This article was originally posted on Wearable World News, and can be found here.
We typically think of wearables as consumer technology. Fitbit, Google Glass, Basis, and the long tail of connected fitness gear, watches, and clothing are all consumer facing. Yet, despite the rapid proliferation of wearable technologies, penetration is still only about 18% in the US, according to MarketsandMarkets. But a shift may be underway: businesses are beginning to adopt wearables. This has the potential to jumpstart penetration in the consumer sector.
Enterprises may in fact be better suited to drive mass wearable adoption than consumers. Why?
I. Vertical Wins in the Enterprise; Horizontal Wins Consumers (En Masse)
In the consumer world, we look for the next big widely applicable (horizontal) computing platform. Smartphones have transformed personal communications because as pocket-bound computers, they have applicability across most anything: communications, commerce, gaming, location, research, music, the list goes on…
In the enterprise, however, vertical solutions are what justify investment. Specific use cases targeted for advancing or making more efficient specific functional practices make better business sense than adding another general communications platform. To date, wearables have been most successful in vertical areas, namely Healthcare, Fitness, Manufacturing, because the value is clear and targets very specific segments.
II. Enterprises Aren’t Suffering from Device Fatigue like Consumers
One of the big challenges facing wearables is that they are yet another device/channel/platform for consumers. From Twitter to Tumblr to tablets and smartphones, people are already overwhelmed with technology, notifications, multi-channel, etc. Adding another device (or multiple devices) to our bodies (or multiple body parts!) is hardly incentive for consumers to purchase.
Enterprises, on the other hand, — while they have full technology stacks and complex enterprise mobile strategies— have teams of people who run these programs; whose sole responsibility is to derive value and ensure product upkeep, security, and relevance.
III. Enterprises Can Justify Investment in Experimenting with Wearables More Easily
In large enterprises, the need to scale and drive operational efficiencies justifies experimentation with doing things differently. Businesses are also free of many consumer pressures, such as wearables’ notoriously stunted fashion design, meaning a clear business value is enough to justify experimentation and early adoption. And speaking of business value, the frontier of wearables in the workplace is growing even wider: brand developers equipped with open-source reference apps are now able to build unique applications that could conceivably connect any business process to a wearable device.
Enterprise experimentation is not only a function of having more money to throw around than consumers, but also a different cost-benefit equation. While enterprises may invest substantial amounts into technology pilots and/or related campaigns, the pay-off (e.g. increased employee efficiency, faster resolution times for service inquiries, increased business intelligence, etc.) can be well worth the roll of the dice. For consumers, even the best user experiences will drive little tangible value outside of convenience and a wow-factor.
IV. Wearable “Middleware” is Often Already in Place in the Enterprise
One of the big challenges for consumer wearables is that the interoperability between multiple devices, channels, etc. is either minimal or non-existent. This creates fragmentation of what can connect with what, and tremendous friction for end users.
In the enterprise, however, ‘wearable middleware’ (e.g. APIs, content, software, etc.) is largely in place. Or if it isn’t, enterprises are equipped with worlds more resources (e.g. talent, money, time, labor) than consumers are to build, connect, or leverage existing content, systems, and other hardware and software. These resources also render customization much more feasible in the enterprise than in consumer. Ultimately, it is the flexibility for interoperability that generates the unprecedented value and efficiency wearable technology promises.
V. Enterprise Investment in Wearables is Pouring In
Following the dollars, we’re already seeing significant movement (i.e. investment, acquisitions, development) in the space signaling an influx of enterprise wearable infrastructure, including both hardware and software. Numerous large tech companies (e.g. Motorola, Epson, Salesforce.com, Google to name a few) as well as many start-ups are developing wearables specifically designed for workplace applications. Google Glass just announced its first round of “Glass at Work Certified Partners,” including:
- APX Labs: Makers of Skylight, a software platform for wearables providing workers with real-time enterprise data
- Augmedix: Healthcare platform that enables doctors to access electronic medical records more quickly and easily
- CrowdOptic: Develops context-aware advertising, content, and Augmented Reality apps for wearables across building/security, healthcare, sports, entertainment industries
- GuidiGO: Specializes in wearable software for museums and cultural institutions, enabling visitor education and institutional analytics
- Wearable Intelligence: Creates enterprise applications for workflow, management, training, and remote access use cases, specializing in Healthcare, Energy, and Manufacturing.
As a New Enterprise Communications Platform Emerges, Consumers May Catch On
The penetration of any technology is contingent on its usability and we are already seeing very clear (yet varied) use cases emerging for enterprise wearables. If the enterprise can provide wearables in the workplace with a healthy injection of utility and streamlined communications, we’ll undergo ‘warming up’ to consumer wearables. This could echo what we saw with enterprise adoption of BlackBerry phones, which in many ways teed up consumer interest and awareness in smartphones. Ultimately as vertical solutions establish new precedence in our interactions with businesses (as employees and consumers at once), we’ll see a drive towards wider cultural acceptance of wearables.