Wearables won’t wait – But will CIOs bite?

The demonstration of Microsoft’s HoloLens on Wednesday couldn’t have come at a worse time for Google Glass.

Microsoft wowed audiences and journalists alike with the wearable augmented reality display, which it says has applications in everything from gaming to product design.

In the meantime, Google recently stopped selling its Glass device to consumers. The move provoked naysayers to herald the death of the product, although there is a next generation in development, and a strong enterprise focus with its Glass At Work initiative.

What are CIOs to make of all this? Is there a place for wearables in the enterprise?

One of IT World Canada’s predictions for 2015 suggested a massive backlash against wearables, as CIOs try to figure out how, where (and ultimately, if) they’re meant to use them effectively. The takeaway from that is that wearables are at a low point in Gartner’s much-lauded hype cycle. In that cycle, the general pattern sees an industry gripped with euphoria as marketers sell the benefits of the technology, followed by a backlash as people discover the warts-and-all realities of a product (often with a few highly-publicised failures along the way).

Over time, though, Gartner’s curve picks up again, more steadily this time, as organisations come up with realistic ways to deploy the technology in ways that can bring real-world benefits.

Will that happen with wearables? Emily Taylor, senior analyst for consumer and wearables research at IDC Canada, says that 2015 will be a year of exploration for wearables in the enterprise. Whereas mobile devices have often been used for ‘horizontal’ productivity applications, in the wearables space CIOs may find a more targeted approach profitable.

“Over time most organizations, including B2C, B2B and public sector will interact somehow with wearable devices,” she says. “Initial uptake will be in verticals where the value is quickly and easily seen, and we expect hands-free use cases – in field services, customer experience, and healthcare to lead the way.”

Some people are already envisioning those applications. Check out this video about the use of Google Glass in logistics, for example:

Google Glass also has strong potential in the healthcare field. Of the ten Glass Certified Partners in Google’s Glass at Work programme, at least four are mulling the device’s potential for healthcare.

There are also potential benefits for simple fitness wearables, which are cheaper and more mature than the snazzy headsets. Appirio, which consults on cloud computing, was lauded for saving $300,000 with its corporate health insurance provider due to its collection of fitness data from FitBit devices worn by employees.

Well, that’s not entirely true, says Shannon Daly, VP of HR operations for Appirio. Its healthcare provider, Anthem Blue Cross, did reduce the firm’s renewables, but that was in part due to its entire wellness program for employees, of which its CloudFit wearables program was a part.

The firm began with a leaderboard, on which employees could track their relative fitness data to see who walked the most steps. “We’re trying to move over to this product that gives us more opportunities to share that information back to the people in it, and do more challenges, to turn it into a gamification type of product,” she said.

Appirio is working with Spire Wellness, a company that is helping it to develop challenges with rewards such as free personal training.

“As they move more towards heart rate and BMI [body mass index] collection, that will be the benefit that lets us work with providers,” Daly said, adding that healthcare providers want to see long-term changes in those metrics to really factor wearables data into their premiums.

Nevertheless, the company’s provider has rewarded Appirio for what it has been doing with the CloudFit program, she added. In fact, the firm funded it.

“The carrier was excited for us, and they doubled our benefit from $20,000 to $40,000, and they gave us that for CloudFit,” she said. This is a longer-term view from the provider because it sees the potential in what Appirio is trying to do, and it’s this money that funds the program.

So there are some examples of near-term wins, however small and indirect. Expect more, said Krista Napier, manager of mobility for IDC Canada.

“Wearables will not wait for employers,” she said, adding that they are starting to enter the workplace now on employees’ wrists, and will only continue to do so in bigger numbers moving forward.

“Some employers will be tempted to experiment with these devices to get ahead of their competitors early on…even if they have not fully integrated other mobile devices into their organizations yet,” she concluded.`

Canadian firms, often cautious about technology to begin with, will want to see the benefits of wearables before investing heavily in them. The hope for vendors is that those real-world case studies will start to appear and drive demand. Before that happens, we’ll have to see some of that sexy tech become readily available, though.

Heart rate-capable fitness wearables are only now starting to make their way onto the market in real numbers, and on the headset side, we’re still waiting for the impressive online videos to transform into something that enterprises can buy of the shelf.

Price and availability will be key. Microsoft’s HoloLens isn’t scheduled to ship until sometime later this year – and it isn’t yet clear if that will be the final product or a developer prototype.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradburyhttp://www.wordherder.net
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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