Creating Meaningful Moments with Wearable Solutions in the Enterprise
The promise of wearable computing and communications devices for enterprise and government applications is immense when considering the benefits, in terms of hands-free operations, or providing real-time situational intelligence at the point of interaction.
Research conducted by VDC has validated many of these benefits. For example, organisations deploying wearable solutions for voice-directed picking applications in warehouses are recording at least a 10% improvement in worker productivity, and a 10% improvement in picking accuracy. However, the overall market has remained entrenched in niche applications supported by specialised – and often expensive – solutions.
Issues as far-ranging as lack of broader application appeal, technology adoption cost, ergonomic design, worker safety and societal acceptance, have hindered true scale. This is not expected to change materially in the near-term, as wearable solution adoption in the enterprise will remain highly specialised or niche-focused.
While today’s wearable market for enterprise applications continues to be defined more by its promise, much has changed. Chief among these changes has been the increased R&D investments by major consumer technology brands in wearable products and services – mostly in the area of fitness bands and smartwatches.
As expected, MWC 2015 included a bevy of smartwatches and other connected wearable devices. Although products designed for consumers are often not suitable for enterprise or government applications, many of the advances being made in consumer wearable technologies and services can be leveraged for commercial or enterprise applications, and portend a potential boom to wearable enterprise solutions. In fact, in many ways, we expect enterprise adoption of wearable devices to exceed that of consumer use cases.
Although older iterations of wearable devices have existed for decades, they have been extremely industry and task-specific; current incarnations of the form factor are still nascent in terms of fully incorporating technology in enterprise applications.
Many of the limiting factors to date include a relative lack of ergonomic design, as well as limitations in enterprise applications that are wearable-specific. Given the compact and hands-free nature of wearables, there is a much greater emphasis on speech and speed of interaction, meaning that applications for other form factors cannot simply be migrated to a wrist-mounted computer or head-mounted display.
The head-mounted form factor represents another interesting opportunity for wearable devices in the enterprise. While Google's Glass is largely being written off as a commercial failure, its impact in evolving and advancing this form factor will be significant, and has spawned R&D investments from other solution providers. For example KNAPP's KiSoft Vision, the Vuzix M100 and XOEye's current prototypes integrate camera, display, and conference functionality with the eventual goal of adding augmented reality capabilities.
There have been several prominent and well designed demos, designed to show the potential of smart glasses and AR overlays in areas such as warehousing and logistics, supporting a variety of applications including warehouse picking, load management and last-mile support. However, in part to avoid potential privacy issues with customer-facing applications, much of the initial trails have focused on workflows in the warehouse.
One thing we have noticed with many of these early trials is that they are not fundamentally changing established workflows, nor are they significantly improving outcomes when compared to existing technologies. While the smart glass and AR overlap technology has been easy to use and employees have taken to it fairly quickly, key challenges surrounding scanning functionality and snappiness (i.e. using a scanner integrated with the glasses), severe battery life limitations (less than two hours), unstable connectivity and the high price point of some of the options represented real issues. This has exposed the relative immaturity of some of these technologies. In this context it is not surprising when the top two wearable technology adoption concerns among enterprise decision makers include ‘Lack of clear ROI’ and ‘Budget’.
While VDC sees significant value for wearable devices in the enterprise, it is likely not at the wild scale of many early forecasts. From the use of smart watches in manufacturing to support alerts and worker safety communications in shop floor environments, to the use of wearable cameras in public safety for digital evidence management, to voice picking solutions in warehousing, the use cases are beginning to multiply.
Although the technology in many cases is still immature, it will be important for enterprises to look at how wearable solutions can address a very specific industry pain point, can empower employees, and ultimately, can leverage features that have the ability to ‘create meaningful moments.’
This article was written by David Krebs, Executive Vice President, VDC Research.