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When Apple debuted watchOS 2 at its 2015 WWDC, it sparked a new wave of interest from enterprise decision makers. With the ability to develop native apps for Apple’s Watch, the enterprise is taking a closer look at what wearables can mean for business. In fact, according to a study by 451 Research, of all companies that plan to deploy wearables in the next six months, more than 80 percent will be looking to smartwatches.
Wearables are forcing the enterprise to think about user-centric workflows in a novel way, particularly as personal devices permeate the industry. In the last few months alone, I’ve participated in conversations with companies that are looking to the Apple Watch for tasks as varied as supply chain and inventory management, to real-time geo-location and human resources.
Although these may not be the sexiest applications for what has been touted as one of the sexiest products, the fact that they are core to business operations will only prove the potential of the Apple Watch outside of the consumer market. And the watch is only the beginning. According to Ryan Martin, author of the report mentioned above, “The release of the Apple Watch has opened the floodgates governing wearables’ adoption. But now that the river is running, it’s less about where it will end and more about where – and when – to [dive in].”
My sense is that we’ll see companies diving in sooner rather than later. After all, BYOD has already become the status quo, and consumer applications like Gmail and Dropbox are increasingly positioned as enterprise-grade platforms. It is this same spirit of consumer-like functionality that will make smart wearables appealing to the enterprise.
By their very nature, devices like the Apple Watch simplify even the most complex processes. Wearables’ limited processing and input capacity is actually a good thing, forcing apps to run in an even more simplistic and efficient way. Workflows that took hours on a desktop have been streamlined into minutes on a mobile device and now will take seconds with gestures on wearable devices. Problems will arise — just as they did for the BYOD movement at its beginning. But like smartphones then, the benefits wearables offer will far outweigh the troubles they instigate. Ultimately, wearables will open the door to a new brand of consumer-like workflows that will elevate the enterprise to the next level of user-centric applications.
The Hurdles for Wearables in the Enterprise
Despite the anticipation around the Apple Watch’s entry into the enterprise, there are hurdles that will have to be overcome for it to be truly embraced. For instance, like the iPhone, users will dictate the evolution of Apple Watch’s role in business processes. Employees who have wearables will leverage their own “hacks” to enable them to do tasks faster and more easily.
This means enterprises will again need to find a way to manage the devices while still offering customizability. And we can’t forget the question of security at a time when breaches are a fact of life. Fortunately, enterprise mobility and device management platforms that help oversee devices and activity — like VMware Airwatch and MobileIron — have largely negated the management and customization issues, and will continue to evolve as needed.
Beyond customizability and management, the broader issue of security will also be overcome. Sensitive information will rarely be stored on a wearable device as its role is simply a conduit for information rather than a container for it. In fact, wearables will add an entirely new layer of security, allowing for multifactor authentication — biometrics, location, and password. Additionally, losing a wearable does not mean compromised access if enterprises adopt mobile application platforms like those already mentioned, which can track or remotely control and terminate what’s on the device as needed.
These are just some of the growing pains that any device is likely to go through. The enterprise has quickly shifted into a consumer-market mentality that puts the user — not the business — in the decision maker’s seat. Put simply, if an enterprise-grade tool and its applications aren’t easy to use, intuitive, and practical, employees used to the simplicity of a consumer device just won’t use it.
As wearables gain a foothold in business, the nature of workflows will change — shifting from unnecessarily complicated (but accepted) functionality to user-friendly, smooth, and fast processes that maximize productivity. Smart wearables like the Apple Watch will literally force the enterprise to become simpler.
Mayank Mehta is VP at enterprise mobile app maker Capriza.
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