Will Wearable Tech Become the New Work Wardrobe?

From productivity tracking wristbands to fatigue sensing detectors, wearable technologies are increasingly being seen as a strategic platforms for business performance. In fact, studies show more companies are planning to introduce wearables into their businesses. So what does a wearable future look like?

While the launch of the smartphone felt like an instant revolution, the growth of wearable technology is more like a slow burn that, once it truly ignites, will significantly impact not only daily life but also business.

It’s still early days, but let’s look at a few potential business impacts.

Behaviour Tracking
Let’s start with the big scary one. Physiolytics refers to linking wearable technologies with data analysis and quantified feedback to monitor employee behaviour. It grew out of two trends: the wave of technologies monitoring health and performance and the recent interest in big data.

The idea behind physiolytics is that an employer can monitor, in real time, to a minute level, the performance of employees. How they do their tasks, their energy levels, their water cooler conversations — it’s all fodder for analysis. And modification. If we take this to the next step, processes can be modified on the fly to improve performance, leading to ongoing tinkering of the workplace to create an optimum environment for staff to function within.

For instance, the Salesforce Wear platform, launched in June 2014, can track the link between the daily physical activity and sleep patterns of sales staff, and their success on sales calls.

There is some validity to the idea that a monitored employee is a more productive employee. A U.K. study found that employees using wearable devices were 8.5 per cent more productive than those without devices. Beyond increases in productivity, the same study shows that wearables increase job satisfaction by more than three per cent. Increased productivity and happier employees, even if minor, would boost a business.

This even extends to employee health. To prevent workplace accidents due to fatigue, heavy equipment firm Caterpillar recently introduced an infrared camera that can determine how long eyes are closed and how fast they open and close, to determine if an operator is in danger of falling asleep while driving or operating heavy equipment.

Companies, such as oil giant BP, are seeking ways to lower medical costs and boost employees’ health by giving them Fitbits in exchange for access to their data. The more fitness points employees rack up, the lower company’s insurance premiums. 

What we’re seeing in 2015 is just the beginning. Beyond that, think about the increased use of biometric resumés, voice analyzers, mood monitors all taking the old business adage “what gets measured, gets done” to the ultimate.

Customization for Customers
Tapping into the same wearable data, businesses are becoming increasingly able to modify their environments, marketing and entire strategies within minutes to meet the needs of the consumers potentially increasing sales and profits.

The Disney MagicBand is one indicator of how wearable technology can significantly improve the customer experience. The MagicBand is an all-in-one bracelet which, using radio frequency technology, allows a customer to enter any Disney property, including resorts, and make purchases. No need for a wallet. It also alerts staff to your vitals before you even walk in the door: your wait staff will know your name, that you are a vegetarian (no need to hear about the chicken special) and allergic to peanuts, all before they meet you.

The entire experience is both simplified and customized. Of course, it’s Disney, so they make it sound magical: “Once you’ve linked your MagicBand, you don’t need to do anything different. Your MagicBand and My Disney Experience profile will do the rest, creating unexpected Disney moments just like magic.”

Imagine having a relationship with your customer before they walk in the door    you know what they like so that means you are able to target your sales to them from the get-go.   

What about offering retail consumers wearable wrist devices that track their behaviour from the moment they enter the store, including aisles visited, weight of shopping basket, products viewed and more? Would that help put bricks and mortar retailers more on par with online businesses in terms of big data collection? Maybe so. Would you wear a tracking device in the grocery store in exchange for special coupons and rewards?

The Flipside
Of course, any large-scale technological change means there are potential downsides to consider. Here are a few:

Privacy > This is the huge issue. What right do employers have to monitor the actions of employees or customers? And then act on that data? This will certainly be the debate in years to come as wearables become ubiquitous.

Bring Your Own Device > Wearables take us back to the same BYOD questions we faced with smartphones: how do we regulate wearables in the workplace? What is appropriate? 

Analytics > With the data acquired through wearables and it will be a huge amount of data  businesses will need the tools to connect with it, sift through it and analyze it. It’s such a new field that it’s not likely many businesses currently have this skill set.

These issues are only the tip of the iceberg, but we need to take them seriously because, with the current investment in wearables and the uptake from consumers, it’s hard to imagine this being a quick fad. There is loads of potential for businesses to capitalize on this technology, but it also brings some hefty societal questions. Is this the same revolution that the smartphone brought or is it something much, much bigger? 

David Alexander manages Digital at the Royal BC Museum and has a keen interest in technology trends that affect our business and lives.