November 19, 2013, 1:06 PM — Though wearable computing receives a great deal of publicity today, relatively little has been said about the prospects for wearables in the enterprise. That's surprising, because the enterprise could be where wearables really take off.
For consumers, wearables can carry a social stigma that might hold back adoption. That's not true in enterprises, where wearables will be seen as professional tools, as accepted as the UPS driver's brown uniform, the surgeon's scrubs and the engineer's clipboard. And wearable devices geared toward specific industry sectors don't have to be all things to a mass market of consumers. Specialized devices will empower professionals as diverse as surgeons, warehouse workers, police officers, technical field workers and product designers. Enterprises can also be conduits for getting consumers to use wearables.
Here are a few enterprise-focused wearable devices that are already hitting the market.
Fitness wearables for the masses
Fitness is one area where wearables have made some inroads. Nike, Jawbone, Fitbit, Adidas and BodyMedia are just some of the companies racing to capture the health-conscious consumer market. But it's a limited market. A Forrester survey revealed that just 5% of U.S. online consumers report using a wearable device to track their daily activity level. Though another 25% express interest in fitness wearables at the right price, the reality is that many "interested" consumers won't ever actually adopt a device.
However, if you bring the enterprise to bear on this market, the potential increases. Fitlinxx, a healthcare wearables company, is working through providers of employee wellness programs, healthcare providers, healthcare insurers and fitness facilities to expand its reach to consumers who might otherwise never use a wearable. For example, National Jewish Health, a healthcare provider, created a weight-loss program that integrated Fitlinxx's wearable technology. Over 2,000 people joined the 12-month program voluntarily. Those who completed the program lost 5% aggregate weight on average and saw a 13% year-on-year reduction in healthcare costs.
Stronger, Easier Authentication
Other vendors are targeting enterprises to distribute wearables to their employees. Authentication is a good example. Workers can be forced to respond to so many authentication requests in the course of the workday that it actually cuts into their productivity.
Most of these requests are addressed by just one of the three factors of authentication: something you know (a password, generally). An enterprise-focused vendor called Bionym, which was spun off from the University of Toronto, adds the two other factors -- something you are and something you have -- in an ingenious way. All three factors combined guarantee uniqueness, and the design of the Bionym approach addes persistence, which saves workers time by removing the need for repeated authentication.
The Bionym product achieves uniqueness by measuring heart patterns with an electrocardiogram (ECG) -- a completely individual identifier that is something you are. It offers persistence because the ECG is taken via a wristband -- something you have -- so that once authenticated, a worker remains authenticated, on all devices and applications, until the band is removed. Something you know comes into play when the user accesses the Bionym application on a registered device.
New forms of employee collaboration
At their best, enterprise wearables enable new usage scenarios. Some of the most interesting of these involve collaboration among employees.
Sociometric Solutions offers smart ID badges with a difference: They track employees' locations within the office and then correlate that data to track collaboration with peers. The badges also capture social signals (for example, is the employee listening to peers, or interrupting them?). Company managers receive aggregate reports on trends, and individual employees can learn how they compare to peers. For example, say that successful people in your role spend 25% of their time collaborating with the R&D department, but you only spend 10% of your time doing so. With this data, employees can work to improve their performance.
Vidcie by Looxcie employs head-mounted cameras to empower real-time video-based collaboration. For example, field services worker in manufacturing, telecommunications and other technically complex fields can stream videos of their current project and receive real-time input from peers. In the best cases, repeat visits can be avoided through this input.
Ultimately, both IT professionals and business leaders should embrace enterprise wearables as an opportunity to increase worker productivity, create loyal customer relationships and drive business process reinventions for their companies.
J.P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving infrastructure and operations professionals.