New this season: Wearables in the enterprise

First responders, physicians and other professionals are looking to wearable technology as a way to improve outcomes in their industries. But first, IT pros need to ensure back-end infrastructure, wireless networks and corporate security are up to snuff.

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The wildfires that ripped through Fort McMurray in May underscore how dangerous the business of firefighting is, but new wearable technology is promising to make first responders’ jobs a little safer.

Incident Command Vision is a wireless helmet camera system designed to allow firefighters and law enforcement to stream live video from any location. It gives a city’s command centre a live visual of what emergency responders are collectively seeing on the scene.

The same technology is being used at UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus in California for real-time virtual consults, and to live-stream surgeries and other procedures — helping to train surgeons and medical students.

“We see strong potential for technology to enhance the training of physicians who will benefit from live perspectives of views that have been to date restricted by the realities of modern-day orthopedic surgery,” UCSF’s chair of orthopedic surgery Dr. Thomas Vail said at the time.

“These include physicians developing new clinical procedures and techniques to more fundamental training principles such as understanding the three-dimensionality of anatomy required in modern orthopedics.”

Not long ago, wearable technology was considered the domain of gamers and athletes. That’s changing — and fast. Gartner expects global sales of smart devices to grow by almost 20 per cent this year, and that close to 274.6 million wearable electronic devices will be sold.

Enterprises are getting in on the action. Use of head-mounted displays, or HMDs, will grow in the coming years, with 26 per cent of HMDs designed for business use in 2018. Businesses will also use HMDs in tasks such as equipment repair, inspections and maintenance, says Gartner, as well as for viewing instructions and directions hands-free while they’re performing a task.

Customer-facing wearables can create efficiency opportunities for business, said Valentine Matula, head of emerging products and technology at Avaya, in a recent Wired article.

Consider financial services. “By integrating a video strategy possibly enabled by Google Glass, banks can cut costs though centralizing and reducing customer service staff (especially in low-traffic regions) to call center locations where they can take inquiries from customers across the nation through either an app or a video-enabled ATM,” she said. “This can lead to another benefit: extended service hours.”

Before network admins can start thinking about sexy new applications to pilot, they need to ensure back-end infrastructure, wireless networks and especially corporate security are up to snuff.

Businesses will need to expand wireless networks to ensure connectivity for remote workers and address employee privacy, Brent Blum, an expert in wearable technology at Accenture, told Jessica Twentyman in a recent Financial Times article.

“Companies should expand corporate security measures to cover wearables, which can be thought of as mobile devices at the edge, so that they’re protected against data leaks,” he added.

Blum points out that “chatty” wearables will constantly be sending information across the network for analysis, and that means companies will need to invest in their back-end infrastructure to ensure it can support that traffic.

Illustration courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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