December 2, 2016
Wearables in the workplace are inevitable–this much I think we can agree upon, if only because the devices are hands-free (making them essential for deskless workers.) In addition, we can agree that a user-centric approach to both the hardware itself and its applications for enterprise is mandatory; and that there are some very viable and effective uses for the technology in business and industry today (though the ROI may be somewhat subjective.) And yet, the road to mainstream enterprise wearables is not without (more than) a few remaining bumps. So what are the challenges ahead?
In this post, we’ll cover an obvious one: Many of the devices are still lacking. Pilots fail because the hardware is not completely reliable, sufficiently ruggedized, ergonomic or intrinsically safe; because the devices do not meet industry regulations, require strong connectivity and thus are not field-proof, etc. Take it from Mubarik Choudry of Shell:
“It’s not going to be easy to deploy these solutions out in the [oil] field. We’ve received positive feedback in testing with users but there are definite constraints [including] wearability, reliability…the frustrating part is that the hardware market isn’t moving as fast as we would like for our environment.”
In addition to the devices’ shortcomings, there are limitations imposed by the working environment itself. This is very true in the Oil and Gas industry, which – as Mubarik and also Vincent Higgins of Optech4D pointed out at EWTS 2016 – typically involves remote operations in harsh, explosion-prone environments, where putting the infrastructure in place to accommodate wearables is difficult. Such challenges must be overcome to take full advantage of wearables especially in field operations, where the technology stands to provide the greatest value.
From its long-standing position in the space, Zebra Technologies has managed to parse out many of the device issues holding up widespread enterprise HUD adoption. According to Tom Bianculli, these include a narrow field of view, high power consumption and heat generation; ergonomics factors like size and weight (or bulkiness); and human variables like head size, nose and ear shape, interpupillary distance and peripheral vision. Then, there are the realities of making truly enterpise-grade wearables, which include the complexities of cost and mass production, reliability (energy efficiency, connectivity, ruggedization), and even legal considerations like impact on workplace liability.
Nevertheless, enterprises are still managing to put the wearables of today to good use, as evidenced by the many use cases described and documented on this blog alone and the evolving roster of case studies presented at each year’s EWTS. To learn more about the ergonomic challenges of wearable tech, read our article “Enterprise Wearables: Human Design and Ergonomic Considerations.”
*All quotes are transcribed from the sessions and presentations given at EWTS, June 16-17, 2016 in Atlanta, GA, and therefore may not be exact.