The pros and cons of wearable technology for businesses

Should your business be looking to adopt wearables in the workplace? There are certainly some industry sectors which lend themselves to wearables, and opportunities that using such devices present.

We spoke to Saverio Romeo, Principal Analyst at Beecham Research and expert in wearables, M2M and the Internet of Things, and asked him about the potential advantages of wearables for small businesses. We also discussed the potential pitfalls, as well as the future for devices like Google Glass.

TechRadar Pro: In your view what is the business case for using wearable technologies at the moment?

Saverio Romeo: The use of wearable technologies in business environments is strongly context-focused. At Beecham Research, we have identified three macro sectors in which wearable technologies are used or can be used. Those are: security, medical, and business operations. Security is here intended in a wide sense from public security and surveillance to lone workers or workers in mission critical environments.

The latter see some interesting deployments in mining, offshore oil and nuclear power stations. Here, we are talking about glasses mainly. Workers need to be hands free. Some ideas are emerging in construction and manufacturing. The automotive sector is experimenting with the use of smart glasses in their production chain.

Business operations looks at office contexts, logistics but also customer engagements or applications in the tourism industry. Here, there are several ideas (for example, devices for measuring stress of brokers in the financial sector), but deployments are still small. Medical refers to applications in hospital environments. Here, we mainly find tests or small deployments. This classification and analysis is under review.

We are currently running a specific study on the use of wearable devices in enterprise. The research is revealing new segments of adoption. For example, professional sports are strongly attracted by wearable devices.

TRP: Are there any opportunities with wearable technologies that small businesses can take advantage of?

SR: I think it depends on the context in which the SME or SOHO operates. SMEs involved in technical and scientific consultancy and support activities in the sectors mentioned above can embrace wearable devices. But, so far, I have seen a very small number. Today, investing in wearable technologies is a cutting-edge step for SMEs. And, it can be done by strongly digital-aware businesses.

TRP: What are the pitfalls of developing wearable technologies within a small business setting?

SR: If we refer to SMEs – mainly startups – involved in developing wearable technologies, I would say that my main worry is the strong engineering approach that drives those companies and the excessive technology excitement that shapes them. I have seen many startups proposing great ideas, using existing technologies in fascinating ways, but forgetting everything else: sales strategy, retail strategy, consumer acceptance, design, security, ethical concerns and so on.

The main pitfall lies around the development culture of these companies. Technology is key, but not the only one to open the doors of the market. Wearable technology is a multidisciplinary story. This nature needs to be embedded in those companies.

TRP: Is it too early in the development of wearable technologies for a critical mass of consumers that small businesses could sell to?

SR: "Critical mass" is a big term for the wearable device market, today. We can talk about a "critical attention" on the segment and a "critical potential". We need to see wearable devices in different ways as I said in my answer to the previous question. We need to understand what factors will create the "critical mass" and these factors are very diverse.

TRP: What advice would you give to a small business owner who was looking closely at what wearable technologies could offer them?

SR: I would say less hackathons and more mentoring on different areas. Not only engineers and computer scientists in your team, but a mix of engineers, computer scientists, designers, fashion designers, artists, security experts, sector-specific experts, marketing people, ethicists, sociologists. Put different backgrounds and knowledge together. I know it is not easy, but multidisciplinary is the adjective to use here.

If the SMEs you are referring to are users of wearable technologies, I would say that there are interesting products in the wearable segment that can improve business operations. Do not think that wearable devices are just for consumers and they'll go away. Enterprises are very important for the entire wearable community.

But, I would say do not explore them just for the sake of it. Do not take a wearable device and give it to an intern to explore what to do. If you believe that you can benefit from this, design a plan – a sort of go-to-market R&D plan – that explores real outputs the device can give you.

TRP: How do you see wearable technologies developing over the next few years? Will more small business opportunities emerge?

SR: If the multidisciplinary approach to wearables emerges strongly, the market can come out from this sort of 'dreaming limbo' full of promises. This is particularly true for the consumer segments, however, indirectly impacting the business segment too. In the business segment, the signs are very positive in terms of interest, adoption, and impact on business operations.

Additionally, the evolution of the Internet of Things will also drive the wearable device segment. Wearable devices are part of the Internet of Things. They enhance our ways of interacting with connected spaces and objects.