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wearable smart health technology

Wearables in the workplace

February 11, 2014

Last month's Consumer Electronic Show (CES) showcased wearable technology as one of the next big things for the tech world. From smartglasses to RFID tags, information technology companies are creating innovative new ways to make technology more portable and better integrated with daily life. Although the technology is still maturing, CIO magazine noted, and primarily aimed at consumers thus far, experts anticipate that it will soon be ushered into the workplace. Consequently, technical support professionals should keep an eye on the ways wearables could impact the enterprise—and their IT careers.

Wearables everywhere
Smartwatches and smartglasses are common examples that come to mind when people think of wearable tech. But there are a wide variety of wearables that are making crossroads in multiple sectors. Across industries, consumers and companies are finding ways to use wearable devices to better track performance, provide instant access to information and better integrate technology into natural workflows.

The retail industry has some of the greatest opportunities to benefit from wearable technology in the immediate future. Merchants already turn to IT support for business intelligence and data management, and these gadgets offer great potential for further improving their store operations.

"CIOs of retail organizations need to pay attention," said Forrester's J.P. Gownder, according to CIO magazine. "Retail will be huge, and it has the potential to intersect with the entire wearables ecosystem."

Shoppers could wear wristbands that provide a continuous authenticated state, eliminating the need to enter account information or sign transaction documents, InformationWeek explained, and employees could wear smartglasses to see location information while lifting inventory. Smartglasses could also enable store associates to access details about products or stock, CIO magazine said, empowering them to provide top-notch customer service.

Wearable gadgets can transmit health and performance data, such as heart rate and fitness routines. This information can even be synced with medical care software, allowing doctors to see their patients' stats without requiring frequent clinic visits, InformationWeek explained. Services like Fitlinxx can also be integrated with insurance programs, the source added, to facilitate wellness incentives for better rates.

According to GigaOM, hospitals could use wearable technology to better track where their clinicians are, helping floor managers allocate resources more efficiently. RFID tags could also be integrated with electronic health record software to automatically sign clinicians in and out of patient care. This is particularly important during trauma and operation procedures, which are often fast-paced and require clinician involvement to be recorded down to the second.

Although wearables are still fairly new, experts are already envisioning ways to make use of them in the workplace. Some of this serves as an extension of bring-your-own-device options and mobile resources. For example, the InPulse Smart Notification Watch allows employees to view information on the go, GigaOM explained, which could be useful for travelers or for employees who need to be paged to respond to emergencies. Like smartwatches, smartglasses provide opportunities for workers to access information more quickly without tying them to a computer desk.

InformationWeek pointed to the usefulness of smart tags for human resource management. Managers could use these identification devices to observe employee collaboration patterns, the source said. GigaOM mentioned another purpose—smart IDs could automate clocking in, even when workers switch between projects. This is particularly useful in situations when employees suddenly need to change tasks to address issues. Health technology can play a role in the workplace, too. CIO magazine noted that fitness-tracking gadgets could be given to employees as part of a company wellness initiative.

Bring your own wearable?
Wearables might not be mainstream in the business world yet—but they're coming. According to CIO magazine, Forrester predicted the following timeline:

  • 2014-2016: Early adoption and product refinement, with use cases mostly in healthcare and public safety
  • 2017-2019: Apps and support become readily available as development matures
  • 2020-2024: Wearables become commonplace in many organizations and an integral part of how employees complete their work

So there's still plenty of time for technical support professionals to develop strategies for taking wearables into account. CIO magazine emphasized that IT leaders needn't rush the adoption of these gadgets, but it's good for IT support to be proactively aware of the possibilities and potential challenges.

InformationWeek predicted that bring-your-own-wearables could be a coming consideration for companies. The growth of bring-your-own-device has presented challenges for technical support staff, but many companies have made strides handling mobile and tablet devices.

"A lot of IT strategy with mobile will cross over pretty well with wearables. I see wearables as kind of a natural evolution for mobile," Redg Snodgrass, co-founder and CEO or Wearable World, told CIO magazine.

Before anything else, managers will need to evaluate the pros and cons of bringing more wearables into the workplace. MIT completed research on whether wearables actually help or hinder performance. In the end, thoughtful implementation is key. As these gadgets grow in popularity, IT career opportunities will likely spring up for people who can skillfully integrate wearables into business practices.

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