Are Wearables Enterprise-Ready?: A Q&A with Maribel Lopez

In the first of a two-part interview, Appcelerator caught up with Maribel Lopez, Founder and Principal of Lopez Research to hear her thoughts on wearables in the enterprise.

When is the right time for companies to start thinking about wearables?

Right now wearables don’t necessarily make sense for every company. In some cases they’re a “nice-to-have” but not a “must-have.” The question to ask is whether a wearable device is solving a problem or fulfilling a need that a smartphone or some other existing device can’t already do.

What are some examples of successful enterprise wearable strategies?

Currently some of the most relevant industries for wearables are manufacturing, transportation, warehousing and healthcare. Any time a person requires both hands to do their job, there’s a potential advantage in a wearable that can pull up information or trigger a command hands-free. To give an example, a surgeon might use Google Glass to monitor a patient’s vitals while operating, without having to take his or her eyes away from the procedure.

Another area where there is potential for wearables to make an impact is in travel. Virgin Atlantic is experimenting with using Google Glass to personalize customer service for travelers in the airline’s Upper Class Wing. Disney is pioneering wearables in hospitality and entertainment with its MagicBands that engage visitors across Disney hotels and theme parks. Now the rest of the industry will be looking to find their magic.

Is it too early for enterprises to worry about wearables for employees?

At the moment, developing apps for wearables is premature for a lot of companies. Once users become used to consumer apps and start using wearables more frequently in their daily lives, the stakes become much higher in the enterprise. Do we really need to replace an ID badge with a smartwatch app? Probably not… yet.

What is the role of IT decision makers and developers in the age of mobile — including wearables and beyond?

There are several major changes underfoot. The first is that IT needs to understand much more intimately how a business works. This means going out and observing employees at work in order to understand their challenges and how they’re using technology. There’s no magic bullet solution that will work across the board; its about finding the right fit.

Second, IT needs to understand what competitors are doing with technology. Once one company starts innovating, the pressure is on for others to innovate. There is a real competitive advantage in being on the cutting edge; IT needs to stay aware to stay ahead of the game.

Third, the impetus is on IT to be much less risk-averse than than in the past. The notion of failing fast holds truer than ever; you really have to go out and experiment with minimal investment whenever possible. If a new initiative will take hundreds of thousands of dollars and six months, it probably isn’t worth it. Relatedly, software releases need to happen much more quickly than they used to. While major releases used to take a year, we’re now working on three-month cycles for enterprise apps (and even faster for consumer apps). You have to move not just fast but really fast.

Finally, developers need to be extremely nimble and open to using new tools or gaining new skills. The rapid transitioning of platforms and operating systems is a big deal. It means developers must be prepared to adapt to different screen sizes, processing speeds, keyboard types and so on. As the mobile landscape changes every few months, they need to make tough decisions about about which and how many platforms to focus on.

About Maribel Lopez: Maribel is the Founder and Principal of Lopez Research, a market research and strategy firm specializing in IT and communications technologies. Previously she was an analyst with Forrester Research for ten years, most recently as Vice President of the tech industry strategies group.