvious areas is health and wellbeing initiatives for staff, with numerous applications to support with fitness and working patterns already widely available.

“But there are also clear business cases for wearable devices being deployed into office-based environments. For example giving workers instant access to data and managing complex processes could easily be achieved through a smart watch or other device.”

This point about health data also of course has ramifications for the healthcare market, as Trish Birch, Global Healthcare Consulting Practice Leader at Cognizant explained to Silicon: “Health wearables and the use of the data they collect is currently a very interesting space. The introduction of ingestibles and wearables have paved new ways for technological innovation to store, exchange and analyse real-time patient data.

“Opportunities are very much present within the healthcare market now for healthcare providers to enhance the service they provide and reduce costs, using data from wearables which already exists.”

Related to this, there are some really interesting training innovations being introduced in healthcare, such as Touch Surgery’s mobile surgical simulation platform which uses augmented reality to enable doctors to practice over 225 surgical procedures in a virtual setting.

“Our mission is to power the educational platform that trains surgeons and enables greater global access for safe surgery,” said co-founder and CEO Jean Nehme, with Brian Mullins from partner company DAQRI praising the platform for helping surgeons to practice their skills, learn new ones and “ultimately enhance the worldwide access patients have to quality medical care”.

Continue to page 2 for the hurdles and concerns facing businesses…

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Sam Pudwell

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

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