Wearable tech has been marketed to consumers en masse, offering useful functions like tracking biometrics and more novelty uses such as pausing Netflix. But what about the business to business (B2B) side of wearables? While it is unclear how the Apple Watch is doing (because Apple refuses to release sales figures), one of its main competitors, Google Glass, has been seen as a clever gimmick that was far ahead of its time. That raises some questions for wearables: can they compete in an enterprise market like they have in a consumer market?
IBM Israel is seeking to develop wearables for enterprise use, particularly with regards to keeping workplaces accident-free. Aside from its practicality, using wearable tech in the workplace could help save lives and money. “There are many instances in which an employee cannot use their smartphone or sensors because they need the use of both hands,” said Asif Adi, senior manager of Internet of Things and wearables at IBM Haifa Research Lab. “A lot of physical and financial damage is caused by these accidents. In the U.S., the total cost is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of casualties and tens of thousands of workplace accidents each year.”
IBM Haifa is currently conducting a pilot program at a steelworks plant utilizing wearables for safety measures. These wearables could be essential in agriculture, construction and mining as these industries pose a high-risk for workplace accidents and have a tendency to keep workers in remote environments. Another concern is worker privacy, and Adi promised that it would be preserved. “The idea is not to track an individual, but to provide the employer data only when there is a danger. At the steelworks, for example, the issue of heat exposure is paramount, and the worker is not always aware. Regardless, the information on employees’ location is not uploaded to the cloud or preserved in a manner that compromises their privacy.”
While wearables are here to stay in the consumer market, the enterprise market could benefit greatly from it. WIRED has reported that wearables could be a new way for businesses to interact with consumers, other businesses and internally as well. “From a business stand point, it leads to greater efficiency,” said Valentine Matula, senior director and head of emerging products and technology at Avaya. However, Matula cautioned businesses that wearables need solid software backing them up. “Like any technology, it has to work nearly effortlessly in order to be truly useful. Lack of a solid, supporting infrastructure will severely limit the benefits of wearables.”
Matula also advised businesses to invest in them the same way that they invested in other collaboration technologies such as e-mail, voice conferencing and video conferencing. “Wearables are no different than other collaboration technologies that have come before. These technologies required solid investment in order to make them viable business tools. A flexible, secure infrastructure provides the freedom to create new business and applications that manifest through the user’s wearable device.” Wearables may look like a gadget that consumers will buy, but businesses should also look for ways on how they can work wearables into the workplace.