MWC 2016: The rise of the connected workers, and enterprise wearables

One for the big topics at Mobile World Congress will be the concept of enterprise wearables

Nandagopal Rajan

Wearables are gradually becoming a part of our lives as they become more affordable, and start replacing dumber timepieces. While around the world people start looking at how long they walk or run and what impact this workout has on their heart-rates, another frontier is being opened by tech firms on how wearable devices can be used better. This is why enterprise wearables will once again be one of the serious topics of discussion at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.

This is being called the third phase of enterprise mobility, the advent of the ‘connected worker’. Jim Bailey, senior management director at Accenture Mobility, says one of the focus areas during MWC will be the connected worker, and  companies are expected to move on from the pilots announced last year. An ideal scenario will be one in which each worker has a wearable device on him, letting the company know where he is along with his vital stats.

But this connected worker will “not be just about wearables, smartphones or connected products”. Instead we will see a complex relationship that also brings in the ability to tap into knowledge sources, or even crowd-source information required to solve a problem in real-time, to help do the job as well as possible.

“While this relationship might be enabled by smartphones or other connected devices, it also necessitates mobile device and sensor management, mobile application management, and a consideration for network capacity and other elements of an enterprise’s IT infrastructure that will be affected by the move towards increasingly connected workers,” says one of the concept notes from 2015.

“This is the third phase of enterprise mobility. In the first phase we saw workers adopting technology to become more productive. Then devices started to be used for conducting business transactions and sales, and to improve the supply chain. In the latest phase, there will be new notion of moving to mobile, and this will enable new business models and processes,” explains Bailey. The technology will go a long way in improving safety standards of hazardous industries like mining, improving efficiency of workers and reducing error rates.

Bailey explains other uses like video displays from deployed workers to training new workers in the nuclear industry for instance. The communication could be the other way round as well, with a control centre helping workers with directions, navigation and reminders. But the wide scope also means there will be issues on how workers adapt and adopt these technologies.  “There is an issue. But over the past couple of years workers around the world are getting exposed to these technologies and are comfortable using them,” says Bailey.

Still adoption will depend on how companies are able to convince workers that there is no privacy infringement of the workers on the pretext of improving productivity. There will be tradeoffs that will be made, and the decision will be easier in cases where the impact on safety is significant. There will, however, be use cases where things are not that black and white.

“It will be very easy if there are significant benefits involved. And many of these industries already have deployed high technology and this will be just taking things a step further,” adds Bailey. He says we also need to look at the analytics that will be on offer if every single worker and asset on the field can be tracked real-time. He talks of geographical maps with numerical and coloured information that will take productivity to new levels.

But with controllers directing their every move, will workers of the future end up being more mechanical and less human, unable to take decisions on their own? “We don’t see a world where workers are dumbed down by this innovation. We are not trying to enable super humans, but making humans super by augmenting their information,” says Bailey accepting there will be come socio-economic questions to be answered as we move into the future.

enterprise mobilityenterprise wearablesMobile World CongressMWC2016smart phoneswearables
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