Wearables and the enterprise: Where will 2016 take us?

James has a passion for how technologies influence business and has several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.


It is a discussion which has raged throughout 2015 and will continue to do so in 2016: what part will wearable devices have to play in the enterprise?

Plenty has been written on both sides of the argument. At the most recent Mobile World Congress, Good Technology announced support for wearable devices. EMEA general manager Phil Barnett told this reporter at the time that even though he was “a little bit sceptical”, the customers expressing interest, particularly with big deployments, forced his hand. On the other hand, mobile app management (MAM) provider App47 wrote on these pages following the event in March: “After seeing the slow adoption rate of mobile apps and BYOD – nearly the pace of a snail – why does everyone suddenly think that wearables in the enterprise are going to take off at the speed of light?”

So, as we move into 2016, who is right? Analyst firm CCS Insight has released its predictions across each segment of technology it covers; one area of which being, of course, enterprise mobility. Of the company’s predictions, two focus on wearables, with both the short and long term considered. While CCS argues wearables will “spark a wave of security paranoia in enterprises during 2016”, the analyst firm also believes Google’s Glass at Work product will be the most widely deployed head worn wearable in enterprise by the end of 2017.

Nick McQuire, VP enterprise and the analyst who laid down the predictions, argues wearables are ready to go now, but only in very specific use cases. “A lot of it is based around augmented reality, so if you’re doing augmented reality, [it’s] likely going to be used with eyewear technologies,” he tells Enterprise AppsTech. “We think that when we look at wearables in the enterprise, this is where we’re starting to see it happen.”

A good example of this is logistics provider DHL, who in January successfully tested, and is now rolling out, a project involving smart glasses known as ‘vision picking’. In theory, warehouse operators using AR technology would improve efficiency by saving time – not having to fiddle around with a paper pick list – and reducing errors. In practice, the pilot “proved that augmented reality offers added value to logistics”, in the words of DHL, and resulted in 25% greater efficiency.

This seems a far more plausible use case for now, McQuire argues. “It’s not yet happening universally across the wrist space,” he explains. “[There are] some use cases there, but the most successful ones, where there are KPIs coming out to the business, is in some of these areas around remote maintenance and repair, and in the manufacturing space.”

As new endpoints appear, technology professionals naturally become concerned about trying to protect it. IDC analyst Duncan Brown recently told PCR: “There is no IoT device category out there that has not been hacked.” App47 argued back in March that with never-ending security concerns around BYOD, “the thought that a new, unknown technology like wearables will enter the enterprise, see quick adoption, and suddenly have tons of features behind it seems a little silly.”

CCS argues that concerns will increase with the latest wave of wearable devices, which can support standalone capabilities through native apps, Wi-Fi, and in some cases cellular connectivity. McQuire notes there is still plenty to be done before things become widespread. He explains: “The technology needs improvement, the battery life needs improvement, the ruggedization of the hardware needs to improve, but it’s working so well for [DHL] that we’re starting to see this take root.”

For the time being, despite the promises of Microsoft HoloLens, and some interesting stories coming out of companies using it, McQuire argues Google Glass is the horse to bet on. “The thought from our side was that Glass is just a little bit more mature in terms of its application ecosystem,” he says, adding HoloLens will “still be successful”, but in more high end use cases as a result of its price points on the hardware.


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