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Wear it or weep

An alert enterprise will exploit new options in wearable computers. Enterprise Pursuits 5/1/01 Wear it or weep An alert enterprise will exploit new options in wearable computers.

“It’s not just a fashion statement,” said John Brightwig of XenoSuit. “Becoming that familiar with your computer has many advantages in efficiency and convenience. Besides, carrying the extra five kilos of weight doesn’t hurt as exercise, either.” You can believe it. A study by the IZZY institute shows that within five years, more than a million people will be wearing their computers in a variety of exciting fashion combinations.

More important, analysts have been saying for weeks that the new miniaturization has provided options in wearable computers that can be exploited by an alert enterprise. The universal message seems to be that the company whose employees aren’t wearing their computers will be left behind in the digital dust.

One of the companies most involved with finding this advantage is CryoThought Corporation in Sunnyvale, CA. Tom Sparrow, the director of IT, and Mark Fiddle, the project manager for a program called “Operation IT Advantage,” say that wide-scale adoption of wearable computers has spurred many important changes in the organization by empowering employees in ways that no one had foreseen.

Said Tom, “We took this particular bull by the horns and decided the place to start was with our IT people. We outfitted nearly everybody–support technicians, database administrators, programmers–and told them they no longer needed to stay in their cubicles, but would be free to go directly to the users.” Mark added, “We tried a number of different devices–wrists, chest models, heads-up helmets–and found that the heads-up units gave us the most flexibility.”

These models look very space-age, like a cross between Star Wars and a lobster with one antenna. Tom admitted that employees needed to adjust to the appearance, but soon learned that the benefit of immediate access to the company WAN and large computer facilities was invaluable for roaming the user cubicles, especially the map of the campus. After a while, even the users began to ask if they could get some of this new IT gear, which was the first time in a long while that IT had something the users didn’t already have.

As he laughed, Tom said, “It all went very well until somebody plugged Mark in for a recharge. Apparently there was a loose wire that created a shower of sparks and Mark’s hair stood straight up into the air. Now that’s a fashion statement I haven’t seen in a while, but a Fro just isn’t right for Mark.”

The real importance of a wearable computer is the instant response factor. Phone calls can be patched into an ear so that picking up a call is instantaneous. Of course, you have to get used to it. Brightwig at Xenosuit insisted that, “We always require two weeks of training for our wearables. People need to know how to operate and maintain them. There’s a period where we need to adjust the controls to fit different sizes of people. The people need to learn about dealing with skin rash, mucous buildup, and corrosion. Then there are practical things, like it’s not a good idea to play sports wearing the computer. I’ve seen too many guys get hurt. I mean the edges on those wrist models are sharp!”

Of course all wearable models are extremely rugged, and may well outlast their original owners. Current designs are worn separately, but in the near future we can expect to see designs that incorporate the computers into articles of clothing. We can even look forward to a combination of clothing-based computers and chip implants for a much more powerful package than we have today.

In the meantime, leading corporations are jumping on the opportunity to use wearable computers to mine the ultimate in mobile computing. At approximately $5,000 per unit, the ROI sources for the new ultra-mobile workers who wear their computers wherever they go come in the form of immediate sales, quick customer support, and employees who never lose sight of the company’s interests. After all, it’s a financial statement, not just a fashion statement.

Editor at large Nelson King also writes Pursuits monthly for ComputerUser magazine.

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