Time for the Channel to Embrace Wearables?

By Gina Roos  |  Posted 2015-08-06

The first devices that typically come to mind when discussing wearables are activity trackers and smartwatches, primarily for consumer use. However, businesses are starting to evaluate these and other wearable technologies as a way to improve and monitor business processes.

Potential applications range from accessing customer data in real time and viewing business analytics to monitoring the health of patients and employees.While wearables technology for business is in the nascent stage, there are business cases being made for its use.

A recent research report from Salesforce indicates that 86 percent of the 500 wearable tech adopters surveyed said they plan to increase their spend for wearables over the next 12 months. The biggest growth areas will focus on improving the customer experience—particularly applications that can personalize the customer experience, such as location-sensing, according to the report.

The majority of survey respondents said they are using, piloting or planning to use smartwatches in the enterprise in the next two years. A few examples cited include augmented sales intelligence to send information directly from the smartwatch to a CRM system, and customer preference alerts sent to customer service reps at retailers, allowing them to deliver high-touch personalized experiences.

In a 2014 report, ABI Research predicted wearable device technologies will become an integral part of the enterprise mobile enablement strategies over the next five years. The big question is which wearables are ready for enterprise use and adoption.

ABI Research is placing its bets on technologies, such as smartwatches, smart glasses and other wearables used for health care. According to ABI, these applications are better suited for the enterprise. The market researcher also cited several cases where health care OEMs are getting involved in corporate wellness programs, where sports and activity trackers would be used as part of the program.

These emerging applications will open up new opportunities for channel players, including distributors, VARs, solution providers and systems integrators (Sis). They will likely be similar to the services they provide now for other mobile devices, such as device management, connectivity and security.

"Like other mobile devices, securing them and making sure proper policies are put in place, such as an enterprise mobility solution, is going to be key," said Joe Byer, enterprise personal systems and tablet architect at solution provider Softchoice.

The idea of the personal wearable in the enterprise is still at a very early stage. Should we expect a type of bring-your-own-wearables to work scenario? It's possible, said Byer. "It's just finding the right application for it."

Byer cited an application where devices like the Apple Watch or Fitbit could be networked to different services to monitor someone's health in high-stress jobs, such as law enforcement, the military and firefighting.

"You're then tapping into their personal devices, and they have to accept the fact that the device they use to monitor their jogging or workouts will also be monitoring their condition when they are out in the field," Byer added.

There also are opportunities to use wearables for maintenance and field services that could leverage devices like smart goggles.

"When we use the term wearables, many people have the propensity to think about devices like Fitbit, but there are other wearables like goggles, as an example," said Joseph Zaloker, director of technical marketing for distributor Arrow Electronics. 

Zaloker cites an example where a service technician using augmented-reality glasses could evaluate the performance of a piece of equipment, such as a HVAC unit, via streaming information about things like performance, functionality and connectivity. The technician could then perform maintenance and service functions through a series of hand gestures and swipes.

VARs and SIs should be looking at this technology in terms of how to apply it to the solutions currently being provided to end customers in specific segments, said Zaloker.

Although wearable applications for the enterprise are just now starting to emerge, channel partners should start to prepare for widespread adoption and re-evaluate their product and services portfolios, market watchers maintain.

The Salesforce survey revealed that 79 percent of respondents believe that wearables are or will be strategic to their company's future business success. In addition, 76 percent of current users report an improvement in their business performance since implementing wearable device technology.

In addition to developing use cases that make sense for enterprises, other challenges—such as device management, pushing out software updates, handling bring-your-own-wearables to work and security—need to be resolved, said Zaloker. Other potential issues include how to handle subscriptions or fees, he added.

Gina Roos, a Channel Insider contributor, focuses on technology and the channel.