Information | Process | Technology

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Watch IT

 You’ve probably heard recently that Apple have launched the long awaited Apple Watch, a new IT gadget. Smart watches are not new, they have been around in some form for a few years and like most computer technology have improved with each iteration. Apple finally climbing on the bandwagon tends to confirm that there is a bandwagon, Apple generally don’t invent new genres of product but they are very good at seeing which will succeed and bringing their design skills to bear in improving the breed. They also rely on there being a mass-market; whilst in the past Apple were known for low-volume high-end / specialist computer products these days it is pretty much a given that Apple are unlikely to launch something unless they expect lots of us to buy it. So will the smart watch have any significance for business?


Unlike smartphones, tablets and laptops the smart watches released to date have not seen much business user adoption. They have mainly been used by technology enthusiasts to pair with their smartphones, or by fitness enthusiasts to monitor their physical activities. The smart watch seems to be an inherently personal device, but it will have its uses for some business people.

Usually designed to couple with a smartphone it can alert you to incoming calls and appointment reminders, give you a ‘remote control’ for your smartphone, and display useful information such as navigation directions without you needing to take your phone out of your pocket, so the smartwatch will become a useful accessory for mobile workers, but it will offer few incremental benefits over the capabilities of the smartphone, for most business users it will just be a more convenient method of accessing some simple information.

There will be concerns, for instance how will you know whether someone wearing a smart watch is using the watch to record your meeting with them, or photograph documents? It will be difficult to tell and so smart watches will inevitably be frowned upon or banned in some business environments as awareness of their capabilities rises.

While smart watches appear to be inherently personal, for some types of business they will be revolutionary. It is possible to incorporate many different types of sensor into a smart watch. Watch-based pulse / heart rate monitors are common. Some watches already incorporate GPS location finding and accelerometers to detect movement, and it is possible to incorporate sensors which measure skin temperature and conductivity. This array of watch mounted sensors will provide personal monitoring and diagnostic data which will prove invaluable for organisations which care for people.

“Extra Care” services - the monitoring and response to the welfare of the elderly and vulnerable - will obviously be a major beneficiary of smart watch technology; being able to know that a care subject is up and about, moving around, has a regular pulse and an acceptable skin temperature will significantly reduce supervisory needs, enabling some to live at home when otherwise institutional supervision would have been necessary. For others it will mean that the expensive and sometimes intrusive daily or twice daily visit by a care worker will cease to be necessary. For the confused and those suffering some form of dementia the ability to locate them via GPS when needed will mean that fewer personal restrictions are applied in order to ensure their safety.

The evolution of the smart watch will clearly be important both for us and those who care for us, and that care is not limited to the elderly and vulnerable. Organisations with ‘lone workers’ - be they service engineers, cash collectors, drivers or the many other roles that see employees regularly working ‘in the field’ by themselves, have long been required to respect their duty of care to those solo employees going about the organisation’s business. Many lone workers are already equipped with personal alarms, tracking devices and remotely activated communications devices so that their employers can be assured that all is well when they’re out and about, and that they can call for help easily if they run into trouble. As smart watch capabilities develop they will simplify fulfilment of this remote duty of care. Schools and other institutions charged with a significant duty of care may in time join those exploiting the abilities of smart watches.

What this adds up to is smart watches evolving into significant sources of big data, and most of it will be classed as ‘sensitive personal data’, needing to be carefully and considerately processed in large secure data centres, with strong regulatory and governance controls. Even though the smart watch is an inherently personal device it will make life easier for some organisations, transform others, and create major new business opportunities in the processing of smart watch data.