Enterprise Wearables: Deployment Best Practices

Written BY

Emily Friedman

June 26, 2017

How do you ensure a successful pilot or smooth rollout of wearable technology in your business?

First thing, did you choose a viable use case? Before you go ahead buying devices and signing contracts, take a step back: Did you identify the business problem or need? Does the wearable solution match or address that need? Wearable technologies like smart glasses aren’t right for every area, worker, process or task in your business. Not every use case requires the level of technology of AR or VR (as exciting as those devices are.) Go after the lower hanging fruit—obvious or very practical applications (ex. replacing simple paper-based work instructions with heads-up ones,) something that doesn’t have a great barrier to entry. Be realistic.

If you’re a small company or innovation team with limited funds or resources, don’t go after the more complex Augmented Reality use cases. You will have the chance to disrupt your business with AR as the market matures, but start by taking advantage of the basic features of smart glasses (like the hands-free form factor, front-facing camera) to make small but significant improvements and prove the value to others. A use case in which the technology is self-contained is a great starting point, where the solution doesn’t depend upon seamless integration with other systems or complicated software development. Enabling field workers to share their view of a problem with a remote SME is a great use case if you have the necessary connectivity abilities; as is leveraging your existing WMS or CRM to deliver the same information workers already use in a better form factor. Later on, you can develop additional applications for the same device, ones that rely on 3D models for content or a real-time IoT data stream.

Next, did you select scalable hardware? Consider how many devices you will ultimately need to deploy. If you’re eyeing a particular wearable device, make sure that 1) The company can deliver beyond the pilot phase; 2) The device has been proven in the field; and 3) There is an ecosystem of manufacturers and developers to support it. Also figure out who is going to develop the application for the device: Will you develop in-house or partner with an enterprise wearable software provider? This will affect the use case and hardware choice.

Determine limits and requirements of the workplace. How strong is the connectivity where your workers are? How great is the bandwidth? Does the work environment change often, as in field service or construction? Is there steelwork or concrete that might interfere with new tech? Does your business take workers underground or to remote work sites? These are important questions to ask in assessing the viability of, say, a remote support use case: Is the solution going to be very difficult to implement? Will it be unreliable? Don’t set yourself up for failure.

Furthermore, consider the safety requirements of your industry: Are workers allowed to carry or wear devices on the job? What PPE do your workers currently use? If a pair of smart glasses cannot be used with gloves or a hardhat; if it can’t accommodate or replace standard safety glasses; if it can’t withstand drops or is distracting, then it’s the wrong piece of hardware. You might instead consider passive data collection devices that monitor biometrics, ergonomics, environmental conditions, etc., and have a quick ROI; or a simple wearable button that can be pressed to alert a dispatcher of something.

Get out there! End users and experts agree, it’s important to get wearable technologies out in the field or on the factory floor with your workers sooner rather than later (another reason to begin with a slam dunk use case.) There is deployable technology that works for enterprises today, that improves actual processes and makes the workplace safer. It’s not just about getting ahead of the competition—introduce these tools now so that when the technology is more manageable, your workforce will already be familiar with it. Moreover, starting today will put your organization in a position to influence the market by leaning on the hardware and software vendors to meet your enterprise requirements.

People are excited about emerging technologies: Employees do want to ditch their handbooks and tablets; customers do want to view designs in AR or VR. Again, be careful not to roll out too fast or too complex, thereby guaranteeing negative feedback right away as well as less willing users in the future.

Small, controlled deployment of volunteers. Begin with a small, manageable deployment, such as one or two groups of workers of varying ages and skill levels—a team of employees who haven’t used the technology before but want to participate. It’s important to not get a false negative from the start and to be able to accurately track results. You want workers who are open to new technologies and respected by their peers to see if the solution works.

With any change in process – something new that must be done to get a task done – comes a psychological change for workers. Come prepared with a model for change management: How are you going to make the transition painless for your employees? How will you make the use of a wearable standard work procedure?

If the use case involves tracking personal health information, assure workers they won’t be monitored or disciplined, even make it anonymous. Explain the intent behind the technology (ex. to keep them safe.) It’s critical to present the use case to the actual end users, to meet their needs and make their jobs easier. On this note, comfort and wearability are key. If the process you’re attempting to disrupt requires workers to be very aware, the technology has to be comfortable and non-distracting. A wearable device can either help increase a worker’s awareness of his/her environment or get in the way; be confident that the new tech is better than the existing.

Test often and get a lot of feedback.

Engage with end users right away; bring a small group in at the proof of concept stage to help develop the use case, and get continuous feedback as you roll out the solution in order to keep improving it. Get feedback for every iteration of the technology you test. You might even use telemetry to determine if workers are using the devices, and which features of the solution are most or hardly used.

Properly train employees.

Many users are excited about HMDs but often they expect to be able to put on a device, open an app like Facebook, and immediately get to work. Software developers should keep this in mind: The solution must be easy to use, as easy as putting on the wearable and 90 seconds later using the app to carry out the task at hand. For workers to use it every day, it has to be intuitive to operate. If a worker cannot figure out how to get to the next step in the application, they will put down the device. Make sure each end user knows how to use the app entirely, for the entire workflow; and remember that the level of tech you can develop in the lab doesn’t always translate “in the wild” (on the shop floor.) These paradigms are new and still developing; be mindful that this could be the first wearable device or AR tool your workers have ever used.

Further Reading