Is wearable technology the next big thing for your business operations?

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The number of wearable computer devices are set to explode in the next couple of years, according to a recent IDC report, increasing from an estimated 19 million units in annual sales this year to about 111.9 million by 2018. One of the most widely recognized examples is Google Glass, a wearable computer that is embedded in eyeglasses and allows the user to search the internet, access maps, make VoIP calls, and a whole host of other functions that you might expect from a mobile computer.

But Google Glass is far from alone. Innovators in wearable technology have been figuring out ways to incorporate computers into watches and clothing in order to give people built in computing functions as well as do things like monitor health.

The future of your operations? Photo source: Sony

But if you think this is just a technology trend for the technically advanced or those with a couple of pounds to lose from their waist, you’d be wrong. Companies are starting to look for ways that wearable technology can help improve productivity, quality and customer service. Here are 4 ways companies can use wearable technology for business operations:

#1: Customer Service

Frontline workers could wear a technology like Google Glass, which would let them carry out basic functions for customers, or even find out more personalized information about a given customer, without having to be tied down in front of a computer. Virgin airlines, for instance, recently announced that its concierge staff at Heathrow airport would trial Google Glass to offer a more personalized customer service by using it to process check ins and give passengers information about flights, weather and even suggested activities at their destinations.

#2: Maintenance

Technicians and equipment engineers can use wearable technology to access manuals or other information while keeping their hands free to actually perform the work. Fed Ex, for instance, uses such a technology in its Memphis, Indianapolis hub for aircraft maintenance, an approach which has allegedly cut down "significantly" the time it takes to carry out the maintenance work, according to Xybernaut, the company who developed the technology. "It allows employees to do more in less time, more accurately, or in a safer environment. Those are the qualifiers for people choosing wearable computers," said Michael Binko, vice president, corporate development for Xybernaut quoted in Aviation Pros.

#3: Inventory Management

Keeping track of inventory could be simplified through simple technology embedded in wearable technology. PA Consulting’s Chris Steele, for instance, says that the QR code reader that is available in Google Glass could be used for finding product or managing inventory in retail businesses or warehouses.

#4: Healthcare

Nurses and doctors could use wearable technology to access further information about patients at the bedside or even look up information on more complex or rare medical conditions. Wearable technology has even been trialled for surgery. The surgical team at University of Alabama-Birmingham, for instance, used Google Glass along with other technology to enhance the amount of information the surgeon was able to see in the operating room. Meanwhile, a 3-year study by the Vitality Group tracked how people responded to fitness incentives combined with wearable technology. The study found that those who had no previous fitness regime reduced their health risk factors by 13%, while those who were already active reduced their factors by 22% - offering healthcare providers a way of further undertaking preventative healthcare. "Our data shows that when incorporated as part of a broader structured program, there was a measurable change in behavior. Those using devices when paired with incentives were more likely to reduce the prevalence of key risks such as BMI and cholesterol levels," said Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group.

But what do you think? Is your company looking at embracing wearable technology? What impact do you think it could have on your business operations and processes?