Putting wearable tech in the business context

Google Glass

A quick search on Google for the term “wearable technology” will produce some 162,000 results, about what you might expect for two very broad key words on such a topic.

The focus of course is very much a consumer one, where there is plenty to find about products like Google Glass, fitness bands, smartwatches, wearable cameras, healthcare devices… the range and scale of products is almost breath-taking.

In the US, online retailer Amazon just launched the Wearable Technology Store, offering consumers all of the above and more.

Amongst all the consumer and media excitement such products generate, I find my focus shifting more and more to the utility aspect of these shiny new objects as they come into the business realm and, inevitably, into our workplaces.

Where such technology gets interesting in this context is precisely that – the context in business.

Shel Israel and Robert Scoble zero in on context in their best-selling book, Age of Context, published last year that speaks of five technology forces that will have a profound effect on individuals, businesses and society as a whole in the next decade – social media, mobile, data, sensors and location-based technology. I see ‘sensors’ equating to ‘wearables’ to a huge extent.

This week, the BBC reports on an academic study that addresses wearable tech in the workplace. Among its positive findings – wearable devices designed to help improve posture and concentration could boost productivity by eight percent in an office.

So we can already see some of those effects Israel and Scoble talk about through the devices we’re becoming more familiar with, such as the examples above, and how and where we use them. And I believe we will see more – and faster – acceptance and adoption in business of wearable tech when multiple tipping points converge:

  1. New or evolved devices come to market that match more closely what people wish to use in a business context.
  2. The functionality of a given device offers the user an easier, simpler, faster, more effective, more convenient and/or cheaper way to get something done or gain access to valuable and useful content.
  3. Above all, a device offers its wearer (a deliberately-chosen word: not ‘user’) a compelling experience that satisfies singular or multiple desires that form a key part of the overall experience.

Om Malik‘s description of wearable tech as “intimate computing” could be close to the mark. And that does make ‘wearer’ a far more apt choice of word than ‘user’ whatever the context, business or otherwise.

It will make you think of ‘wearable’ in a new way. For instance, if you drive a new car a lot – especially a car crammed with tech – is it just a car, or an intimate computing device aka wearable technology?

Which brings me to good old ERP, the backbone of many businesses – and the last place you’d expect to see cool tech such as this in use, right?

Wrong! Just as the cool tech of only four years ago – iPads, iPhones, the emerging smartphone landscape, and an embryonic mobile-device ecosystem that’s today hugely focused on apps – was unlikely to be seen in the corporate workplace or the factory floor, now you can’t move for tablets and other devices of all shapes and sizes, connected to networks – private and public, wired and wireless – and used universally and ubiquitously for business in ways we wouldn’t have imagined at that time.

So the idea of a smartwatch that lets you engage with content from your enterprise systems to not only read messages but also actually make transactions is one whose time is almost upon us.

IFS on Gear 2

Take  a look at what IFS Labs has developed – IFS’ business applications that run on a new Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch:

The fully working proof-of-concept demonstrates how notifications from IFS’s business applications can be delivered to wearable technology. Using Samsung’s APIs for notification alerts, IFS connected components of its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems to send alerts in line with updates to certain processes.

For example, field service operatives could be alerted when important items are shipped, key projects are started or completed, or be notified when invoices are paid.

This is just the tip of an iceberg and you can expect to read, see and hear reports, opinions and other content about this topic in the coming weeks.

Powerful context.

(I wrote this post for first publication in the corporate blog of IFS, a global enterprise software vendor, on May 1, 2014. IFS is a client.)