Some Firms Already Using Wearable Tech in Cool Ways

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By Arjun Kharpal

Cloud consulting firm Appirio and Blueberry Home Solutions, a plumbing, heat and air-conditioning company, are two very different firms with one thing in common: They have both started using wearables in the workplace.

Wearable technology has been the focus of intense attention recently, from Google Glass to the April launch of the Apple Watch. And businesses have begun seeing uses for the devices, but in many different ways.

British company Blueberry Home Solutions manufactures a hub that can monitor gas and oil consumption and provide you with the bill in real-time. It is developing a device called the Blueberry Hub which can be used to control the home's boiler and other appliances via a smartwatch.

But for now, the company has been using smartwatches in-house for research and development. The company's lab is about 10 miles away from their office just outside of London. Blueberry Home Solutions has made an app that can control lab testing remotely and be controlled via the smartwatch removing the need for an engineer to be onsite.

"The wearable was just an exciting new avenue for us because ultimately a wearable is again about flexibility. ... Wherever they are and whatever time of the day it is (they) ... are able to interact," Alistair Smith, managing director of Blueberry Home Solutions, said.

A number of major technology companies tout the benefits for business of their wearable tech, includingMicrosoft's augmented reality headset called HoloLens to Sony's SmartEyeglass. Developers have even started working on enterprise apps for devices such as the Apple Watch.

How Do Employees Benefit?

Studies suggest that workers are open to the idea of being provided wearables by their employer, provided there was some sort of benefit for them. Just under half (44 percent) of U.K. employees would be happy to use a piece of wearable technology provided by their employer and allow the employer to collect data from it, according to a study of 2,023 adults by PwC. This figure rises to 56 percent if there are benefits such as flexible working hours and free health screenings.

One company is trying to do just that. U.S.-based Appirio, a firm which helps companies transition to the cloud, has provided Fitbits to those employees that want one. Through this, employees can track their fitness, upload the data onto the company's internal social media platform, see their peers' fitness goals and issue challenges.

Tim Medforth, senior vice president of Appirio, claims the scheme has helped productivity as well as maintain the company's reputation as a cutting-edge tech firm. "We're a fast-growing services company and we want to attract the best and brightest technologists on the planet and to do that we want to be a great place to work so that's a lot about having a fun employee experience," he said, adding that about 50 percent of the company's global workforce is using Fitbits and because health data can be tracked, it has led to a reduction in the firm's insurance premium.

Privacy and Security Concerns

But along with this comes privacy and security concerns. Around 40 percent of U.K. workers don't trust their employer to not use the data collected against them in some way, PwC's study found. And experts told CNBC that wearables have introduced a further cybersecurity threat into the business, opening a new hacking front for attackers.

Vincent Geake, a technology specialist at Deloitte, said companies could find fitness schemes "short-lived" due to "substantial" privacy issues and "less clear" benefits. He said workers are more likely to bring in their own devices which are more private rather than accept a company device.
Geake added that virtual reality technology might have a bigger impact on businesses than wrist wearables.

"Virtual reality is going to be essential when we see robotics and autonomous vehicles making an impact in the workplace," Geake said. "There is a real benefit to those devices. They will come through and that will be more transformational."
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