Wearable Technology – Enterprise Applications
Although 2014 has seen rapid development in wearable technology there has also been someresistance in the consumer market with people questioning both the need and the benefit of the technology. Most consumer uses can be seen as being rather gimmicky and yet when you consider the development in gaming technology since the launch of the Sony Play Station 20 years ago, which utilised remote equipment (yes – the first Play Station really was launched in Japan in December 1994!), it is hard to see that wearable technology will not advance at pace in coming years. What is certain, however, is that developers will have to focus on developments that meet specific needs which will avoid the perception of gadgetry for the sake of gadgetry. Google Glass continues to be developed rapidly with Google teaming up with some heavyweight partners including Ray Ban and Oakley and there are some high profile experimenters with this type of wearable technology. Virgin Atlantic made the first move in February, announcing a trial of Google Glass along with the Sony Smartwatch at the Upper Class Wing at London Heathrow Airport, using the products, along with wi-fi connectivity to “talk” to an app on the customer’s smart phone, to enable airline staff to greet passengers by name, provide real-time travel information and start the check-in process before the passenger has even reached the front door of the terminal.
This type of application does raise questions about the use of this technology – is there an essential need for this type of use and how will this kind of use improve, efficiency, productivity and profitability? Is this simply an enhancement to the upper class experience or is it an expensive “nice to have”?
Certainly testing functionality through this type of use should lead to the natural development of use within the airline environment and help identify uses that really will contribute, directly or indirectly, to greater profitability. For example – if you are able to identify your passengers as soon as they enter your environment then while they remain within your environment you should be able to improve the service you provide – and as the airline business at the upper end of the market is all about developing customer loyalty through service delivery then the link to profitability can clearly be established.
If an airline is able to track and communicate with its passengers via wearable technology (within a controlled environment and via connectivity technology such as iBeacons) then it should be possible to apply the same technology in a way that provides an advantage to the operation of the business. Smartwatch boarding passes have become available only within the last few weeks, so feedback is minimal, and as they rely on the consumer owning a smartwatch, uptake is likely to remain low in the foreseeable future. However, Virgin Atlantic recently completed a trial at Heathrow which has produced some interesting findings. Feedback is said to have been “really positive” and passengers were generally supportive but more importantly the airport agents themselves liked the fact that it reduced the amount of paper they have to carry and removed the need for use of radios for communication while allocating jobs. The link between the technology and genuine enterprise application is clear. If work allocation can be controlled through this technology then so can the whereabouts of staff as can the hours worked by those who’s days are long (airline staff or healthcare workers, for example) or who’s working hours need to be carefully managed (drivers, for example).
Wearable technology has historically been seen as a consumer device which has proved to be a useful test of what is possible, but as can be seen, it is now gaining more traction as an enterprise tool and this is something that industry should pay attention to. The Virgin Atlantic test described above is part of Google’s move to enterprise through its “Glass at Work” programme and this clearly shows that Google wants to embrace enterprise and maybe, more significantly, a realisation that this is the right area for Google Glass.
The Future for Airlines?
The experiment in wearable technology, carried out by Virgin Atlantic, clearly demonstrates enterprise value through the technology applied in the workplace, but it is worth considering what other potential enterprise driven benefits there might be for an airline looking to adopt the technology across the business.
At the top end (business class and up) airlines attempt to differentiate themselves based on service so Google Glass could be used by cabin crew to continue to provide that exceptional level of service by remembering the names (and more importantly “preferred” names) of passengers on board. Details of meal orders and drink preferences or other special requirements (early wake up or time for meal service for example) could be delivered through the technology. For regular flyers, all these details could be retained and used on every flight. For example Mr John Smith who simply likes to be called John and enjoys a glass of Mumm Cordon Rouge before takeoff could be welcomed like an old friend every time he boards an aeroplane.
More practically there are any number of potential applications in terms of productivity and working practice. The opportunity to identify the location of staff across an airport and distribute jobs without the need for radio communication was clearly highlighted as a benefit in the Virgin trial but all work allocation, hours worked, clocking on/off and employee information could be delivered via an app. Communications, for immediate delivery at the point of service/operation, could be utilised for any up to the minute information (gate closure, final call, missing passengers etc.).
Some form of wearable technology to monitor steps and other body statistics to manage the welfare of cabin crew, not just on a particular flight, but over time as well could be developed. Add a sleep monitor for long haul flights and it will be possible to ensure that the crew remain in good health whilst in flight and capable of fulfilling their safety requirements.
Communications on board could be improved as well, avoiding the need for constant calling from one end of the aeroplane to the other or for visits to the flight deck with information passed seamlessly to the point where it is needed and for the flight crew via Goggle Glass. In the future as intelligence continues to improve along with technology - face recognition could be utilised to improve flight safety and reduce terrorism risk.
The possibilities appear to be endless………..