August 9, 2016
Insights on the Wearable User from EWTS 2016
J.P. Gownder speaks about enterprise wearables as a journey, and that is a great metaphor. I mean what was Peggy Gulick‘s case study if not one manufacturer’s (AGCO’s) journey with wearables? On the second morning of EWTS, Sharon Oleniczak of Newell-Rubbermaid led a closed-door workshop in which she shared a strategy for innovating with wearables that involved creating a story or narrative. The story was comprised of the underlying facts relating to one industry of type of work and an ideal vision for the future (presumably involving wearable tech), plus the emotions, cautions and opportunities involved; and you would tell this story in order to sell your idea to management. Michael Perman, formerly of Gap, also talked about innovating with wearables by understanding what people (workers or consumers) crave, what concerns them, and what gives them comfort. It may seem that technology and human psychology have little to do with one another, so why do wearables bring out this kind of terminology, words like journey, story, emotions, craving, and comfort? Perhaps it is because of what Tom Bianculli said in his opening keynote: “The human-machine interface is becoming more and more personal and closer to the human experience.” Chris Croteau of Intel remarked, “When you put a piece of technology on your person it becomes an embodiment of who you are.” We use humanistic language when speaking about wearables because wearable technology is technology worn by human beings, technology that is closer to and more in tune with our bodies than anything we have seen or experienced before now. How crazy that simply moving computing power from our hands to our heads would incite all of this? And yet, it’s understandable, because humanity is a shared experience.
The User is King, from both an Application and a Hardware Design/Selection Standpoint
There was a lot of talk at EWTS about getting to know the user. In the enterprise, the user is the worker, the one actually using the wearable device each day on the job. A piece of advice stated over and over again was to find out your use case needs directly from the source, and even to include the user in the proof-of-concept stage. This was a noticeably common thread in the speakers’ testimonials about their organizations’ individual wearable journeys.
Zac Penix, AES Corporation: “The people closest to the problems are the ones who are going to invent the solutions that are actually useful to the business…You cannot underestimate your lead users because I guarantee you they’ve created a rudimentary or crude solution to your problem.”
It is likely there are individuals within your organization who have already imagined – or even invented – a solution to an efficiency problem. Zac’s advice is to technologically enable those people, providing a more robust, elegant or frictionless version of what they have envisioned to improve their own jobs. Dawn Bridges of Jacobs Engineering and Brian Ballard of APX Labs referred to this as harnessing the “grassroots energy” within a business. Proof-of-concepts often start with an idea generated by the person or persons closest to the problem. Identify those creative workers that want to solve problems in the business and translate their ideas into something that can be understood and developed by the corporation.
When Google Glass came out a few years ago, Mubarik Choudry of Shell and her team reached out to about a hundred people in the company to get a feel for their pain points and identify use cases: “We picked out people from various groups to make our champions. Identify those people first and ask them to test out the solutions and provide feedback.” Cory Simon mentioned holding brainstorming sessions at NASA to learn users’ needs and hear feedback. Dr. Kathleen Deloughery of the DHS reaches out directly to the first responder community in order to create or select devices that responders will really “want, need, and be able to use.” Aleksandar Vukojevic of Duke Energy reported that in developing a warehouse counting app with Atheer, Duke has been consulting with an actual employee with 15 years of experience in the warehouse: “One thing we’ve learned is to make sure this an addition for the employee on the floor and not a nuisance. It is so important to include the people from the floor.” Peggy Gulick described her company AGCO as very culture-driven, a company that is “very much about the people [as] problem solvers;” Kristi Montgomery starts with the end user in mind at Kenco Innovation Labs; and at Mortenson Construction, the worker is considered the “internal customer.” Mortenson’s Taylor and Michal spoke of getting out with these customers to really understand what can help them technologically: “It’s way less about the shiny thing (VR or AR) than getting these guys the information they need…supporting them, keeping them moving, making them superworkers.” And when you view wearables as an opportunity to turn the workers into the sensors – “since they’re the ones moving around the jobsite” – well, that makes the user even more critical to the digital transformation of your business.
On the solution side, Lance Anderson disclosed that some of Vuzix’s best case studies come not from the original workflow for which a pilot was designed but rather from real users getting their hands on a pair of smart glasses, imagining the possibilities for the technology, and figuring out an easier way to get different tasks done. Brian McCarthy made a similar observation, describing how the use of wearables in the distribution environment at Nature’s Best has created a new dynamic in which employees feel empowered to share their ideas for the technology with leadership. Indeed, talking with workers and observing them on the job is a good starting point; picking their brains after they’ve had the chance to really use the devices in a real-world environment would also be constructive.
These have all been examples of the “user is king” belief in practice–engaging the user to discover the needs of the business and see where wearables might be a good fit. But once you’ve talked to users and pinpointed a viable use case, how do you roll out the technology and get employees to adopt? Again, the user is king: You can’t track KPIs if workers won’t use the devices.
As Sgt. Dan Gomez of the LAPD described it, introducing wearables to the workforce can be a delicate dance: “We have to socialize with the officers in order for them to want to adopt this. If they feel too much big brother, or that their needs aren’t being met but rather the needs of the organization, [there will be] pushback that has to be overcome.” Echoing Aleksandar Vukojevic, Todd Wynne of Rogers-O’Brien said that wearables must aid the worker, who is already doing a tough job; if the device is making workers’ jobs physically harder, then they are going to take it off.
Lance Anderson, Vuzix: “If you’re doing your pilot in a conference room, you’re doing it wrong. [You] have to get out in the field, in the sunlight, dust, noise, the warehouse. It has to be real to get it right.”
That is sage advice: To make it real, you have to get out in the field. You have to walk in the shoes of the real end users to truly understand what’s going to help them, but it’s not just about appreciating the work they do out in the field; it’s about understanding their mentality, and anticipating their responses to change.
In some cases, the user’s mentality has a lot to do with the nature of the industry itself. This is certainly true in the medical community: As Dr. Homero Rivas of Stanford remarked, “A key challenge is the mindset of physicians in implementing innovations in digital health into the practice of medicine because we, unlike innovators, are very risk-adverse.” Of course in healthcare the other user is the patient, who must be persuaded to use a wearable device to track his health (if not already using one) and to share the collected data with his physician. In talking about how to get construction workers to wear an exosuit, Joe Williams and Todd Wynne of Rogers-O’Brien admitted that construction is rather old-school, which influences the worker’s mindset:
“In an industry as old as ours (we still have paper on our job sites), you have to create an environment that allows the worker to enter into the new technology on his or her own accord. It can’t be a push; it has to be a pull, by showing the workers the value. So let’s not start out with a full exosuit but [instead give them the Ekso Bionics zeroG Arm to] help them hold a heavy tool that usually takes three guys to operate, as a way to bridge the worker forward. Bridge your workers into the future you want to see.”
Taylor and Michal of Mortenson observed that a construction worker’s hardhat is often seen as a source of pride; how would workers react to being asked to turn in their standard hardhats for something like the Daqri smart helmet? Gaining acceptance comes down to showing the benefits to the end user, and you might – like Todd and Joe – accomplish this in baby steps, by slowly introducing new form factors.
Todd and Joe also touched on the concept of allowing workers to opt into new technology. Zac Penix recommended an opt-in strategy, advising those in the audience responsible for running emerging technology groups at their organizations to allow people to opt into a technology choice whenever possible, making new devices available in a non-compulsory way. The hope is that workers won’t feel as though the technology is being forced upon them and will request to try it on their own; for when employees feel they are part of the beta group, “rollouts go very well even though it takes longer and is less coordinated.” Dawn Bridges advocated the same strategy as a means to find the “grassroots people” in the business. Chris Croteau replied that opt-in makes sense from a worker buy-in standpoint, but the risk is that only a small percentage of your workforce may volunteer to use the wearable devices, and you need “some sort of majority adoption” to calculate ROI and justify putting the infrastructure in place to support the technology: “Worker involvement is key, especially with a millennial workforce.”
So maybe only a few people opt in; those workers could very well become the champions Mubarik spoke of. But Chris brings up an important aspect to the user’s mentality, and that is age.
In addition to the nature of the industry in which one works, generational considerations come into play in understanding how workers will react to and engage with wearables, and in figuring out how best to sell the technology internally. A number of speakers raised the issue of the impending retirement of the older generation or veteran workforce and the complimentary rise of the millennial workforce. Younger workers tend to have a greater familiarity with technology and therefore a different attitude towards emerging technologies than their older counterparts. Thus, wearables might appeal to – or turn off – the two groups for different reasons; and the benefits and use cases* might differ, as well. (*Veteran and novice workers may use wearables for different purposes. For instance, vets might use the technology to reduce their need to travel, to “have eyes” in the field and remotely guide newer employees; while lesser experienced workers might use wearables for training and to access information, instructions and expertise while on the job.)
Dawn Bridges has observed that the younger generation coming into the workforce at Jacobs doesn’t really care about the enterprise (or privacy for that matter): “They just want to [be able to] solve a problem and make their lives easier.” To help them realize the value of wearable tech, Jacobs has employed an opt-in strategy. The millennial workforce has a unique personality due in part to a natural fluency in technology that millennials often take for granted. Newer, younger workers will probably quickly grasp the benefits of wearables and get excited over the prospect of using them at work. Let them serve as champions of the technology in your organization and sell it to their peers by giving them the opportunity to use cool new devices and see how it improves their work first-hand. Taking the long view, millennials may very well be the key to achieving mainstream adoption of wearables in the enterprise. This was Dr. Paul Szotek‘s outlook when he spoke about getting wearables adopted into medicine: “Think about what is the need and start at the level of medical students and residency because this is a cultural shift.”
In Kristi Montgomery’s experience at Kenco, opt-in isn’t persuasive enough for the older workforce, with whom a different approach must be taken: “Most of our end users are low-wage, blue collar warehouse workers who have been in their jobs for 25 years . [They] aren’t interested in a piece of technology [that you say will] improve their jobs.” Kristi reflected that the most successful projects at Kenco Innovation Labs came about when those users were brought into the planning process. Bring the older workers in and help them work through the emotions of “How is this going to impact my job?” Your vets are likely not as knowledgeable or excited about the technology as their younger counterparts; they might even find its introduction somehow insulting or threatening. Make an effort to help these workers understand the benefits of wearables for them by including a group of them early on in the pilot stage; they will, in turn, become your champions and help other employees to accept the devices. As Dr. Szotek said, it’s about a cultural shift: To get wearables accepted on a cultural level in the workplace, you might start at the level of training or schooling (as in medicine) or you can have your lead users become your best internal sellers.
In summary, the user is king when it comes to determining a killer use case and gaining acceptance within the organization. The user should also be first and foremost in mind when designing hardware (for you device manufacturers) and in selecting the right wearable for the job (for those of you responsible for bringing new tech into the business). For more insight on the theme of the User is King, stay tuned for the next post in this series. Keeping the user in the spotlight, we will shift our attention from applications to hardware.
All quotes were transcribed from the sessions and presentations given at EWTS, June 16-17, 2016 in Atlanta, GA, and therefore may not be exact.