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Author's profile photo Bernd Leukert

From Fiction to Functionality: Wearables at Work

Remember watching the TV series “Knight Rider,” with Michael Knight talking to his watch and giving his car orders, seeing this awesome tech device, and wishing you could have one?

Well, today you can. On April 10, 2015, Apple started taking pre-orders for all models of its Apple Watch. In the first thirty minutes, the company sold out of all its available launch stock.

The strong initial demand for the Apple Watch wasn’t surprising. It isn’t uncommon to see people camping outside, say, an Apple store when a new product is released, because wearables are coveted items and are taking the retail market by storm.

In fact, IDC[1] says that 45 million units of wearables were shipped in 2015, and will reach 126 million by 2019. Wearables are becoming an increasingly popular consumer technology for health and wellness applications, too, and their capabilities are just beginning to emerge for companies and consumers.

Although their sales are not expected to compete with those for smartphones and tablets for some time, the impact of wearables on technology is far greater. I predict they will become the interface between body, apps, data, and last not but not least, services.

Wearables in the Workplace

While many people in business are familiar with wearables, only a few are using, implementing, or allocating budget for the future use of wearables, according to studies. Wearables have yet to make their way into companies as part of day-to-day operations.

However, where they have been used, they have demonstrated strong value. At British grocery-chain Tesco, workers in an Ireland distribution center wear armbands to track goods they’re gathering for fulfillment, rather than carrying traditional clipboards. The armbands can assign them tasks, predict their completion time, and provide feedback based on analytics (source: Harvard Business Review).

Wearables hold much promise, especially in those industries that rely on access to real-time data. Many initial use cases for wearables in companies involve employees that need two hands to perform their jobs. That’s because wearables provide a hands-free way to engage in real-time, with context-specific business information, customers, or other employees.

In industrial settings, for example, goggles, lanyards, or sensor-embedded clothing could help workers who are performing repetitive or dangerous tasks; they can increase productivity and reduce injuries. Combined with an augmented reality (AR) application that provides access to visualization of job-critical information and expert knowledge, technicians can improve service quality and efficiency.

In the oil & gas sector, for example, the use of wearables means improving communications between control staff and on-site workers; dispensing key information to workers (such as maps, instructions, or safety guidelines); doing virtual coaching or on-site job training.

Companies in healthcare and life sciences can use wearables to improve the efficiency of their products and services, but also increase the effectiveness of their operations and supply chains. Emergency personnel, search and rescue teams can benefit from high-tech mobility and tracking features. Already, some forward-thinking doctors are using wearables for data management, which means they can see a patient’s history while examining him or her (source: InformationWeek). For more details on the connection between healthcare and wearables, read: Wearable Medical Devices: Always On for Better Health and Making Medical Wearables Work: Top 3 Traits to Keep in Mind


In addition, technicians (e.g. in manufacturing or engineering) can consult manuals, engineering specifications and complex assembly instructions while performing maintenance or repairs. Wearables can also be used to remotely manage equipment, making the workplace safer for employees.

In retail, wearables can turn each employee into a proverbial “sales terminal” and increase in-store collaboration. In 2014, the Container Store piloted a program to use wearables for employee-to-employee communications. The devices also tracked workers’ movements through the stores.

With wearables, retail employees can access customers’ profile information, or purchase history, simply by synchronizing with their wearable gadgets. As a result, they can make better decisions when interacting with customers (suggesting new products that are related to their past purchases at the point of sales), building relationships, increasing customer loyalty and their company’s revenues.

Focusing on Users and Security

Undoubtedly, the wearables trend creates massive opportunities for businesses, their employees, as well as providing value to consumers. However, where there is light, there is shadow.

To succeed, wearables must meet the needs of the user, but without getting in his or her way. In the business environment, they must not only provide actionable insights,but also seamlessly integrate with enterprise data, applications, and the environment. Enterprises must consider connectivity and security. They’ll also need to address the considerable privacy challenges that come with the collection and usage of sensitive information. Read the blog, Big Data or Big Brother? for more insights.

The wearables topic also was big last week at the IT-Gipfel 2015 of the German Government in Berlin. The showcase “Smart Wearables”, built by the Design Research Lab of the Berlin University of the Arts, headed by Gesche Joost, and partners such as SAP, was shown to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and several German ministers. The showcase clearly made visible the digitization of the industry and the impact of wearables. We are evaluating to establish a strong innovation presence in Berlin with a dedicated space to attract start-ups as well as cooperations with universities and the senate of Berlin to stay on top of the wave.

In conclusion, wearables will continue to play a huge part in how we live and work. They hold enormous potential, but not without some challenges. Companies that implement wearables in the workplace will have to address security and privacy, explain the benefits to end-users, and find innovative ways to improve productivity and access their critical data through their daily use.

Stay tuned for my next blog, and follow me on Twitter!

[1] Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker

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