By now, everyone from techies to gamers to athletes has heard that wearables are "the next big thing."
As a 20-year veteran of the technology industry, I've seen the emergence of new next-gen technologies come and go – from the client server to the desktop, to PCs and laptops, to the current mobile era.
Look at today's wearables and you may notice something quite remarkable this time around. What makes this latest wave of hardware exponentially more exciting than other evolutions is the connectivity with the cloud. Thanks to the cloud, devices like Google Glass and Fitbit have access to geolocation information, your past history, the Internet, plus the ability to record, broadcast and post to social media.
[Google Glass and other easy-to-use wearables stress importance of user-friendliness. Read What Google Glass Can Teach IT]
We have access to far more relevant information than ever before. What makes Google Glass awesome is that when I put on my Glass, I automatically see my "Google Now" and other relevant data. Yes, hardware is hot these days, but only because of the software behind it. It's the combination of the device plus the cloud that matters. They're both connected in an ecosystem.
A good example of this ecosystem is consumer applications. Everyone today seems to not only be using Fitbit (or something similar) to help with their workouts and overall health, but also to broadcast their location and invite other users into competitions. This revolution of data collection and "instrumenting people" (or "bio hacking" in the case of collecting medical data) allows for massive data analysis as well as social media-style sharing.
But what does the wearables wave mean for businesses, their employees and their customers? Of course there's some fear about the adoption of wearables in the enterprise. I've found from customers and conversations at CES that this fear revolves around all of these mobile devices connecting to the enterprise's network. Hacks and data breaches are a big concern and all of these devices clogging up the network can drive a CIO nutty.
But there's also excitement surrounding wearables in the enterprise. CIOs are starting to think about using wearables to replace key cards for corporate security and tracking. My wife's firm in Hong Kong already does this, and while it does introduce the "big brother" factor, the employees in return gain added convenience. For example, employees can use their phone or a wristband as an ID card so they never have to worry about forgetting it – it's one less thing to keep track of.
As far as customers, CIOs should be asking themselves, "How do we interact with customers that are wearing these devices? How do we create a device they're going to wear or something that can interact with what they're wearing?" For instance, a bank might want to create an app on Google Glass that notifies patrons when they haven't visited the ATM in a while or that they are close to an ATM.
I recently mentored a startup in Silicon Valley that is building Google Glass apps for retailers. With the software and hardware combined, a user could potentially walk into a retail store and use it as a shopping companion, like a virtual assistant, that not only shows the user various prices and deals, but also can present an augmented reality and display what an outfit or piece of furniture would look like in a different color or material.
While mass adoption of Google Glass is five to 10 years away, higher-end retail shops will adopt earlier and provide the Glass to customers as they walk into the store. These shops will certainly capitalize on custom-written software.
Vigo is another company I've mentored recently and they're on to something hot in wearables with a device that sits on the ear, over eye glasses and counts the number of blinks that a user makes so it can give him or her a buzz when the user is tired. It sounds crazy but if you think bigger – which is what wearable manufactures are doing – this type of device would be perfect for truck drivers as it could prevent them from falling asleep. And the fleet managers can likely save on insurance with this device since tracking drivers' awareness and alertness on a regular basis should lead to fewer traffic accidents, and in turn, overall lower premiums. That said, insurance companies could probably one day offer reduced premiums for companies whose employees wear devices like this, similar to how healthcare premiums are lowered for companies that have an employee join a gym. Ultimately, this means the customer is making multiple business decisions based on one wearable.
Enterprises looking to capitalize on the coming wearables wave must continually think about the value they create for both customers and employees. This may mean coming up with a companion app that connects to wearables via software. The Fitbit device is fun, but its companion app is what makes the magic happen by connecting the data to the app and also to other people. In the case of the development industry, delivering value for this trend may mean developing the same personalized experience for any device.
The key thing for enterprises to remember with wearables is that software rules. It reduces complexity, fuses data together, and makes that data more accessible and meaningful.
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