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When it unveiled its long-awaited Apple Watch earlier this week, Apple dubbed the event “Spring Forward,” but before they dive into the world of enterprise wearbles, CIOs might want to take a few steps back.

After all, there are plenty of IT leaders who are still grappling with earlier waves of mobile computing, such as smartphones and tablets. There are ongoing questions of how best to manage and secure these devices, and who in the organization should be allowed to have them. There are customer-facing questions about what apps, if any, an organization should be creating to offer on these devices. Perhaps most challenging, smartphones and tablets were among the first consumer-first devices that forced CIOs to adjust the user experience of what they offer business professionals. Smart watches like the Apple Watch may be seen as something that only exacerbates some of these headaches.

This is not to suggest that CIOs won’t recognize the potential of wearable devices. In fields such as transportation, health care and even retail, there may be early use cases that propel strategies forward more quickly than even die-hard consumer technology enthusiasts would expect. Already, Dejardins has promised it will offer an app for Apple Watch by the time is is available for purchase in mid-April. Others will likely follow suit.

One of the big differences with wearables is the degree of behavioural change they may require. Smartphones built upon the existing use of cell phones. We gained apps, among many other things, but the habit of carrying around communication devices in our pockets was not new. For many consumers, on the other hand, wearing a watch is a habit they abandoned with the introduction of cell phones. For all the convenience an Apple Watch could offer, adoption might not be slower, particularly given these are often companions to a smartphone.

IT leaders also seem polarized by the notion of a smartphone. For example, I recently started a discussion in a LinkedIn Group that went as follows:

You’ve got (enterprise IT) notifications!

The rise of wearable computers suggests we’ll be using smartwatches and the like to get updates on things like our heart rate, our stock portfolio and so on. What kind of notifications would be helpful on the smart watches of CIOs, IT managers and network admins? Server uptime may be an obvious choice, but there ought to be a lot of room for innovation here. Let’s get the brainstorming started!

Suffice it to say the feedback was less than positive. Some examples, with names removed:

“Just what IT needs…more shiny stuff.”

“If you are on an electronic leash of instant notifications, you are probably insignificant, neurotic, or both.”

“I can remember when a drive from the office to home was a pleasant experience, enjoying the scenery and weather (in the warm months of course). It gave me a little down time to unwind from the work day. Ever since cell phones I felt obligated to takes calls in my travels and now that they are smart (along with cars) I feel obligated to listen email and text messages in route as well. Sometimes I don’t even remember the drive home and I don’t think adding more devices is going to help this. I sometimes go out to dinner with the family and all their heads are in their phone. Do we really need these smart watches or is just another device to show off to our family and friends. We have let these devices run our day and we have become just the passenger. When did it become so bad to just smell the roses.”

These are all legitimate points, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect that CIOs can ignore wearables. In fact, it may make more sense to be prepared with some responses to the inevitable questions staff and even senior management may ask. With that in mind, what follows is a hand-picked series of resources that can hopefully assist with that process.

The Research 

The Enterprise Wearables Journey: This Forrester Research report came out more than a year ago, but its outlook is decidedly long-term, with a forecast that adoption will take place over the course of a decade. It delves into the potential business process re-engineering that smartwatches and the like may require and explore virtual and physical work scenarios. Key quote: “Consider that the Internet itself suffered from a hype bubble circa 1999, and yet the Internet turned out to be just as important as people had imagined — after a decade of growth, at least,” the authors write. “Similarly, wearable devices — and the apps, software, and services that make those wearables truly valuable — will change the way workers do their jobs and how consumers manage their lives.” (US$499)

The Event

We Are Wearables: The largest wearable tech Meetup group of its kind with closer to 3,000 members, this Toronto-based gathering hosts a series of panels, demos and networking opportunities for a crowd that’s decidedly in the early adopter camp. Check out our coverage of previous sessions on ITBusiness.ca. Next on its calendar is a live discussion with cyborg theorist and University of Toronto professor Steve Mann. Though not a traditional venue for CIO-level conversation, this is where you’ll get first-hand feedback on what people enjoy and desire regarding devices like an Apple Watch. Listen for cues that inform how you can meet those expectations in a business context. Registration is free, but there is often a waiting list, so book early.

The Video

Le Web wearable computing roundtable: There are plenty of vendors offering some early education on the enterprise possibilities of wearables, including Salesforce, SAP and HP, but this clip from the recent European conference on digital innovation offers the most value for your time. Some very interesting comments from David Rose, CEO, Ditto Labs and author of the book Enchanted Objects, but if you don’t have time a full hour to watch it, Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder (who was the main contributor to the report mentioned above) gives some good perspective on potential business applications.

The Twitter Feed

If you’re a CIO on Twitter, chances are much of what you’ll see about enterprise wearables comes from vendors rather than your peers, but some sources are better than others. Here’s a few to start building a Twitter list:

@WearablesatWork: Companion social media account for the Web site of the same name, this is a consultant who specializes in thinking about how smartwatches and similar devices could be applied in a range of enterprise contexts. Some good links shared here.

@UX_UI_Guy: CIOs and user experience designers should be getting a lot more friendly with each other, especially as things like the Apple Watch emerge. Some comments here that could be useful to consider as wearable projects get launched.

@TonyRizzo: An industry analyst who marries an interest in wearable technology with analytics and data, which is obviously going to be a huge focus area for CIOs.

@DebraLeeDavis: A marketing professional who works at APXLabs, there’s probably more hear about smart eyewear than smart watches, but it’s not all company-focused.

@AWearableWorld: Consulting firm based in the U.K., with thoughts on choosing the right device for the right business need and more

The Slide Deck

Accenture’s ‘Putting Wearable Displays To Work In The Enterprise’: This is really more of an uploaded report than a standard PowerPoint, and though it was posted last August it’s got some interesting examples of how the consulting firm has created proof-of-concepts for several clients. There’s also an intriguing differentiation between what PwC calls “monocular,” “immersive” and “wrist-worn” wearables that may be helpful in the requirements definition phase of future projects.

The LinkedIn Group

Wearables4Business: Truth be told, there’s not a lot out there on LinkedIn on this subject yet, which is surprising. This group, launched by Compass Intelligence, just got going last month, so there’s plenty of opportunity to become part of a growing community. Or, why not become the CIO that starts his or her own? As Apple Watch and other devices make their way into our businesses — and onto our bodies — IT leaders are going to need all the help they can get.



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