Move over, Rolex. Step aside, Armani. If the predictions hold true, tomorrow's corporate climbers will all be ditching the designer accessories for the next big thing: namely, wearable computing devices. From smart watches to augmented reality glasses and contact lenses, today's emerging tech toys have the potential to become tomorrow's most valuable business tools.
You think these wonderful wearables are just a lot of hype? That no one really wants to walk around looking like Dr. Science? A glance back at recent history may just change your mind.
"When Bluetooth® headsets first came out, no one thought they would last. They looked silly, and when you used them, you looked like you were walking down the street talking to yourself," explained Craig James Johnston, mobile strategist for NTT DATA, and a "Google Glass Explorer," currently using version two of Google Glass. "But, the headsets were so useful, the sales took off. The usefulness of not having to search out your phone outweighed the initial resistance." And new, smaller, cheaper, lighter weight headset designs soon began to follow.
Johnston expects the same phenomenon with wearable technology.
"I think adoption will start much like it did with the BlackBerry and iPhone. The technology is expensive, so early adopters will be high-level executives who can afford the high price. They start asking how to get financial data, dashboard information and access other company information through these products," Johnston said. "Then, Apple jumps in; prices eventually fall, and wearable devices become affordable and accessible to everyone."
All of a sudden, the criteria for choosing a phone changes.
"When wearables go mainstream, individuals will start choosing their smartphones based on the compatibility with their wearable," explained Chris Fleck, vice president of Mobility Solutions and Alliances for Citrix. "For example, Google Glass works better with Android, so current iPhone users could migrate to a high-end Samsung phone. If Apple hits the market with a great iWatch, some Android users could migrate to an iOS device."
That's when the fun begins.
Take Google Glass alone. These amazing things let you see information like you would on a smartphone and interact with the Internet via voice command. You see something, you get the information you need about that something, and you can ask for more if you need it.
Think doing the old-fashioned Google search but without the manual process of typing in the information. See it. Collect data on it. No fuss, no muss, no keystrokes.
"I've used the first version of Google Glass since August (2013), and I'm impressed at what it can do. These devices have the potential to revolutionize all types of business processes," said Fleck of Citrix. "Doctors in surgery could see patient vital signs without turning their heads and looking at a monito; warehouse workers could use them to find then right box in the warehouse, then scan that box by looking at the bar code."
The use cases go on and on.
A technician working on a piece of machinery could access machine schematics while working on that specific machine. A clinician could pull up patient orders or see drug allergies when he or she enters the hospital room. A remote worker could connect with a supervisor to solve a problem, and instead of having to describe the issue, that supervisor could "see what he sees."
And let's talk about the smartwatch, which acts like a wearable smartphone but with more convenience features. A subtle vibration alerts the wearer that it's time for a meeting, time to take a blood pressure reading or that an email or text from the boss has come through. With smart features like Google Now, it can tell you to leave early for a flight if highway traffic backs up. According to Fleck, the rumored iWatch could even cut down on the incidence of lost phones and tablets.
"Apple's current 'Find my Phone' feature is useful but usually too late" Fleck said. "I want to be notified before I lose my phone or leave my tablet on the plane. A wearable device would give me a gentle reminder notification when I get out of range, so I can retrieve it without leaving the area.
But, every great innovation has its downside, and wearable devices are no different.
There's a privacy issue, just as there's been a privacy issue since the invention of the camera phone. There's a worry that the creeps of the world will use these tools for evil. No surprise there—particularly if the devices support a facial recognition application. While Google Glass developer policies expressly prohibit using "the camera or microphone to cross-reference or immediately present personal information identifying anyone other than the user, including such use cases as facial recognition and voice print," there's no guarantee that other vendors, or rogue app developers, will follow suit.
If someone integrates a smartwatch with a fitness device or health monitor, how does he or she protect this confidential personal health data from Bob in IT and still use the watch at work?
From a business standpoint, how does a company incorporate these wearable devices into its MDM/MAM strategies effectively—balancing the need to protect intellectual property, secure documents and proprietary data, yet enable employees to gain the value these new tools could provide?
"Today, wearable technology, like smartwatches, have no passwords or no biometrics. Company data could be accessed with the push of a button, but it's not secure. Google Glass, when it's launched, may have those same security issues," Johnston of NTT DATA said. "We won't know until we see the final product."
Which means companies, and MDM/MAM providers, have to start thinking about how to secure this next wave of BYODs—the wearable kind—right now.
Shifting the Focus from the Device to the Apps Themselves
"Originally, BYOD solutions focused on securing the device itself but not the applications on that device," Johnston of NTT DATA explained. "Today, many companies are rethinking this approach, securing the individual corporate applications themselves before these are pushed to user devices."
One technique uses software to create a type of "wrapper" or container around the app, acting like a virtual security blanket, encrypting and password-protecting the individual applications and their associated data. These container solutions vary from vendor to vendor, particularly in how the applications are linked to the container.
"To be effective, the wrapped applications have to be able to talk to each other but not the users' person applications," Fleck of Citrix said. "For example, if someone has native email and a personal Dropbox account on her smartphone, she can open a corporate document and save it to Dropbox, taking that corporate document out of IT's control. If that person leaves the company the next day, that proprietary document goes with her. So, with our EMM solution, if a user opens a corporate document in email, he or she can only attach it to a secure app, so IT never loses control of that document."
That said, wearable devices will add a whole new wrinkle, and because these devices are just emerging, no one has a definitive way to incorporate these into existing MDM programs. But, the smart vendors are working on it.
Preparing for Change
The best defense is getting ready now. Talk to your MDM vendor (or start interviewing MDM/MAM vendors to see what they can offer compared to what you're doing in house) and find out what they're doing around wearable devices. See if they offer a solution that enables you to manage individual applications and data policies.
Just as important, while you're evaluating the best way to secure your corporate data, pay equal attention to the ultimate user experience.
"MDM and BYOD solutions created solely based on security architect mandates never win," Fleck of Citrix said. "You have to secure your data, but you have to deliver a desirable user experience in the process, or people will find a way to work around the process to do what they need to do. You're better off getting their buy-in up front."
Fleck recommends piloting new programs with a select group of wearable device adopters, or a specific department that will incorporate these devices into their daily processes down the road. Then work with your provider to make adjustments as you go.
Finally, you have to find a way to deal with the human side of the wearable world. Namely, technology burnout.
"As wearable mobile, connected cars and the Internet of Everything gains adoption, it will be harder to distinguish what is business and what is life," Johnston of NTT DATA said. "The challenge will become, how do you enable employees to increase productivity without becoming so hooked on the constant connectivity that they burn out?"
That may become the greatest challenge of all.