Wearable computing looks like the next big trend in technology. Or at least one of the dozens that are being crowned right now. While the current market cap for wearable computing is less than $ 10 billion, most industry experts agree that it will skyrocket over the next 5 years.
The market potential for wearable computing stems from its diversity. From watches and fitness trackers to sensor-filled clothes and Google Glass. The applications around wearable computing are wide-ranging, and because there is no clear market leader (a la the iPod for MP3 players and the early days of the iPhone), the variety of products being developed are given the opportunity to pursue different, diverging paths.
Consumers first, then enterprises
However, most of the discussion around wearable computing has been focused on the consumer market and rightfully so. Consumers adopt technology at faster rates and are typically more vocal as ambassadors. In stark contrast, enterprises as a whole work at a much slower pace.
In IT, regardless of whether it’s hardware or software, enterprises inherently need to ensure that any new adoption is going to provide tangible and stable returns on the investments. And given that any wide-scale corporate adoption is destined to take some time, pundits can only guess as to how the wearable market will play out in the enterprise. But for the time being, let’s evaluate some of the most probable potential enterprise uses of wearable computing that the future holds.
A nicer kind of human trafficking
The largest companies in the world tend to also have the largest workforces in the world. And of the companies with the largest workforces, the majority of them are in the services, retail, logistics, and manufacturing industries. These are all places where there are a high number of workers in densely crowded spaces – on the floor of a product assembly line, stocking inventory on the retail floor and sitting amongst a sea of cubicles.
Much in the same way that IBM talks about how they create a ‘smarter planet’ by working with cities, the future of enterprise will probably involve smart clothing or beacons that understand the population density in a given area to ease logistics issues.
How could this play out in practice? One scenario could involve large corporate campuses tracking the locations of thousands of workers to dynamically route intercampus bus schedules for workers trying to get to a different area. Or another could easily monitor assembly line workers who use smart clothing to suggest the optimal route out of a plant based on traffic densities during an assembly line emergency or safety issue.
Introducing the Nike Fuelband for mega-corporations
The world’s largest companies also have the world’s largest health insurance bills. After all, one of the biggest costs for any company is human capital. Expect to see millions of dollars invested into the development of Nike Fuelband-like devices over time.
While they certainly won’t be as posh the shoe company’s accessory – enterprise-ready devices could potentially ‘life-track’ in a variety of ways. After all, there are quite literally trillions of dollars at stake in covering insurance claims for employees.
To better calculate bulk plans, long-term monitoring of heart rates and superficial vitals’ stats could quantify employee quality of life and quality of health for insurance companies and employers to use when negotiating rates. Or, motion trackers could advise short breaks or respites for workers spending time in sedentary or potentially harmful environments.
Identity capture, recognition and management
As global business operations become almost entirely virtual, we’ll see aspects of wearable computing invade typically physical environments, aiding workforces in distinctly analog situations. With the proliferation smart glasses expect the fantasies of heads up displays made famous by video games to become potential realities.
International meetings, corporate retreats, business conferences are in today’s world events in which large groups of essentially strangers interact and communicate. Solutions like non-intrusive heads up displays will eventually use facial recognition software to match against the readily available trove of personal information found on networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and the disparate web.
While components will have to be miniaturized before any sort of mass adoption is possible – the practical business use cases are unlimited – spotting and engaging with business leads, pulling up shared performance reports of employees, or even using heads up displays as the fancier version of a WebEx.
Sure – the discussion around wearable computing right now is interesting from a consumer perspective, but there’s a lot to be said for its potential in the corporate realm. And while the end hardware won’t be nearly as sexy as what’s currently being pitched to consumers, you can bet that just like the mobile app design space, there will be a host of hardware and software developers eventually looking to jump into this market and cater to the corporation you work for.
Himanshu Sareen is CEO of Icreon Tech, a global IT consultancy.
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