The idea of integrating wearable technology into enterprise IT infrastructure is one which, while being mooted for several years now, has yet to take-off in earnest. The reasons behind previous false dawns vary. However, what is evident is that – regardless of whether wearables to date have lacked the mobility or security capabilities to fully support the ways in which we now work – organisations remain keen and willing to unlock the potential such devices have. According to ABI Research, global wearable device shipments will reach 154 million by 2021 – a significant jump from approximately 34 million in 2016.
Ripening conditions for wearable growth
This projected increase demonstrates a confidence amongst CIOs which perhaps betrays the lack of success in the market to date, but at the same time reflects a ripening of conditions which could make 2018 the year in which wearables finally take off in the enterprise. A maturing IoT market, advances in the development of Augmented Reality (AR), and the impending arrival of 5G – which is estimated to have a subscription base of half a billion by 2022 – are contributing factors which will drive the capabilities of wearable devices.
Perhaps the most significant catalyst behind wearables is the rise of Edge Computing. As the IoT market continues to thrive, so too must IT managers be able to securely and efficiently address the vast amounts of data generated by it. Edge Computing helps organisations to resolve this challenge, while at the same time enabling new methods of gathering, analysing and redistributing data and derived intelligence. Processing data at the edge reduces strain on the cloud so users can be more selective of the data they send to the network core. Such an approach also makes it easier for cyber-attacks to be identified at an early stage and restricted to a device at the edge. Data can then be scanned and encrypted before it is sent to the core.
As more and more wearable devices and applications are developed with business efficiency and enablement in mind, Edge Computing’s role will become increasingly valuable – helping organisations to achieve $2 trillion in extra benefits over the next five years, according to Equinix and IDC research.
Where will wearables have an impact?
At the same time as these technological developments are aiding the rise of wearables, so too are CIOs across various sectors recognising how they can best use these devices to enhance mobile productivity within their organisation – another factor which is helping to solidify the market. In particular it is industries with a heavy reliance on frontline and field workers – such as logistics, manufacturing, warehousing and healthcare – which are adopting solutions like AR smart glasses. The use case for each is specific to the sector, or even the organisation itself, but this flexibility is often what makes such devices so appealing. While wearables for the more traditional office worker may offer a different but no more efficient way for workers to conduct every day tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls, for frontline and field workers they are being tailored to meet their unique demands and enhance their ability to perform specific tasks.
Take for example boiler engineers conducting an annual service, who could potentially use AR smart glasses to overlay the schematics of the boiler to enable a hands-free view of service procedures – meaning that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert. Elsewhere, in the healthcare sector smart eyewear may support clinicians with hands-free identification of patient records, medical procedures and information on medicines and results.
Such examples demonstrate the immediate and diverse potential of wearables across different verticals. With enterprise IT infrastructure now in the position to embrace such technologies, it is this ability to deliver bespoke functionality to mobile workers which will be the catalyst for continued uptake throughout 2018 and beyond.
By Ronald Ravel, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa