They positioned it as a wellness program. A bunch of excited employees lined up to accept a cute fitness band that they promptly wrapped around their wrists. The smartly designed, super high-tech bands promised to become sure-shot envy-generators within their social circles. Gosh, we are just so ‘with-it’!
The wrist-bands tracked fun things like how many steps people had taken, how many miles they’d walked, how many calories they’d burnt... This data was transferred to a cloud-based repository. The HR person gushed as attractive dashboards showed progress against everyone’s unique fitness goals! Gosh, we are just so hep!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is only a tiny bit of what the Internet of ‘Things’ (IoT) is all about! With everything eventually connected to everything else. You cannot hide, though you can run… Gosh, we are just so stuck… er…sorry, connected!
The world’s next big, hairy disruptor is already taking shape. Giants like Google and Apple, and a host of others are already working on how to tap this new innovative opportunity. Between Gartner and John Chambers, CEO of CISCO, the prediction is that, by 2020, the IoT business is going to be worth over US$ 19 trillion, with some 26 billion devices.
Clearly IoT is set to change the workplace dynamics too:
Monitoring (hold your breath) Employee Productivity: Do people need learning to increase their output? Are people working efficiently or just pfaffing around? Are they making any mistakes? A real-time, training, appraising and development mechanism all rolled into one!
Health and Wellness tracking: Wearable devices are constantly in contact with a person’s body. Hence they can measure vital signs like heartbeat, blood pressure and other data points and opine that the individual is indeed healthy or under stress or needs medical help. A mini intensive care unit going everywhere with you!
Ease of doing business: Presently, one needs to hand-hold a device to manage the onslaught of communications hitting us day and night. Soon calls, emails, messages, data searches can all be managed hands free. Both hands can now be deployed gainfully!
Connecting up a variety of devices and information repositories: Everything gets aggregated in one place -- a single wearable device – wristband, eyeglasses or contact lens that handles the lot. Sourcing and delivering information from diverse sources, via a single interface, directly to our eyes and/or ears – possibly even our brain!
Wearable technology certainly brings benefits to people at the workplace even today – there’s no doubt about it. Its increasing popularity is a clear indicator.
Managing – rather micro-managing – people will become increasingly easier. Trackers, or whatever GPS evolves into, can locate to within a few feet, exactly where a person is. Seeing what people are seeing, hearing what they are hearing. Whether they are working or playing in the park. Along with their body temperature, blood pressure, sleep patterns… Sorry folks, no more french leave, or bunking work on account of being ill. Your wrist-band (traitor!) has already informed your boss that you are well and are at the local multiplex watching Titanic!
Medieval prisoners once wore a metal cuff connected to a huge iron ball by a chain. Tomorrow’s workforce will wear a wristband, connected to a huge cloud, by Bluetooth. Okay, okay, bad example but think…
M2M – machine-to-machine – connectivity is the new buzzword even as we fight to keep the human element in Human Resources alive and real. But that isn’t all of it. There’s much more to worry about:
Privacy: Would people willingly submit to monitoring by the organization 24x7? What about sneaky photos of colleagues without their knowledge, and/or photographing official documents?
Security: All this data – personal, official, confidential – is exposed to hacking. Even the latest firewalls and security protocols are – and have been – found to be vulnerable. Then, what?
Standards: Given the huge moneymaking opportunity for the tech majors – software and hardware makers – several global organizations are already working on this. Success is still some distance away.
The cost of necessity: Companies will be forced to fall in line despite more important areas that beg for investment. But with this solution quickly reaching its plateau of productivity – i.e. becomes business as usual – everyone will just have to comply. Or get locked out.
At every stage of its evolution, technology that suggested monitoring of people raised cautionary flags. The advent of wearable technology is yet another evolutionary leap.
Except, this time big brother is not just watching you, he is right there – on your left wrist!