The Internet is buzzing with talk of wearable technology – the security risks, the data possibilities, the creepy Big Brother parallels. As smart watches, smart glasses, rings, and other advanced electronic technologies rise in popularity, so do the studies, reports, and polls detailing the market itself. Some of the latest industry findings include:
• Wearable device adoption rates match the adoption rates of tablets in 2012.
• Worldwide wearable sales are predicted to reach $53.2 billion by 2019 (compared to an expected $4.5 billion in wearables sales in 2014).
• A full 82 percent of respondents are concerned wearables will invade their privacy – 86 percent are worried about data security breaches.
• Three-quarters of respondents say that wearables would make them more efficient and productive at work.
• Over 57 percent of people say the possibility of lower health premiums would make them more likely to use a fitness tracking device while 44.2 percent cite better healthcare advice from a physician as an incentive to use wearable technology.
• A majority of workers, 73 percent, believe that wearables can benefit the workplace in some way.
Of all the recent wearable insights and figures, the last one is the most interesting. Despite security threats, privacy risks, and potential fashion suicide, close to three-quarters of those surveyed imagine wearables moving beyond personal use and becoming popular in the workplace. Now that widespread deployment of wearables is on the rise, it’s time to examine what this innovative technology means for enterprises, and determine if the potential gains outweigh the risks.
The perks of wearables in the workplace
Increased workplace productivity, improved safety, and greater overall organizational efficiency are some of the potential benefits of wearables. While these advantages sound great in theory, it’s important to understand how their actual possibility. Use cases for wearables are very dependent on the industry and organizational processes, so there’s no one size fits all solution.
Let’s examine some of the ways businesses can use wearable tech to streamline operations.
• Repair workers can use smart glasses in the field to facilitate hands-free work. Workers generally perform complicated maintenance repairs from memory even if tablets are available because their hands are busy. Using smart glasses allows workers to view instructions or get assistance from supervisors who can guide them through high-risk work in real-time.
• The healthcare industry provides ample opportunities for wearables. Smart glasses can be used for real-time consulting when doctors or surgeons need a second opinion. Live streaming can also be a useful teaching tool by providing point of view footage to students.
• Managers can use smart glasses video to review employee performance. Employers could evaluate an assembly line worker’s process with an employee to show where there’s room for improvement, similar to how coaches review game footage with athletes.
These are just a few examples of how businesses can use wearables to improve efficiency and quality of work. However, even bigger benefits are possible when one considers the data possibilities offered by such connected devices.
Data possibilities give wearables huge staying power
Smart glasses and fitness trackers may seem like superfluous tech toys on the surface, but the opportunities to leverage data generated from wearables is huge. The biometric data collected from health trackers can be used to provide doctors with instant access to health information, or maximize workouts by providing instructors with client data.
Recently, a law firm in Calgary became the first known personal injury case to use activity data from a fitness tracker to help show the effects of an accident on their client. But data in the courtroom is just the beginning.
Wearables cannot only be used to track employee time and productivity, but to track whether or not hospital staff has washed their hands. Sensors placed throughout the hospital, coupled with a wearable device would allow hospitals to measure hand-sanitation policy compliance.
Rich Tehrani, a leading technology expert, describes the benefits a pair of smart glasses tied to a CRM database would provide. Technology such as facial recognition software with analytics would not only allow companies to identify high-value customers, but to immediately offer them special service or deals and make personalized recommendations. What he describes sounds a lot like the future depicted in the 2002 futuristic thriller Minority Report – albeit friendlier.
Although the industry is young, the potential innovation for wearables is huge. Just like with most new technology, privacy and security threats will pose challenges. As those risks are mitigated, companies should take care before dismissing wearables as a mere trend. The creative business solutions they offer could benefit the workplace in ways we have yet to imagine.
Jenna Puckett is a junior technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. She covers topics related to gamification, business intelligence, employee performance, and other emerging tech trends. Connect with her on LinkedIn.