Wearables at Work: The Challenges & the Opportunities

May 13, 2015
Min read

With research estimating that at least 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into employee wellness schemes by 2018, the various opportunities for wearables within the enterprise are quickly becoming a reality. The broader industry outlook is also very positive, with an estimated CAGR of 25.38% between now and 2019.

This presents a significant opportunity, but the opportunity it presents for enterprise and employees alike is not without its challenges. Atop the list of challenges is privacy and the various implications that surround it. What becomes very clear from the outset is that a careful balancing act must be played.

Do we really want our employer tracking our every move? To me, it feels a little too ‘micro-managy,’ regardless of how it may optimise facets of the business or my work.

But what about the opportunity?

Do we really want our employer tracking our every move?

For the enterprise, the ability to significantly reduce healthcare premiums by providing a health insurer with access to employee health data, guaranteeing that a percentage of the employee population is remaining highly active, certainly forms part of one incentive. Optimising efficiency, as Tesco in the UK has explored may also offer a valuable incentive to leverage wearables across an organisation or departmental vertical.

Reducing the risk associated with manual labour by monitoring and managing fatigue is another opportunity. Caterpillar has been doing some great work in the mining industry in this context.

And for the individual employee, gaining insight into your working habits, cycles and productivity may enable you to get more value from your job. It might even enable you to perform well enough to get the next promotion, or help quantify why moving to the next opportunity is the right thing for you.

According to Rackspace and their study, The Human Cloud at Work, employees wearing wearables at work became 8.5% more productive and 3.5% more satisfied with their jobs.

All of that sounds pretty good but is it worth the tradeoff? Or, framing the question another way, is the tradeoff even necessary to take advantage of the opportunity?

Perhaps corporations, vendors and employees can gain value from wearables and connected devices without having to unnecessarily compromise in a particular direction.

I recently wrote about Platform Ecosystems, and the opportunity that startups have to explore and exploit this frontier to create new and unique value at global scale. Platform ecosystems are the core drivers of many of the worlds most successful companies. Think Apple or Amazon.

For context, it’s worth reading Professor Amrit Tiwana’s book, Platform Ecosystems: Aligning Architecture, Governance, and Strategy.

Amrit defines the elements of a platform ecosystem to include:

  • Shared infrastructure;
  • A platform;
  • Interfaces, and
  • Apps that are used by end-users.

He also introduces the notion that there are competing ecosystems, and argues that:

  1. Platform ecosystems are replacing traditional models in and beyond the software industry, driven largely by the digitisation of products, services, and business processes. They can expand the pie for everyone but require a fundamental shift in strategic mindset.
  2. Survival and prosperity of platform ecosystems require a platform owner to deliberately orchestrate their evolution.
  3. Orchestrating their evolution requires that their architecture and governance interlock and subsequently coevolve, which is biologically inspired business design.

Amrit goes on to say; “The potential power of platform ecosystems comes from leveraging the unique expertise of many, diverse independent app developers driven by market incentives on a scale that is impossible to replicate within a single organisation. The platform model essentially outsources to thousands of outside partners innovation that used to be done in-house, who bear all the cost and risk of innovating and then share the proceeds with the platform owner”

I would quickly add a fifth characterisation to the elements of a platform ecosystem; wearables or connected devices.

I would quickly add a fifth characterisation to the elements of a platform ecosystem; wearables or connected devices.

The reason I highlight this is because I believe corporations, whether directly or through a partner, can deliver the underlying platform capability that drives the creation of an ecosystem within their organisation, providing the opportunity for various applications, wearable and IoT connected devices to be leveraged to help meet individual employee and overarching corporate objectives.

By deploying this strategy, privacy can be governed accordingly, and true shared-value can be achieved.

So going back to my question of whether or not the trade off is necessary? I don't believe it is.

By establishing the right framework, one built on trust and the intention of creating shared-value that aligns with mutual objectives, enterprises can fully leverage the world of connected devices to empower their employees, build strategic and operational capabilities, drive ancillary revenues and decrease costs.


Image credit: Denis Kortunov - licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. Based on a work at https://flic.kr/p/bJBCVr.

Nathan Kinch
View all
Get in touch