Wearables: Where's the business case?

Wearable devices have real business uses -- from allowing patients to leave hospital sooner to blurring lines between staff and customers -- but not every organisation will be taking advantage of them right away.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
Wearable devices mean patients will be able to move around and leave hospitals and surgeries sooner.
Image: lev dolgachov
Mobile technology is now fully embedded in the business. So much so that, in many cases, the smartphone or tablet has become the de facto computing device for professionals completing tasks on the go, with the move to wearable devices the next obvious step.

IDC estimates that enterprises spent $901bn worldwide on mobile technologies during 2014. More opportunities to connect and collaborate mean the researcher expects mobile tech spending to reach $1.2 trillion by 2019.

ZDNet asks five industry experts where they believe some of this investment is likely to be directed. With related developments in wearable technology and the Internet of Things, where should CIOs focus their attention in order to provide the most benefits to internal users and external customers?

1. Think about how a combination of tools can create benefits

Richard Corbridge, CIO for the Health Service Executive in Ireland, says big trends, like BYOD and gamification, have had a mixed impact so far, depending on the appetite of both organisations and executives to embrace transformation. However, more change is coming, particularly in an area like healthcare.

"Using mobile devices to monitor health and well-being is an explosion waiting to happen," says Corbridge. "Add in the potential of gamification to devices and the fitness regime as a competition will really start to alter the way health, and preventative health in particular, is handled."

The strength of mobile-enabled change is such that Corbridge believes that a combination of technology trends can come together and create a revolution. He says BYOD means willing patients, with their own device, can capture fitness data, monitor long-term conditions and provide real-time updates.

Wearable devices provide another adjunct, meaning patients will be able to move around and leave the traditional confines of healthcare, such as the surgery or hospital. "Wearables will get the patient out of the care setting sooner, safer and more efficiently," says Corbridge.

2. Consider how mobility sponsors a change in the nature of work

Alastair Behenna, an experienced IT leader and consultant at the CIO Partnership, believes developments in mobility represent a fascinating area. Senior executives, he says, must think about how IT service development will evolve in response to wider changes in technology and experience.

"The traditional worker profile is morphing and melding to meet the needs of the digital lifestyle," says Behenna. "The boundaries between customers, suppliers, partners, staff, contractors, channels and even competitors have begun to diminish and disappear, creating a whole new user community for enterprise technology systems."

He says the individuals in these communities have many different personas. They might be customers pushing the boundaries of a firm's engagement philosophy, contractors helicoptered in to respond to talent shortfalls or the new generation of permanently employed digital natives who enjoy and expect a highly interconnected life and work style.

"They are endowed with the same tools and routes to market that established businesses once dominated by dint of sheer scale and cost," says Behenna. "The expectations of the new type of worker have the potential to bring enormous pressure to already stretched IT departments."

3. Use strong frameworks to develop a great business case

David Reed, head of IT and data operations at the Press Association, recognises mobility is vital for almost all businesses these days. However, he says portable technology plays a particularly crucial role at the PA and he expects that significance to increase in the future.

"Smart devices have helped us become more digitally focused and helped us retain our competitive edge in an increasingly crowded space," says Reed. "Time is of the essence in modern journalism, and mobile devices allow our journalists to write and file copy from wherever they are, as quickly as possible."

The Press Association has worked with EE to develop a corporate owned, personally enabled (COPE) strategy, which includes a range of devices and mobile data management technology. Reed says journalists now have the ability to file copy, upload photos and even shoot high-definition video from the field.

"That, I think, is the key to making the most of mobility: getting buy-in from the team," he says, suggesting that firms looking to make the most of mobile-enabled change must have strong frameworks in place. "By implementing a COPE strategy, we were able to give our staff devices they wanted to use, but were also able to retain control over the security of our mobile fleet."

4. Have a bit of an experiment and see what works

Christina Scott, chief product and innovation officer at the Financial Times, says efforts to deal with mobility must come in many flavours. These strategies should include attempts to support employee flexibility through the use of mobile devices and cloud-based applications.

When it comes to customers, Scott says a significant proportion of the FT's readers now visit its publications through mobile platforms. She says the firm is also thinking beyond mobile devices and has started investigating related areas, such as wearable computing and the Internet of Things.

"We did an experiment with Samsung and the speed reading technology Spritz last year, where we allowed readers to consume articles very quickly. We've had a bit of a play. But, other than experiments, you're looking at a pretty nascent area of development," she says.

"We've looked at our wearables strategy in more detail and personally think that the mainstream tipping point for that area of technology will be closer to 2017. There's a lot of space for new innovations, such as around audio and developments for people who are commuting in cars."

5. Create a basic foundation for mobile-enabled change

While there is a great deal of excitement about the Internet of Things and wearable technology, former Working Links CIO Omid Shiraji says IT leaders must ensure that they have created a basic foundation across applications and services associated to more mundane mobile devices.

"The next stage of mobility should be all about exploiting the technology that is already available," he says. "Wearable devices and the Internet of Things are at the bleeding edge for most businesses. Many organisations are still not mature enough to enable their people to work in a flexible, agile manner."

Shiraji says CIOs should get their heads down and focus on finding ways to use smartphones and tablets to boost productivity. "Your employees spends most of their time travelling to the office, working or resting at home. CIOs need to deliver services that help provide the right benefits to people, regardless of environment," he says.

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