Start-ups around the globe and virtually every major tech company have developed smart wearables of some sort — watches, fitness bands, smart clothing, eyewear and much more. While these gadgets and gizmos are still relatively young and consumer focused, the industry is growing to include some potentially compelling business use cases.
The number of wearables sold globally — whether for business or consumer use — is expected to grow from 96 million devices in 2017 to 185 million by 2021, according to industry analyst CCS Insight. The firm predicts increased revenue growth as well, from $10.8 billion in 2017 to $16.9 billion in 2021.
In the business community, wearables are often looked upon as novel gadgets, but that viewpoint is changing. More and more organizations are seeing that wearables — similar to their tablet and smartphone brethren — have serious business implications.
Generally, business use of these devices involves delivery of important information obtained from the wearer to a mobile device, remote audience, workflow or database. Wearers don't have to reach for a smartphone or tablet. The information is gathered and transmitted automatically and in real time, which dramatically improves efficiency and worker productivity and speed.
As a new platform, wearable devices could potentially change the way we work and how we live our lives. Not all organizations will be able to take advantage of this technology — at least not right away. But the ways in which small businesses and enterprises can use smart wearables is expanding rapidly.
The health uses for wearables go well beyond the fitness trackers and step counters that are commonplace today. Health care organizations are looking to smart clothing or "connected garments" to speed up productivity and efficiency.
Many experts believe that wearable devices — including health tracking watches and other devices — will allow patients to be discharged to the comfort of their own homes faster and more safely than they are today.
For instance, in hospitals, the Neopenda smart baby hat allows doctors and nurses to check vital signs such as temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood oxygen saturation for up to 24 infants simultaneously with just a glance at a custom software-enabled tablet.
At home, the Owlet Smart Sock monitors babies' pulse and oximetry levels in real time and pairs with a Bluetooth enabled iPhone or Android app, offering peace of mind for parents and a record that can be shared with pediatricians wirelessly or in person.
The ability to track and monitor key health metrics in real time is a game changer for many industries. For instance, GPS sport watchmaker Polar is working on a smart compression shirt that allows elite athletes and their coaches to monitor physical condition, motion and heart rate metrics in real time.
Eventually, Polar's device — or others like it — could be used to monitor the physical health of employees in real time. Wearables for those who work in hazardous professions or environments, such as climbing towers and working around chemicals or other toxins could be life savers. Smart garments also have a future in public safety and military applications, for precisely the same reasons.
As with tablets and smartphones, companies are looking at wearable technology to further streamline business operations and worker productivity.
Dallas-based startup Theatro has developed a small, 1.5-ounce, Wi-Fi based enterprise wearable for the retail industry allows employees to discreetly call for backup, check inventory, locate a manager or simply communicate with another team member. Theatro promises that the device will revolutionize in-store communication and hourly worker productivity.
Like any other wireless device, wearable tech carries security implications. Many wearables store data on local devices without encryption. For many hackers, the potential reward isn't worth the effort — at least not yet.
That said, the cloud systems of wearable manufacturers — especially major tech companies — are big targets for hackers. Syncing with a third party app ups the ante by providing an additional target. Still, there is little evidence of any big breaches. Eventually, however, the data gathered and transmitted by wearables might be valuable enough to catch hackers' attention.
A good first step for security networks is to gain visibility around how many connected wearable devices are used in your company, whether onsite or remotely. Given the millions of wearables that will be in use in the workplace in just a few years, company IT teams need to start planning now to make sure this new mobile platform is safe and secure.
Lastly, it's important that business users continue to press manufacturers — from small startups to global behemoths — to treat security of wearable devices more seriously. Built-in security features can mitigate potential risks now and into the future.