As if IT pros didn’t have enough on their plates these days, now they have to consider the potential use of wearables among the workforce. 81% of the CIOs in a recent study conducted by Robert Half Technology believe that wearables will eventually appear in the workplace, with 20% of those CIOs expecting wearables to be commonly used in the next two years. There’s no doubt that wearables are here to stay as a fixture on the overall technology landscape, but it’s not as clear that they should get broad focus as a workplace tool. Instead, wearables show that the landscape has become complicated, and IT pros need to have a strategy for incorporating new variables while building the best business systems.
In a gadget-crazed world, wearables have taken on the mantle of the Next Big Thing, as consumers and media search for the device that will continue the march into a digital future. The market seems to be backing up this hope—research firm MarketsAndMarkets predicts that the overall wearables market will grow at a 17.8% CAGR between 2015 and 2020, eventually hitting $31 billion in revenue. The poster child for wearables is the smartwatch, which Gartner expects to sell to the tune of 50 million units in 2016. It certainly sounds like a lot of potential, but there are a couple bumps in the road to consider.
The first is the platform effect. Twitter is facing this problem right now as it tries to define itself in the shadow of Facebook. For a variety of reasons, Facebook has amassed enough scale to grow beyond a social network and become a platform. Many millions of people use Facebook as a proxy for their Internet experience, and this has created a new set of rules around engagement and monetization. But those rules can’t be applied to all social networks; the strategy and expectations have to be calibrated properly.
The same is true with devices. Smartphones have extended the idea of a personal computing platform beyond the PC, and the tendency is to think that this platform will continue to expand. It’s easy to forget the scale, though. 50 million units sounds like a lot, but smartphone shipments hit 1.4 billion in 2015. This is what creates a platform, which in turn changes behavior. It doesn’t happen very often.
This leads to the second bump in the road: early momentum is not a guarantee of future success. On the heels of the iPhone, the iPad seemed poised to be the next addition to the personal computing platform. Early results showed shipment numbers that suggested mass adoption was imminent. More recent results, though, show that technology appetites have limits and that mass adoption relies on long-term integration into daily life.
So how should an IT pro approach wearables (or whatever the Next Next Big Thing might be)? First, practice measured exploration. Business units want to move quickly, and for the IT team to effectively drive technology strategy, they must proactively explore new options. At the same time, they should be cautious about jumping to conclusions too quickly and should take care when making investments. Second, gain a deep understanding of workflow. New devices or models often have first order benefits for existing workflow, but much larger benefits when the workflow is modified to match the capabilities. Finally, appreciate the changing environment. The real disruption with wearables is not that they represent a new device in a digital tool kit, but that they are examples of everyday objects becoming digitized. The physical world is coming online, and that brings a host of opportunities along with a range of new problems.
Make no mistake: wearables will be in the workplace to some degree. Already some use cases have suggested how certain businesses might benefit from gathering workforce analytics, and individual employees will investigate their own applications. Rather than focusing on a specific wearable strategy, though, IT pros should build an approach that broadly defines the delivery of enterprise technology using whatever tools are available.