The Internet of Things (IoT) has generated considerable hype over the past few years. Probably nowhere has this hype been greater than when it comes to wearable devices like smart watches (Apple Watch), smart glasses (Google Glass), activity/fitness trackers (Misfit), and smart badges (for location tracking, security, etc.). This includes the use of wearables as general consumer electronic devices, as well as for their possible application in business scenarios designed to help workers perform their jobs.
Of course, all this focus on wearables raises the key question: what role do such devices play in organizations’ mobile strategies? A Cutter Consortium survey (conducted July–October 2014) that asked 49 organizations about their mobile technology practices and adoption plans helps shed some insight into current and planned support for wearable devices.
As shown in Figure 1, according to survey participants’ responses, current support for wearable devices by organizations is very limited. (I consider these early adopters as very cutting edge, looking to streamline their operations or gain some advantage on competitors by applying the latest in mobile technology.) On the other hand, future adoption plans among organizations appears to be fairly decent, with approximately 19% indicating that they intend to support wearables within the not-too-distant future. Still, the finding that leaps out most here is that nearly two-thirds of respondent organizations indicate that they have no plans whatsoever to support wearable devices.
Figure 1 — Does your organization’s mobile strategy currently support, or plan to support, wearable computers and devices (e.g., smart watches, smart glasses, smart badges)?
But such a lack of interest is to be expected, and I suggest caution when considering its relevance. Let’s face it, despite all the hype surrounding the IoT and wearable devices, good “connected products” are really just now starting to appear. For example, what most consider to be the first practical smart watch — the Apple Watch — is still not generally available as a consumer item. And, while smart glasses like Google Glass and others offer a lot of potential for shop-floor and warehouse work, the are really just starting to be tested in environments like emergency room/operating rooms and other hands-free and remote-guided-assistance scenarios (manufacturing, resource extraction, healthcare, etc.).
Simply put, most organizations haven’t really had the need or inclination to give much thought to the use of wearables. Moreover, questions surrounding security and privacy — especially when it comes to applications in business environments or operations involving customers and/or potentially sensitive data — rank high on the list of concerns among organizations considering their use. Hence, it’s understandable that corporate plans for utilizing such technologies are really still on the back burner.
The bottom line is that it is still very early for wearables in the enterprise, and that much of the technology still isn’t quite ready. Consequently, I think that we can expect to see a moderate increase in use of wearable devices in the enterprise over the next 12 months, with their application only beginning to ramp up in 2016. Of the so-called wearable technologies, I see smart glasses, smart badges, and smart watches as being most applicable for business. Still, the time has come for organizations to start seriously investigating how wearables could benefit their operations — including for both customer-facing and internal applications.