Wearables and IoT: Putting them to work in business

This is part of Bill’s series of posts on the Internet of Things (IoT) topic

Are you wearing a fitness tracker right now? Most likely you are. Gartner estimates over 70 million wearable fitness devices were shipped in 2014.

But if you are like me, you are probably wondering what the future looks like for applications of not only wearable fitness trackers, but other types of wearables in consumer and business markets.

What are wearables anyway?

Wearable devices incorporate advanced electronic capabilities that include sensors, hands-free information retrieval and computing capability normally found in smartphones. Because of those capabilities, wearables are getting increased attention within the community of mobile and IoT developers as a potential tool for future consumer and business applications.

In fact, all signs point toward wearables becoming the next big thing in consumer technology products. As mentioned above, fitness trackers are exploding on the market today. However, there are other categories of wearables, including smartwatches and smart glasses – and emerging categories such as smart rings, wearable healthcare monitors, smart fabrics and heads-up displays. And just like smartphones made their way into the enterprise, so will wearables.

Wearables and the Internet of Things

Source: Gartner
Source: Gartner

I view wearables (as I do all mobile devices) as a subset of the entire IoT universe; just think of them all as “things.” The future human will have numerous wearable devices and smart clothing on their body that all provide different functions that assist in both data collection and information retrieval. As an IoT-enabled device, wearables will communicate with computers, machines, sensors and other mobile/wearable devices. In fact, these wearable devices will be interacting with hundreds, perhaps thousands of other IoT-enabled things that users pass by during any given day in their house, car and work environment.

All these interactions between the wearable device and other “things” provide the opportunity for data collection or information retrieval. I am certain that the growth of all types of wearables will take off as soon as entrepreneurs and software developers build innovative new IoT applications that we have not even thought of yet.

What wearables offer

From a pure device aspect, there are many potential benefits of wearables. Here are eight key features of wearables that make these devices so attractive for IoT applications.

1. They are hands free, allowing the user to multi-task.

2. They can provide real-time reporting of activity.

3. They can provide real-time access to information.

4. They can sense their environment, whether that means the user’s body, the area right around the body or the other “things” the user passes by.

5. They can communicate with other sensors, wearables, smartphones, machines and even whole networks.

6. They can authenticate a user’s exact location.

7. Combined with cognitive analytics, they can anticipate user’s information needs.

8. They have low power requirements.

What will business make of this opportunity?

As you ponder these eight key capabilities of wearables, think of all the new types of data that can be captured, retrieved and analyzed. Certainly this will increase demands on big data and analytics capabilities, but having access to that information will change the way workers do their jobs and how consumers manage their lives.

Regarding consumer applications, IBM recently held the SportsHack where developers submitted mobile app ideas that made use of data from fitness trackers. One of the winning applications, “RunSafe,” maps crime data to current location, allowing runners to see the safest nearby routes to run.

BTT Study – http://www.ibm.com/ibmcai/biztechtrends
BTT Study – http://www.ibm.com/ibmcai/biztechtrends

In a business environment, wearable devices enable many potential new applications, including enhanced worker productivity, improved worker safety, better enterprise security and improved customer experience. Consider wearable applications where 1) data collection, information retrieval or communication is desired, and 2) the use of a hands-free interface would be useful or essential.

Many enterprise workers could benefit from hands-free computing and, for that reason, it is expected that enterprises in verticals like defense, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, distribution, retail and city services will be the first to explore the potential of wearables for their workforces.

As these devices make their way into enterprises, new security and privacy issues will arise causing challenges for IT security professionals.

Get ready

In 2015, I am encouraging IT and business leaders to develop a wearable strategy for their company.

–Take the time to brainstorm all the potential applications for employees, partners and customers. Make sure you consider the broader IoT opportunities and how wearables can enhance that overall vision.

–Regarding internal business processes, it is critical to understand the needs of individual employees, what work activities they are responsible for and the upstream/downstream business processes impacted.

–2015 is also a year for developers to experiment with wearables and IoT-related applications. One way developers are doing that is by utilizing IBM’s Bluemix and IoT Foundation services platform.

–Finally, make sure you have fully considered all security and privacy issues related to your wearable strategy.


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