Technologies Empowering the Mobile Worker – Part 3: Industrial Wearables

It’s a toss-up between health trackers and body-worn cameras: Which type of device is the most- deployed wearable in the workforce today? Many companies offer body-worn cameras that are designed and built to an industrial-grade specification. The majority of the health trackers deployed are consumer grade yet work very well, depending on your requirements. More and more companies are looking to use industrial wearables that will accelerate their empowerment of workers. As you look to start using such devices, here are a few items to watch for:

Connectivity

In an ideal world, we’d have ubiquitous and unlimited bandwidth available everywhere. 5G will bring that vision closer but not for a few more years. If your use case depends on the ability to track an employee’s heath data or stream high-def video in real time, then having connectivity and the required bandwidth are key requirements.

Privacy

More than a year ago at DistribuTECH, a colleague in a utility shared an example where they deployed consumer health trackers to a number of drivers. Everyone was really happy. The employees knew that their company had their back if they had an accident. The company could see they had a healthy workforce. Then someone noticed that one of the employees might have a heart condition, based on data collected. Their conundrum was, could/should the company inform the employee of this, given the privacy and employment laws they operate under. The lawyers were not sure. Then one lawyer asked, “What if this person has a health issue, causes an accident, and then it comes out we knew the employee may have had a health issue?” While privacy and employment law have since evolved, any potential privacy issues have to be thought through, otherwise legal or regulation issues may become a real headache.

Industrial Specifications

It may be that you can use a consumer-grade device just fine in your work environment. In many industries any piece of equipment provided by the employer to an employee may need to have specific industrial specifications. This can vary from having better tolerance for temperature, the ability to withstand shocks or vibrations, etc. Any of these criteria may require the manufacturer to design the device to meet these specifications. However, in many industrial environments the required certifications go way further, all the way to having intrinsically safe devices. For example, if the device is to be used in any location where there is high voltage, then the device cannot have any exposed metal in the design, for fear of causing an electrical arc. And believe me, if you are working in an electrical substation, the last thing you want is to cause an arc.

Siloed Approach

Most wearable solutions out there today are stand-alone solutions. By that I mean you have a health tracker, it connects to your phone via an app and syncs the data to a cloud service. All good. If you have multiple different wearables, typically from different vendors, then each has its own app and each has its own back end in the public cloud. See where this is going? It creates a whole lot of work to both integrate all the data back into the corporate back-end systems, to manage multiple new apps on employee devices, not to mention dealing with confidential employee and company data in potentially multiple public cloud infrastructures. The lawyers may have a field day.

There are now a number of companies looking to integrate multiple wearables and sensors into a single solution, with the data all contained within your own IT infrastructure. So there is light at the end of the tunnel, though not all features may be available yet for your specific industry.

There are clear advantages in deploying wearables in your workforce today. Just be aware of the potential issues that may need to be addressed for your specific industry and/or use case.