Wearables @ Work: A guide for IT and business leaders

Wearables @ Work This research report was originally published by Tech Research Asia in 2014 and written independently of any sponsorships or funding.

Executive Summary

The promise of wearable technology is something all business and IT leaders should appraise for their organisation. While the current focus of wearables is on “the next big thing” in consumer markets, there are many ways to apply wearables @ work. This TRA research report delivers a comprehensive guide to wearable technology for business and IT leaders. It includes the results of a survey of Australian CIOs and one-on-one analyst interviews with 31 business and IT leaders across Asia Pacific. It also draws on desk research conducted on the supply side of the market. Ten possible scenarios for using wearables @ work are also explained.

Key Findings

The range and types of wearables along with the number of manufacturers is rapidly increasing. 55% are still in prototype stage and two in three target consumers.

Within 12 months one third of Australian organisations will either have a wearables strategy in place or be investigating one. Improving operational efficiency or customer service are the top two goals.

Of 320+ wearables canvassed for this research 17% of wearable manufacturers were silent on how they handle data captured. 46% use some form of cloud service but information on the where the cloud is located is difficult to find.


Use the checklist included in this document to get started on your wearables @ work strategy. Make sure this is a business-led initiative with clear success indicators identified. Wearables are much more than consumer-targeted activity trackers, smartwatches and glasses. Ensure you evaluate all the various types of wearables in order to maximise your potential gains.

Give due consideration to the supporting infrastructure, services and processes that will be needed to implement a wearables project. Also don’t underestimate security and privacy requirements.

Focus on the value that wearables can offer your organisation whether this is in terms of improved customer experience or operational efficiency. It is unlikely any wearable projects will reduce IT costs at this stage of market maturity.

The Dashboard

Topic: The use of wearable devices @ work
Organisation Types: All
Industries: All
Countries: Asia Pacific
Key Statistics: Adoption of a wearable devices at work
Results: 50+ - There are more than 50 providers in each of the following wearables categories: smartwatches, activity tracking wristbands, and clothing. There are also 30+ providers of glasses, goggles or display providers and 20+ jewellery manufacturers. These numbers continue to increase monthly.
Future: Wearables will continue to be a consumer-led market in the short-term but will increasingly make an impact at work for organisations or all types and sizes.


This TRA research report delivers a comprehensive analysis of wearable devices and how they can be used in professional work environments. We achieve this through analysing the results of primary research surveys and analysts interviews conducted in mid-2014 with leaders in organisations in Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and Japan along with extensive desk research. We asked whether organisations in these markets were already planning their wearable strategies and if so, what types of devices are of most interested and how will they use them? This report also offers practical steps IT and business leaders can take to ensure their organisations benefit from the opportunities these devices offer while mitigating downside risks.

What are wearables?

Despite the recent entrance of influential technology vendors like Google, Samsung and Apple along with many manufacturing, apparel, and fashion companies into the market, “wearables”, as they are known, are not a new concept or set of technologies. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the concept of wearables has been with us in many forms for a long time, including: scuba diving and surfing watches, hearing aids, prosthetic and robotic limbs, media and music players of the past (e.g. the Walkman clipped onto a belt), video cameras taped to helmets, arm bands holding smartphones, solar panel laden bags, hand holders for tablets, Bluetooth accessories, and so on. Wearables have been produced and used for many years in many ways. But today’s wearables span a wider range of products and are more sophisticated. They are also receiving a considerable level of attention – read “hype” – in markets like the US and Japan.

TRA does not propose to set out a final definition or comprehensive taxonomy for wearables. However, the term “wearables” in this document refers to any electronic or computer device that can be worn either by humans or animals. If you can wear it in one way or another and it uses some form of digital media or computes, collects, transmits, or stores data, it’s arguable it is a wearable device. The available types of wearables and their form factors are rapidly evolving and the supply side of this market is frenzied with venture capitalists, start-ups, and established vendors trying to develop the “next big thing”, especially for consumers.

A crucial element of contemporary wearables and most future predictions on their role and impact is the idea of “convergence”. Put simply, technology is converging with the design of other products like clothing and accessories along with biotechnology and healthcare goods to name but a couple of examples. Increasingly, technology in the form of sensors and displays are being built into many products across a broad range of industries as an inherent component with a specific role to play in their use. Easily recognisable examples – although certainly not the only new wearables available – include smartwatches and glasses, along with activity tracking wristbands. One salient question already being raised is whether we will get to a point that we forget about the tags “wearable” or “devices” and the tech just becomes inherent or invisible part of products. In our view this will take many years to achieve but it is the direction the market is heading.

Contemporary wearables capture many kinds of data depending on the kind of sensors used. This includes, but is not limited to data related to: movement; health signs such as heart rate; sleep patterns and brain activity; temperature; respiration; posture; glucose levels; oxygen levels; muscle activity; blood pressure; eye tracking; location; elevation; and acceleration. The vast majority of wearables have to be paired to another device, primarily a smartphone, to be used. They also require connectivity, a database or cloud service, analytical tools, and front-end applications or websites.

While not an exhaustive list, the following graphic includes many types of recent innovations that TRA has recorded in its research on wearables:

Wearables @ Work

TRA expects the range of wearable devices to continue to increase over the next months and years as more start-ups and manufacturers look to the market as an opportunity to enhance existing operations, grow new business, and supplant or disrupt old ones. The extent and sophistication of functionality along with the quality and extent of the convergence will also improve as manufacturing and design experience is obtained and customer needs better understood. Contemporary wearables can be categorised in terms of how they are being used. The following are, again, not the only possible categories but we feel they may help IT and business leaders to quickly grasp the purpose of any given wearable. Some wearables will span multiple categories while others will fit into only one:

  • Tracking: Devices that capture location and movement data that can be used to identify where the device and user are and map their movements. GPS trackers are a common example.

  • Monitoring: Devices that capture biophysical or medical information about the user and allow the user or 3rd parties to analyse the information in real time or afterwards. Heart rate monitoring devices used by joggers and patches used by doctors with patients are two examples.

  • Assisting: Devices that enable individuals to enhance an ability or which can assist actions that may otherwise be difficult to undertake. Examples include devices that translate sign language into written or spoken language.

  • Capturing: Devices that record audio, video, or still images. Wearable cameras that log scenes are one example.

  • Controlling: Devices that allow a user to control the functionality of other devices such as a smartphone. Using a smartwatch to control music on a smartphone is one example.

  • Consuming: Devices that allow users to read, listen, or watch content or notifications. Smart glasses and smartwatches that show notifications are two examples.

  • Communicating: Devices that allow users to communicate - such as placing or recieving a phone call. Ear buds or paired with a smartphone are one example as are key chains with an emergency button that when pushed send notifications to authorities.

  • Sharing: Devices that allow users to share their experience or data - sometimes automatically - on social networking platforms. Fitness wristbands that allow users to share their performance are one example.

  • Augmenting: Devices that augment a users experience with additional information shown on a display or in an app. One example is mechanics using smartglasses to work on unfamiliar vehicles.

  • Visualising* Devices that allow users to enter a virtual reality or show a visual display. Examples include VR headsets for users to play games or view software-generated models of physical locations.

  • Powering: Devices that either generate or store power. Examples include bags with solar panels.

  • Verifying: Devices that allow individuals to be verified by security or identity systems. Rings or bracelets that are linked to an individual's profile that automatically authenticate them for entry to an office building (in the same way as a smart card) are one example.

Survey results: Your peers’ plans

TRA undertook a range of research activities from June 2014 that included investigating IT and business leader views and intentions towards using wearable devices in their organisations. Across Japan, Australia, NZ, and Singapore TRA conducted one-to-one analyst interviews with 31 business and IT leaders. Further, as part of SE Corp’s CIO Strategy Summit in Sydney, Australia in August, 2014, TRA executed a survey of 70 event participants (CIO or equivalent level).

The results of both the analyst interviews and event survey (see chart below) clearly and unsurprisingly show that current usage of wearables is low. Only 1% of survey respondents and three interview participants (one in Japan and two in Australia) are currently using wearables. This reflects that fact that although wearables have been around for some time, there haven’t been many attractive or legitimate use cases outside of select industries (like defence, professional sports, or healthcare). Until wearables such as activity and fitness tracking bracelets became well-known in consumer markets and many well-known brands announced wearables products or projects, most business and IT leaders will have had little to no familiarity with these devices and the possibilities they present.

This will change over the next 24 months – 50% of interview participants and 37% of survey respondents said they were either investigating wearables now or would do so in 12 months’ time. While TRA does not expect a sudden rush of adoption, there will be a steady growth of pilot projects as organisations start to explore and learn about peer experiences. Our discussions with business and IT leaders indicate that while many are certainly interested in wearables this is heavily influenced by consumer products like fitness and activity bands, smartwatches, and Google Glass. Apple’s entrance into the market in September with a smartwatch will amplify this consumer-lifestyle awareness. Although there are many vendors looking at commercial and professional applications of wearables, understanding of the broader wearables ecosystem and how these devices can be used at work is low.

Wearables @ Work

There are, in TRA’s opinion, already many ways that business and IT leaders could benefit from adopting wearables and many use cases will be discovered as these explorers and early adopters examine their own opportunities (some potential use case scenarios are included below). It will be just as important for CxOs and CIOs to seek out these case studies as it will be for providers to share them and educate the market in order to fast track the volume of successful projects. The following chart shows the top initial reasons why these organisations are considering wearables and the types of devices they are most interested in. Research participants – in both the survey and analyst interviews – were asked to identify the most likely way they will use wearables and the top device form factor they believe could be used at work.

Wearables @ Work

In TRA’s view these drivers and interest in devices will diversify as education improves. However, there are many organisations – reflected by the 62% of survey respondents that aren’t looking at wearables for the next 24 months - that have higher priority projects demanding their investment and attention. For these organisations, the value of wearables at work is not well understood or proven. As such it is understandable many organisations will take a wait-and-see approach.

Supply side research: A rapidly changing landscape

As part of the wearables @ work research program TRA also investigated the current state of the supply side of the market. Over the months of June and July, 2014 we identified more than 320 organisations that have publically announced they have one or more wearable devices either as a product being sold today or as a prototype under development. The 320 organisations are by no means a complete census of wearable providers– and only those that TRA was able to identify publically in a short time frame; the number of providers is increasingly rapidly and will be far more than 320. The main insights and data we uncovered from this preliminary logging of the supply side include:

55% are prototypes. The majority of companies canvassed have wearables that are only at a prototype stage of product development. Many indicated they were due to start shipping final versions of their wearable products in 2015. There is currently an inherent uncertainty about the future financial stability and longevity of many wearable suppliers that need to be evaluated when considering long-term partners for commercial deployments.

64% target consumers. Almost two in three providers are targeting consumers. While some of these will be suitable for use in workplaces, many are not and need to be carefully evaluated. At the same time, there is a risk of some of these unsanctioned devices being brought into the workplace – the same way that smartphones and tablets were previously – and generating data security risks and increased pressures on infrastructure such as WiFi networks.

30+ smart glasses providers. There are more than 30 smart glasses, VR headset or display providers using a range of operating systems. Google Glass is the easily the most recognisable smart glasses, but business and IT leaders should also evaluate many of the other providers. This is especially true in the Asia Pacific region where Google Glass is not available in its current beta phase of development.

50+ smartwatch providers. There are more than 50 smartwatch providers with several now already selling online and through telecommunications partners across the globe. The main operating system is Android Wear however Tizen, Linux, WebOS are also used and iOS is impending.

50+ wristband providers. There are more than 50 wrist or ankle bands / bracelet providers predominantly focused on activity or fitness tracking/monitoring. Very few are medical-grade devices that can be used for scientific research. Indeed, many include disclaimers about relying on their products for medical diagnosis. As such, care should be taken when considering these devices in a commercial environment, especially for any workforce health improvement programs that are tied to efforts to reduce insurance premiums.

50+ clothing providers. There are more than 50 clothing, headband, hat or shoe related wearable providers. TRA expects many more as fashion- and sports-related manufacturers to enter the market in tandem with rising adoption and falling costs of components. Additionally, health and safety-related equipment and clothing manufacturers already have offerings – especially in law enforcement and defence - investigating

20+ jewellery providers. There are more than 20 jewellery or accessory providers including necklace, ring, and fashion accessory manufacturers. There are an additional 35+ providers with devices that can be worn with clips, straps or collars (including for pets and livestock).

Prices start as low as $20. Pricing ranges from US$20 to multiple $1000s for a single device with some also requiring monthly fees and multiple-year contracts. However, there were no clear pricing or contractual trends that can be elucidated from publically available material. Legitimate pricing benchmarks for the commercial use of wearables will also be difficult to obtain for some time.

25% have SDKs. One quarter have a software development kit (SDK) publically available to developers. Some are freely available while others require an upfront fee. Android and iOS are the most common SDKs.

17% are silent on how data is handled. Finding information on how data is handled was difficult with 17% lacking any information on where data collected by their device is stored. A further 46% may use a cloud service but information on where the cloud is located is also difficult to find. These two characteristics will be important considerations for any organisation looking to adopt wearables @ work, especially those facing regulatory compliance obligations.

Less than 5% are fully independent devices. Only a small fraction of wearables are fully independent, meaning they can be used without ever needing to be paired with another device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Just under 50% can operate independently but will need to be paired to another device at some stage, while the remainder need to be paired to another device in order to be used.

50% available worldwide. Half of the providers surveyed indicate their products are available to be shipped worldwide, although very few have offices outside of their home countries. The main countries/regions of origin include: USA, China, Japan, Europe, and South Korea. Enterprise-level support for wearables is severely lacking, even for the most popular and well-known devices.

TRA again acknowledges that the above is not based on an exhaustive census of the entire wearable device provider market. In fact, the rate of new wearable market entrants in 2014 is staggering and appears likely to continue well into 2015 with both established organisations and start-ups using crowd funding sites or backed by venture capitalists. It is for all intents and purposes a highly fluid market that will experience many fluctuations in supply and competition across all of the different wearable device types. As such TRA does not propose to create a market size and growth forecast at present. While we maintain that wearables will be a sizeable global market in both consumer and commercial segments with strong growth over the next five to ten years as is indicated by our primary research, we believe it is too early to establish reliable market revenue and shipment figures considering the rapid change currently underway.

The following graphic provides a visual representation of organisations and trends that are involved in some way in the wearables market:

Wearables @ Work

The diversity of makers (aka manufacturers) is reflective both of the wide range of possible wearables that can be produced and also the fact with some types of devices – such as smartwatches and fitness bands – the consumer market is in an “early adopter” phase. In this phase, adoption rates increase quickly and it acts as arguably the most critical time for providers to secure knowledge leadership and high profile reference customers and/or media exposure. In other words, there is a “land grab” effect where providers rush into the market and the competitive dynamics and market share remain highly fluid.

However, the maturity of wearables @ work is more embryonic. Aside from niche applications in some categories of healthcare, defence, and professional sports the global market is in an “explorer” phase. In this period, there is a minimal level of adoption and the costs for technology and implementation are high. Barriers such as a lack of skills and best practices are also evident. Further, acceptance by stakeholders for funding projects or even with users engaging with wearables is harder to achieve due to higher levels of unfamiliarity. On the positive side, those adopting wearables obtain strong brand awareness and equity, thought leadership status, along with early productivity and innovation benefits.

The wearables opportunity: scenarios for business and IT leaders

In an “explorer” market like the current crop of wearables @ work TRA recommends business and IT leaders establish a multi-stakeholder project team to specifically evaluate the possible ways they could use these devices to their benefit. For most organisations there is no critical urgency driving this recommendation, rather it is the possibilities that wearables present to organisations of all types and sizes. This is especially the case for organisations on a “digital business” journey that are looking for ways to be more innovative either in the way they engage customers or with their internal operations. The following scenarios provide possible use cases and likely developments that IT and business leaders should consider when evaluating the impact of wearable devices on their own organisation’s strategy. There will, of course, be many different scenarios and the below are offered as an introduction to deeper individual investigation:

[Note: The device examples given in the below scenarios are offered as preliminary examples only. TRA is not advocating any individual manufacturer’s product and recommends all organisations considering adopting wearables undertake thorough research and due diligence on all relevant suppliers.]
  • Create an entirely new customer experience. With the price of components and ample availability of capable manufacturers combined with growing experience of IT professionals with developing software and implementing systems, becoming a wearables “maker” is a viable option open to any organisation. Across industries and in both commercial and consumer markets there are many feasible avenues for new product and experience development open to organisations with the will to innovate with wearables. Disney’s MagicBand is one of the best examples of a non-IT or non-traditional manufacturing organisation creating a new experience through manufacturing its own wearable device. Others include Adidas, Jawbone, Nike, Oculus Rift, Oakley, Under Armour, Nissan, Epiphany Eyewear, Jins, Zeiss, and Thalmic. There are many more possible examples (including a swag of start-ups) and TRA expects most organisations in industries like IT, fashion and sports apparel, defence and healthcare that have extensive product development teams to already be investigating wearable products – we encourage those in other industries to do likewise; the barriers to entry will only continue to lower. As you would expect, the typical requirements and challenges of new product development will apply to any wearables product. The handling of data and privacy obligations should also not be underestimated.

  • Enhance the current customer experience. Many currently available wearable devices could be applied to enhance today’s existing customer journey for many organisations. For example, university students may benefit from being able to receive notifications on a smartwatch about class times and locations (such as with a Samsung Galaxy Gear, Blocks, Archos, LG G Watch, Sony Smartwatch, Pebble, Moto 360 and many others). Event, exhibition, or tour attendees could augment their experience with information (and suggested actions) delivered to them via smart glasses (such as with Google Glass, Epson Moverio, Lumus, Recon Instruments, Laforge Optical, Sony SmartEyeglass, and others). Prospective buyers of property or custom-design objects could view the final product in virtual reality and help tweak the outcome (such as with Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Control VR, Zeiss, and others). Improving the customer experience – and indeed, delighting the customer – is a perennial goal for business and IT leaders and there are many other potential applications of all types of wearables that may assist this imperative.

  • Create an OTT business. By offering SDKs and application marketplaces many wearable devices are opening up new ecosystems for developers looking to create applications (both paid and free). Examples include: Google’s Android Wear, Epson’s Moverio, Bragi, Glass Up, Nymi, Meta, and Vuzix. Salesforce has also established a developer program for wearables using its PaaS offering. However, TRA believes the wearables opportunity will extend to associated businesses. The obvious extensions are for companies to build applications as a service (such as Outware in Australia) or for retailers, telcos, and resellers to sell these products. The opportunity also extends to service providers and consultants to help implement wearables @ work, such as the first five Google Glass partners based in the US. Other opportunities will be found in associated infrastructure and IT systems, training and education, content development and delivery, and advertising.

  • Capture insights and conduct research. Quantify the future of work. The commoditisation and popularisation of wearables combined with the lowering of their price will produce all kinds of research opportunities. After all, many wearables are developed with the express purpose of tracking and monitoring the movement, location, health, and other actions of individuals (or animals). The variety of data that can be captured can be analysed by those in the social sciences, healthcare, commerce, public policy, and even workplace strategy domains to name but a small selection of possible sectors. Indeed, wearables like Hexoskin, Vigo, Tobii, Lumo, and Hitachi’s Business Microscope to name a few of the possible wearables can be applied in many ways for research projects. Indeed, while due care must be taken to ensure valid data, the potential is only limited by imagination and whether the systems and policies are ready to support it.

  • Proactively deal with the BYO redux. As they did with smartphones and tablets, employees will bring wearable devices into your workplace. The way these devices handle data is often not clear, thus creating a security risk. Additionally, most device management tools (such as mobile device management or MDM) are only just beginning to become capable of managing these devices. We encourage IT and business leaders to quickly establish policies regarding wearable devices. Being proactive will ensure the right expectations are set within your workplace and risk reduced.

  • Augment and modernise operations. Hands-free productivity. Smart glasses like Google Glass, Epson Moverio, Recon Instruments, Laster, ODG, Meta, and Vuzix, which provide augmented reality may help streamline the delivery of information to a variety of different workers while allowing them to continue being productive (instead of using their hands to hold a device and search for information). From warehouse pickers and truck drivers, to surgeons and customer service officers, and from in-field mechanics to retail assistants, there are many roles suitable for the application of augmented reality-based wearables. These will, of course, need to be supported by robust enterprise-class systems and services (like those provided by Augmate), and can also be paired with other wearables such as NFC- or RFID-reading wearables like Fujitsu’s prototype glove or like this Motorola example. Further, learning experienced in the class room or in the field can also be enhanced with augmented reality wearables while they may also help to broaden the opportunities for the disabled to participate in work.

  • Enhance talent welfare and performance. Wearables such as one of the many fitness tracking wristbands can be used as one component of a holistic endeavour to help employees pursue a health improvement program. The potential benefits of a healthier workforce extend from direct productivity gains to the lowering of insurance premiums. However, beyond general fitness, wearables can also be used to help employees improve their concentration (such as with the Vigo) and posture (like with Lumo). Careful consideration must be given to employee privacy, surveillance laws, and the handling of personal data. However, if structured appropriately the data captured as part of any wearables @ work welfare and performance programs could allow organisations to generate insights on which circumstances and schedules create the optimal environment for employees, students, or teachers.

  • Improve safety levels. There are many types of wearables that can help with tracking the location of staff, students, patients, and potentially livestock and pets (such as T Kids Phone JooN, Guard2Me, HereO, MyFilip, Amulyte, Equivital LifeMonitor, SINTEF’s Safety Alarm 2.0, or Silent Herdsman). While careful consideration must be given to employee or patient privacy, surveillance laws, and the handling of personal data these wearables can help with improving physical safety. This includes, for example, individuals that could be at risk if their physical location is unknown such as a patient that suffers from Alzheimer’s, a student on a field excursion in remote wilderness, or employees in mine sites to name a few examples. There are other wearables that can provide directions to those in circumstances that make movement difficult such as the prototype inner sole which gives direction notifications to those in low or no visibility environments at KVH.

  • Track time sheets and schedules. One innovative application of wearable technology that concentrates on improving time management and the allocation of resources is to use a wristband to monitor the location and time usage of professionals such as lawyers while giving them notifications of scheduled tasks. Integration into practice management and analytics systems can also offer greater automation and visibility over performance. One early example of this application is from Janders Dean.

  • Personalise authentication and payments. Incorporating smart card or NFC technology into wearables means they are able to be used for the same applications. This includes using wearables to pay for goods and services, as part of ticketing systems such as many public transportation services, and as identity cards commonly used by employees to enter buildings or print out documents. Further, many of these wearables can be personalised by the individual or organisation to create a more personal touch. Examples include the customisable Bond wristband, Nymi, NFC Ring, or the 3D printable Sesame Ring.

The above 10 examples only scratch the surface of what is possible with wearable devices and TRA encourages business and IT leaders to explore the possibilities for their organisation.


Tech Research Asia undertook a series of research activities in order to produce this report. These included:

Desktop research by TRA analysts over the months of June and July, 2014. Via public domain documentation and websites we identified more than 320 organisations that have publically announced they have one or more wearable devices either as a product being sold today or as a prototype under development.

Face to face and phone based interviews with business and IT leaders of 31 organisations across Asia Pacific. Interviews lasted between 15 and 60 minutes.

As part of SE Corp’s CIO Strategy Summit in Sydney, Australia in August, 2014, TRA executed a survey of 70 event participants (CIO or equivalent level) from a broad range of industries.