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Making the Case for Wearables in Your Organization

The marriage of business and IT

Making wearables a success in the enterprise does not fall on any one individual or organization; it requires a team effort across business units within an organization seeking to use these devices, as well as a group mentality among the various stakeholders in the enterprise wearable tech space.

Within an organization that is evaluating wearables, IT needs to work closely with business leaders and vice versa to avoid failure. Multiple perspectives are necessary to plan and execute a wearable program, including from IT (technical), the business side (say, operations) and then, of course, real users. As PowerStream’s James Ilari said on a panel at EWTS ’16 this past summer: “Business units and IT are often on different ends of the spectrum, and don’t know what [the other] is doing. [IT needs] to work with the business side, engage them and get them to be more proactive.”

As the team lead of Emerging Technologies and Strategy within Information Services at PowerStream, James did just that, partnering with a business liaison – a well-respected senior worker – to bridge the divide. In addition to observing workers and thinking about how to help them, James’ team spoke with business leaders to “find out their aspirations for their departments,” and invited them to sit in on vendor meetings, so that it didn’t seem like “something IT was trying to push onto the business” but rather something mutual.

This is how you gain traction and support for a wearable initiative, by facilitating a working partnership between business and IT early on; and it’s also how to best make the case for wearables. So, IT should first find out criteria from workers and business leaders, and include them in device evaluation efforts as well as in setting up the parameters for a pilot. This approach helps avoid pushback and speed up the testing process, and goes a long way towards creating a successful pilot with appropriate hardware and KPIs in mind.

J.P. Gownder, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, speaking to the technology leaders in the EWTS audience: “You need to work closely with business leaders [to] develop the business case. These tools are meant to drive business outcomes (productivity, sales conversions, revenue.) Have a hypothesis in mind and track KPIs…This is a business tech investment, so you want to have KPIs in place from the very beginning to prove this investment is useful.”

Wherever the idea to explore wearables generates – whether within IT or another department, with management or even among the workforce – the “spearheading” party has to make its case to the rest of the organization. Notice I said “make” the case as opposed to “prove” it: Oftentimes, the case for exploring wearables must be made before a pilot can begin—in order to get the go-ahead from management to make a preliminary investment for and secure employees to participate in the pilot.

So how do you go about making your case? Take it from some real end users:

Getting your foot in the door

According to Blake Burnette, Director of Equipment Research and Development at Baker Hughes, if you can “get up high enough” to demo a wearable device, management will surely embrace it and give you the green light to pursue a pilot. “Expose the people at the top to the benefit” by conducting a little show-and-tell and allowing the (hands-free) tech to speak for itself. As for security concerns, Blake says, “If your device doesn’t do anything it wasn’t designed to do, then you have security.”

Zac Penix, Manager of Emerging Technologies at the AES Corporation, offered a bold “trick” for achieving full adoption within an industrial enterprise subject to safety regulations: Instead of just trying to roll out something like a Fitbit internally, go directly to the standards body for your industry (ex. OSHA) and explain how employing the wearable will make workers safer. “Talk to the people who make the safety and cybersecurity standards for your industry” right away. When those individuals understand how tracking a worker’s heart rate via a simple wearable device can allow for quicker safety responses in high-risk scenarios, they’ll become the most effective champions of the technology. “Explain why [wearable tech] makes people safer then have [OSHA] require all operations to use it. It sounds crazy, and will [likely take a few years] but it is a surefire way to have your wearable integrated [into] the mass market.”

In medicine, simplicity is what buys you a foot in the door, says UMass emergency medicine physician and toxicology fellow Dr. Peter Chai: “Simple software architecture that doesn’t require much maintenance goes a long way. In the ER, you need something simple. It’s a chaotic scene.” The simple route is a wise one for many industries, not just in healthcare where doctors often don’t have a tech background and hospital IT is already dealing with EHR and privacy challenges.

On top of the chaos and privacy issues, Peter also noted that physicians can be very hard to change and thus persuade to use new technologies. Healthcare is also a slow-moving industry: “There’s this culture where everything moves so slowly. [It can take] 16 months to get a grant funded and by then the wearable world has changed by leaps and bounds. We don’t have the funding to stay ahead of these things, so we negotiate with [solution providers. We say,] ‘give us a steep discount, and we’ll give you the data, a foot into healthcare and insight into the security issues behind the devices.’”

Stanford’s Dr. Homero Rivas painted a similar picture: “By the time you go through all the studies to implement something new [in medicine,] it’s already obsolete. We need to implement innovative business models. The most successful route [might be to target] patients or consumers, because they will [arguably] be the best advocates for their health.” This is not all that dissimilar from Zac Penix’s idea of cutting corners by going directly to a regulatory body—appeal to the most powerful potential stakeholder in order to more quickly push through a wearable initiative.

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Wearables just make sense in many enterprise scenarios; it’s not a difficult argument to make. For instance, Mobile workers need their hands free to perform their jobs; handheld devices slow them down and create room for error–clear and simple. It’s a matter of understanding your industry, or your unique business and the players involved, to determine the right tactic for presenting the argument. But while pitching your case may earn you a pilot program, it doesn’t ensure adoption down the road; pilot results do, and these don’t have to be dramatic numerical results.

J.P. Gownder: “Proof of concepts and trials are critical. Often, you’ll want to use multiple hardware platforms in these tests. [It is] critical to work on this in an iterative fashion where you capture the learnings and improve over time. [It’s] a wearables journey, not off-the-shelf or always simple but [certainly] worthwhile.

*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.



About EWTS 2017:

The 3rd annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place May 10-12, 2017 in San Diego, California is the leading event for wearable technology in enterprise. It is also the only true enterprise event in the wearables space, with the speakers and audience members hailing from top enterprise organizations across the industry spectrum. Consisting of real-world case studies, engaging workshops, and expert-led panel discussions on such topics as enterprise applications for Augmented and Virtual Reality, head-mounted displays, and body-worn devices, plus key challenges, best practices, and more; EWTS is the best opportunity for you to hear and learn from those organizations who have successfully utilized wearables in their operations. 

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