The enormous technology event, the Consumer Electronics Show, wrapped up earlier this month in Las Vegas, and of all the technologies on show, it was the wearables category that experienced the most growth.

The blending of wearable technology, sport and fashion is certainly taking off. But with Google announcing that it would no longer be selling Google Glass from 19 January 2015, is there true value in the wearables sector for small business? Or is the entire wearables industry effectively dead on arrival?

To answer these questions we need to distinguish between wearable categories. In terms of products, the wearables industry can be divided into three basic functions:

  1. Fitness, fashion and individual exploration of the world

  2. Health services, training and public safety

  3. Business process optimisation

While the focus of mainstream media has centered primarily on the first of these categories, with everything from the FitBit and Google Glass to the (still unavailable) Apple Watch, as well as a whole swathe of digital clothing devices, these have primarily been consumer-oriented products. They don’t offer a significant benefit to a business unless you happen to be selling them. Even in the health services category, products such as heart monitoring shirts, smart socks (measuring running techniques) and UV exposure watches have limited use in business environments.  

The true value of wearables for businesses resides in the somewhat less flashy end of the market, in employee safety, training and business optimisation. Where a business has employees on dangerous work sites, for instance, or where the general health of the worker can be compromised in normal, day-to-day activities, then wearables become a logical business investment. Not only can these devices improve productivity, but they can reduce operational risks while improving employee welfare.

Examples of workplace safety wearables include:

  • Halo helmet and vest lighting: allowing workers in light-reduced spaces to be seen from all directions

  • Heat stress monitors: for firefighters, miners, construction workers and other field workers, exposed to dangerous conditions

  • Airbag collars: triggered by falls or sudden impact

  • Repetitive motion sensing monitors: for workers who are at risk of physical injury through repetitive activities

  • Air quality masks: fitted with detection devices for pollutants.  

For training, the use of wearables as a means of recording manual actions in the real world has some logic, particularly where holding a video camera is difficult. GoPro units which have generally been associated with extreme sports, can also be worn in workplaces to record the perspective of a worker, both for health and safety and training purposes.

Then there are the purely business optimisation-oriented wearables. Outliers certainly, these devices are designed to track employee positions, enable easy registration of absences from work, or time business conversations. But while these functions are obvious, employers need to be careful about how they deploy them in order to maximise productivity without depriving staff of their personal privacy.

In a recent report, Forrester noted that there was significant interest among US workers in adopting wearables in the workplace. Less clear was what these workers would actually want their wearables to do. But it’s clear that there is a potential benefit to businesses with either a mobile workforce, or an employee base whose health is routinely put at risk through environmental exposure.

A common sense approach for the need for wearables needs to be applied in business. There may be great enthusiasm for wearables amongst workers, but without adequate rationale for investment, you may just be purchasing a toy that will soon be discarded.

About the Author: 

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 4.53.30 PMJoanne Jacobs is an award-winning digital strategist and company director.  She advises firms on executive management skills, digital change management and social data analysis.  She is on the Board of Code Club Australia, and she is an active mentor of startups at the Telstra accelerator, Muru-D.  She formerly ran the Australian office of 1000heads, a word of mouth marketing firm.



Wearable technology is obviously on the rise, and here at Salesforce we are taking great strides to help companies and their employees realise the full potential of this technology no matter what size business you are.