From The Editor | August 31, 2017

Are Wearables Worth It For Field Service?

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Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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Field Service Wearable

There are a number of statistics that illustrate the expected growth of wearable technology. For example, ABI Research forecasts enterprise wearable device revenue, such as smartwatches, smart glasses, and wearable scanners, will top $60 billion in 2022, increasing from just $10.6 billion in 2017 — a CAGR of over 41 percent. International Data Corporation (IDC) reported in June that the wearables market is expected to double by 2021, with smartwatch shipments specifically expected to increase from 71.4 million units in 2017 to 161 million units in 2021.

The growth trajectory is clear, and I myself recently purchased an Apple Watch and can see the appeal of such devices. That said, what is the value proposition of wearables in field service? One of the biggest benefits that wearables can provide is an increase in productivity. Whether it is hands-free calling or information access from a smartwatch, or AR (augmented reality)-enabled problem resolution using smart glasses, wearables can provide a new level of efficiency to field technicians. Applications such as security access, time management, and hands-free communications are achievable out of the box, and more and more applications geared specifically toward the mobile workforce are being developed for wearables.

As with any technology that brings a productivity benefit, there’s also going to be a positive impact on customer service. Technicians that are using wearables appropriately will be more informed, better equipped for the job at hand, and can create a perception among your customer-base of your company being very tech-savvy.

The Drawbacks Of Wearables In Field Service

While there’s certainly a value to the use of wearables in field service, there are some potential drawbacks that beg the question of whether or not they are worth the investment. First, there is the fact that you are adding an additional device per worker to manage. This can put a strain on IT, and it is one more thing for your workers to keep track of and remember for each job. There’s also the point of security risks – wearables present one more opportunity for data breaches and security issues that will need to be addressed. If you’re considering wearables, you’ll also need to consider what system you will use to manage and secure the devices.

 In addition to the management and security aspects, you are faced with the fact that not all workers will be excited about the idea of learning to use an additional device – and you’ll need to think through the proper communication methods, change management strategy, and training to ensure that the wearables will be used properly.

So are wearables worth it in field service? The answer to that question will be different for each company. As you evaluate how they may or may not fit into your organization, you’ll want to consider exactly what role they can play – what value they will provide to your organization. Define specifically how the wearables will be used, and what impact that use will have beyond your current technologies. If it seems worthwhile to investigate further, be sure to thoroughly evaluate what will be required to manage and secure the devices, and put a plan in place for handling those tasks – whether that’s done internally, or through a contracted partner. Finally, develop a solid strategy for the rollout of and training on the devices to ensure they are used as intended. I’ve no doubt that wearables will be used more and more in field service applications, but you may also find that it just isn’t worth it for your operation – and that’s OK too.