October 13, 2016
Recognizing what is cool versus what is possible today
Should you wait on piloting or even adopting? No. Today’s hardware/solutions may not be perfect, but there are benefits to be had now
Multiple speakers at EWTS 2016 asserted that there are effective enterprise wearable solutions available today. They talked about devices that are simple yet make a real difference – “a simple thing that does one thing really well” (Zac Penix, AES Corportation) – and strongly advised enterprises to do the “hard work of implementation” now as opposed to five years from now.
Atheer’s Christian Prusia said let’s “focus on the now:” What are the enterprises of today leveraging? What use cases are they most focused on? What problems are they solving right now?
So are there any “slam-dunk” wearables today? Yes, but they may not be the ones you imagine. In our last post, we also quoted Zac of AES for highlighting the basic company ID badge as a great wearable when made smart with sensors: “Old-school tech like RFID badges are great but upgraded a bit with wearable activity monitors, fall-detection sensors…It’s not glamorous but it’s effective.” Dawn Bridges of Jacobs Engineering claimed that “a wearable that recognizes a barcode is an efficiency”—it doesn’t have to be fancy or have tons of capabilities. And Forrester’s J.P. Gownder pointed out that monocular smart glasses are very scalable today:
“If you’re looking for a workforce enablement project today where you want to order 500, 1000 [smart glasses, you’re] probably looking mostly at monocular versions (Google Glass, Recon Jet, Vuzix M100). The more immersive you get, the more likely you’re [talking] smaller orders.”
Why is this the case? Because maturity of the devices and fulfillment of orders typically become issues for enterprises looking at more complex technologies. Chris Croteau of Intel spoke about Augmented Reality, which he called the “holy grail for us technologists.” He admitted that there are a number of problems related to implementing AR technology today:
“The systems we’re looking at for the future are trying to incorporate ‘the kitchen sink.’ But there’s a big difference between taking a developer kit and doing a 5- or 10-person pilot and implementing into your [entire] workforce. We’re looking at systems that are way overbuilt because we can. We’re forcing the issue rather than focusing on real business KPIs…” which can be achieved right now with less immersive devices. Nevertheless, there is hope for AR/VR/MR and more advanced wearables in general. As J.P. said, “this is a growing market.”
George Bowser shared a current use case in which DHL is making the most of today’s wearable tech offerings: One process logistics companies like DHL are always looking to make faster is the picking process. Vision picking with (monocular) smart glasses enables DHL to take seconds off of this process. That may not sound like much, but “when you’re picking tens of thousands of lines a day – 10, 20, 30 pickers – you start to see significant savings.” It’s a “half step” up from the old technology, which DHL believes will really boost productivity. According to George, DHL is currently focusing on cart-based each picking of multiple orders. As they’re not yet comfortable with having forklift operators wear something head-mounted, they’re starting at the “pedestrian level”—a basic process but one that uses significant labor and could be improved with something “simple” and wearable.
But it was Chris of Intel who arguably laid out the strongest case for adopting today, and not just smart badges and monocular glasses that can scan a barcode. These technologies – wearables, AR, VR, exoskeletons – I think we can agree that it’s not just hype. Although the devices, software and implementation process have not been perfected, we’re seeing next-gen devices and new partnerships every day. These devices will enter the workforce; they will be fully integrated into business processes and workers’ uniforms and completely replace older technology—it’s just a matter of when. So should you wait for that day? Well according to Chris, if we wait that day might not come for a long while.
“What I heard today is we may be [on the] bleeding edge but the solutions work; the efficiencies and KPIs are there with products we can get today and they’re reasonable—not $20,000 construction helmets but a few thousand [dollars.] Devices that are already ruggedized and proven in the field. But we do have to do the hard work: We have to start upgrading our infrastructures, convincing management, pushing vendors to provide the services we need, and retraining our workforce. That’s what’s going to speed up the future.”
As numerous speakers who shared their success stories at EWTS proved, there are efficiencies to be had today. They may be small successes, small increases or reductions; and the devices may be less complex or capable than the advanced AR headsets of the future we dream about (you know the ones that look just like a regular pair of eyeglasses), but we can leverage what is available today and in so doing pave the way for easier implementation in the future.
Chris: “I would take that 15% improvement in efficiency now over five years from now…We all want to hit home runs, would love a full MR device that fits into a simple glasses form factor and costs $200. And someday we’re going to have that, but it’s really the moneyball strategy of getting people on base, getting [them] implementing…”
So don’t wait. It’s not just about staying ahead of the curve or gaining a competitive advantage. We have wearable technology today that solves real problems, and by not implementing you hurt both the growth of your organization and the growth of this space. Yes, there is work to be done; there are great challenges and undertakings like updating your infrastructure and developing trusted relationships with vendors. You can either make those changes now or down the line, but inevitably you will have to make them.
*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.