TextOre Blog

Time for Business Wearables?

May 31, 2016

Among the first and most visible manifestations of the Internet of Things (IoT) are personal wearables in the form of fitness bands and smart watches. What can smart businesses learn from this trend?

The key function of personal wearables is activity tracking – registering data about your activity level in the form of steps, distance, elevation, pulse rate, and time spent. Some trackers let you specify the type of activity you want to monitor, others detect activities automatically based on heart rate, movement and/or GPS. Most have accompanying apps that provide more functionality – and data reports - than the wristband or watch by itself.

Meanwhile, in a modern business, sales and customer data is registered continuously in appropriate systems and databases – point-of-sales terminals, e-shops, CRM systems. Other “activity" data of interest could be related to logistics, personnel, stocks and inventories, or financial flows, all depending on your line of business. Now, there are also reports of businesses allowing (or even requiring) employees to use wearables – with increasing productivity as a benefit.

office bike

What makes activity trackers highly useful and motivational for many of us is the ability to set goals and monitor your performance against them. Health and exercise sciences have established certain benchmarks and recommendations that function as “default" goals. For instance, the American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps per day as an activity goal, and unless you set some other target, your activity tracker will measure your performance against this “industry standard".

If you have higher ambitions, you can set your own goals for daily distance and steps, calories burned, number of times you exercise and total hours of activity per week. Or, if you need to start slowly and build up gradually, you set more modest targets in the beginning. The main thing is to have achievable goals that at the same time make you strive for the next level of performance.

In much the same way, a business needs to establish realistic and motivational targets. Goal-setters have to be aware of industry standards to know what might be considered a good performance. At the same time, a business may be at a stage where its natural targets differ from other, similar organizations. Over time though, the company's “health" requires it to meet most of the same performance indicators that other companies do – there are “laws of nature" in business too.

Activity trackers have simple targets and therefore also pretty simple and easy-to-use app dashboards for monitoring performance (too simple for some users actually). In a complex business environment, sufficiently informative reports can be difficult to design and develop, and very hard to use for non-experts. Although business intelligence tools can define and monitor key performance indicators, they too often seem to be of little relevance to most business users. Maybe because they haven't been involved in determining the indicators or targets?

Perhaps not surprisingly, wearables' dashboards and displays are best at reporting the past, and not very adept at predicting the future. The same goes for most BI tools. Predictive analytics is still in its infancy. As businesses, and individuals, continue to collect streams of data on their activities and performances, it's more and more imperative that we get better at using these data proactively.

For instance, if my tracking device could tell me in advance that I'm falling behind on my daily or weekly targets, I'd have a better chance at reaching my goals by increasing efforts before it's too late. Also, why shouldn't the device app recommend new targets when an analysis of my recent trends indicate that I'm ready to raise my ambitions?

track suitLikewise, smarter BI tools could tell businesses which path the company's performance is following and what's ahead. And if you've “nailed" one target, what should be the next goal to pursue?

An interesting and highly motivating feature of some fitness trackers is comparison with your friends, or other registered users / athletes. People create groups of family members or friends and stimulate each other to work harder by sharing tracking data and achievements. In some types of activities there are apps ranking participants around the world by steps, distance, height meters or time spent. By sharing your data you gain more back. Other people's data make yours more valuable by adding depth and perspective on your performance.

Obviously there are different considerations for companies in sharing data - competitive and legal issues for instance. Authorities collect corporate financial data for tax purposes, and publish consolidated industry figures and statistics – “old" data. Real-time data is only available in stock and commodity markets and contain official market prices, not the story behind.

Maybe startup communities could think alternatively and start sharing their data more freely. Startups may not be direct competitors, but they often go through a lot of the same stages and challenges – be it operational, financial, or other. By sharing performance data – in real-time - they could get a better handle on how each and every one is doing through their startup phases and activities.

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