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Wearable Tech Offers Promise (and Potential Peril) for the Enterprise

By Al Sacco, CIO
January 22, 2014 04:21 PM ET

CIO - Fitness trackers, smartwatches, smartglasses. Wearable cameras, biometric wrist bands and augmented reality headsets. These are just a few of the types of wearable gadgets grabbing headlines these days.

At this month's 2014 Consumer Electronic Show (CES), wearable technology took center stage. But while wearables are all the buzz in the consumer tech world, you don't hear as much about wearable tech in the enterprise.

That's going to change.

In fact, some experts think the true potential of wearable tech, the future of these odd yet intriguing gadgets, lies in enterprise or business use. Like the growth of the Internet and the adoption of the smartphone, though, the evolution of wearable tech won't happen overnight. Experts say smart CIOs and IT managers should be proactive in preparing for corporate wearables but also wary of embracing novel and untested devices.

What is the real promise of wearable technology for enterprise? What industries stand to benefit the most? What about security? How, and when, should CIOs and IT departments start preparing and strategizing for wearables? CIO.com spoke with a handful of analysts, experts and executives working with wearables to help answer these questions and more.

When to Expect Wearable Tech in Your Enterprise

"Wearable technology" is a broad term, not unlike "mobile," and it encompasses so many kinds of gadgets and systems that it's difficult to identify the specific gadgets that will become truly relevant to your organization -- or when to expect to have to manage them.

The first wave of the wearable technology, in which companies worked to identify the various available sensors and determine how they could collect and display data in useful ways, is already behind us, according to Forrester Analyst J.P. Gownder, author of the report "The Enterprise Wearables Journey." This coming year will see the beginnings of "Wearables 2.0," during which companies establish business models and find ways to profit on wearables and related services, Gownder says.

Forrester says it will take about a decade for wearables to become ubiquitous in the enterprise. More specifically, Forrester predicts:

  • The next couple of years (2014 - 2016) will mostly see pilots and early adoption of wearables, with vendors still bringing out finalized versions of their products. During this period, enterprise wearables will start to be used in healthcare and public safety.
  • Developer ecosystems for wearables will begin to mature in 2017, according to Forrester, and apps, back-end software and services for enterprises will become readily available through 2019.
  • By 2020, wearable technology will be common within many organizations -- and in the following four years, through 2024, wearables will become instrumental to how many employees do their jobs, Forrester says.

"It's not a gimmick," says CA Technologies CTO John Michelson. "I'm confident that we're going to be seeing a lot of really good stuff coming from [wearable tech]. The business case is there, the technology is there."

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