Bill Briggs, CTO of Deloitte, on wearables in the enterprise

I had the opportunity to have an email exchange with Bill Briggs, the CTO of Deloitte Consulting, on the topic of enterprise wearables, a subject on which he’s written quite a bit. Bill’s been with Deloitte for over 16 years, during which time he has taken on many roles, including launching Deloitte Digital, a mix of ‘ creative, strategy, user experience, and engineering talent, and technology services to help clients harness disruptive digital technologies to redesign “business as usual” – to engage differently with customers, change how work gets done, and rethink the very core of their markets’. He seemed like my kind of human.

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Bill Briggs

Stowe Boyd: I read your post on wearables (see: Wearable Technology: Why We Should Look to Businesses to Show Us the Way) in which you cite Deloitte research results that predict 10 million devices will be sold in 2014: a $3 billion market. You make the case that wearables are likely to take off in enterprises first. Why is that?

The real potential comes from not just doing the things you’ve always done and porting them to mobile devices, but empowering the business with net-new solutions that would not have been possible without mobile. – Bill Briggs

Bill Briggs: In the consumer market, fashion often weighs heavily on buying decisions for wearables. Glasses, watches, bracelets, etc. represent a statement of personal style. And, while some will choose utility over “beauty”, mass adoption will likely be triggered when either capabilities trump aesthetics, or where a product defines a new design standard in a category. In addition, the rapid expansion of players in the space, rapid iterations of products, and rapid expansion of categories is still unfolding. Consumers don’t want to make the “wrong choice”…expecting history to repeat itself and for categories to resolve into an oligopoly of dominant platforms.

For the enterprise, the value equation shifts. Usability and usefulness are paramount – much different than fashion or style. Adoption patterns will not be looking for broad, multi-purpose scenarios…where the ecosystem or platform concerns are dominant. Wearables allow me to introduce technology in scenarios that were not previously feasible – because of safety, logistics, or even etiquette. The question becomes: can I harness that potential to do business differently? Can I give field service technicians access to job aids and remote assistance in a hands-free, heads-up manner? Where a remote expert is seeing what they are seeing, and guiding them through a potentially error-prone or dangerous procedure? And: in doing so, eliminate paper-based workflow because sensors have determined their location on the job site and an image has been captured of the finished repair. There are any number of such scenarios: on the manufacturing floor, in the back of the restaurant, in the warehouse, on a sales call, on the sales floor. Enterprises don’t have the burden of waiting for the market to settle or for designs to mature – there are solutions ready today.

Wearables (and their cousins connected devices/IoT) have an advantage over the enterprise adoption curve of traditional mobile: smartphones and tablets. First off, it was a bottom-up movement – the embodiment of consumerization. Fortune 500 companies were under tremendous pressure from their people (staff to board member) to embrace or at least begrudgingly allow smartphones and tablets into the workplace. But strategically, much of the enterprise investment has been anchored to legacy ways of doing things: placing mobile veneer on existing reports or systems. With the right persona-based approach (focused on user-back, not system/data up) there can be value there. The real potential comes from not just doing the things you’ve always done and porting them to mobile devices, but empowering the business with net-new solutions that would not have been possible without mobile. With wearables, the perspective is naturally wired towards the experimental,  likely in areas where technology could not factor heavily into how work got done. Instead of asking “how have we worked”, the starting place can be: “how could/should we work”…taking full advantage of the advances in not just the devices, but the power of context to deliver the right combination of data, services, and/or insight based on who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and what you’re likely to do next.

SB: Google announced its first five Glass Certified Partners this week [the week of our interchange] (see: What can we expect from Google Glass in the enterprise). I think we will see an ecosystem of software platforms coming out, like APX Labs’ Skylight, which will run on multiple smart glass products, like Epson’s Moverio line. Relatively quickly, the innovation might be in software, and not hardware. Your thoughts?

BB:Differentiation can come from robust, value-added services that are richer as the data sets become more comprehensive. – Bill BriggsEcosystem is exactly the right mindset. Innovation will likely continue on both fronts – in devices and interaction patterns as new categories emerge and existing categories evolve, and in the software that will help with data aggregation, service encapsulation, creating engaging user experiences that not just allow, but are dependent upon devices of different footprints from different manufacturers working together seamlessly. Wearables represent both a source and a channel for a wide range of information and industries are only starting to realize the opportunity. Sectors with a history of coopetition may lead the charge. Property and casualty insurance has long relied on 3rd parties to administer credit scoring and share claim histories; a similar construct is possible to broker and share driving, fitness, home automation, etc. data.

Differentiation can come from robust, value-added services that are richer as the data sets become more comprehensive. The same holds for almost every industry. The software to manage the underlying platforms, the software to drive contextual user experiences, and the software to orchestrate signals and services from devices and the core (underlying back/front-office systems and data sources) are all essential elements. An ecosystem of players will emerge to manage the ecosystem of the platforms and needed capabilities… which ultimately is great news not just for the enterprise, but for the consumer.

SB: There are considerable issues in some of the scenarios for wearables, such as facial recognition, and other questions about privacy. How will those concerns be managed, and what are the implications in the enterprise? I can imagine that it might be considered convenient by some to be able to know the name of all the employees in the headquarters’ elevator, while others will see that as an unacceptable intrusion.

BB: Transparency is going to be key. In regulated industries or those with labor unions, proactively engaging with governing bodies is going to be needed. Early adoption scenarios should be focused on ways to improve worker safety or job satisfaction, not “Big Brother” monitoring and control. Simple, engaging solutions can short-circuit training and acceptance across any demographic. But, a win for the end-user/employee needs to be clear and compelling. Using sensors to educate on the importance of wearing safety equipment or using proper lifting techniques is a noble goal; and should be emphasized over using the same solution to negotiate better worker’s comp insurance rates.

Security, privacy, and compliance also can’t be left as stage-gates late in the solution development process – leaving your well-intentioned security personnel being the people who always seem to put the “no” in “Innovation”. Security should be a discipline throughout ideation, design, build, test, and improve – with a commitment to solve for acceptable risk, not manage around imaginable risk. Being beholden to the latter will stop most innovative efforts in their tracks.

The benefits of complex wearables — like Google Glass — are likely to be realized most immediately in specific sectors in business, while the simpler sort — like smart watches — will be a customer phenomenon. But they are going to be mainstreamed, this year.