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Wearable technology: It's about the work, stupid

So much of the focus on wearable technology has been about its coolness factor. (And its fashion fails.) But there's plenty more to be excited about than looking at your wrist to find out who's calling the phone in your pocket -- especially for CIOs and IT leaders.

Karen GoulartKaren Goulart

It's true that where businesses are concerned, much of the wearable tech talk has centered on how to defend against the coming onslaught. It will be BYOD all over again (presuming you figured it out the first time), trying to keep employees from spilling company secrets from their Google Glasses.

But there is another exciting side to wearable technology that CIOs ought to be thinking about for their businesses, and exploring with their partners in the business. If the modern charge of the CIO is to enable the business, wearable technology is poised to be a huge opportunity for meaningful collaboration. This isn't simply about document sharing or morale-boosting fitness challenges. We're talking about the kind of wearable technology that enhances workers' abilities and broadens their capabilities.

At this year's CES show in Las Vegas, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich -- in the midst of launching a global call for innovation with the company's "Make It Wearable" campaign -- opined that wearables have yet to approach ubiquity because they aren't solving real problems.  That depends on one's definition of "real problems." Krzanich cited the integration of headphones with personal assistance software. Yup, there's that. There's also major surgery. I guess maybe I just take life too seriously?

An exciting example of this utilitarian -- if not exactly "fun" -- approach to wearable technology, is illustrated in this week's lead Searchlight item. It's a news item from the all-things-science-and-technology-(and Kurzweil)-site, Kurzweil AI, about glasses developed by Washington University School of Medicine scientists that help surgeons "see" notoriously hard to distinguish cancer cells. The glasses were used for an actual surgery there for the first time this week.

Check out SearchCIO's own coverage of these topics

Wearable technology presents a very big, big data challenge

CIOs, watch out for wearables entering the workplace

Former White House CIO offers cybersecurity tips for businesses

And this is just one example -- from this week. There was also the abdominal surgery at an Indiana hospital during which doctors used Google Glass to call up the patient's medical information during the procedure.  And the folks at GE who are anticipating technicians using headset cameras to guide them through complex repairs -- also enabling engineers to see a recording of said repairs to ensure they were done correctly. Much like 3-D printing, new examples are surfacing at an increasing clip. Where about nine months ago, folks seemed both aghast and impressed by the creation of a fire-able 3-D printed gun; we've quickly moved on to bigger -- and dare I say exponentially better -- uses, from food to human limbs. It's not a stretch to believe the same will happen with wearable technology. Once the innovation snowball gets rolling, and wearable potential is better understood, watch out.

And this is the time, as things get rolling, when CIOs need to get on board.  What opportunities are there for IT to help think up, create or even just provision wearable technology? Fitness challenges are fun and all, and collecting data is sure useful, but let's think bigger; let's think about the real work of work.

  • Look for the potential, not just the potential problems; wearable technology in the workplace  could literally save lives (or time or money -- depending on where you work).
  • Facebook looks to boost its youth-cred (and reach) with a reported $19 billion purchase of mega-popular messaging app, WhatsApp. WhatsApp reportedly rolls its eyes and mumbles, "Whatevs."
  • Maybe we can get a Kickstarter going to help Kickstarter implement better security. Until then, demanding more data collection transparency might be helpful.  
  • Netflix will run deep-learning algorithms on Amazon cloud as it looks to enhance its recommendation engine. Check out the big brain on Netflix! (Oops, now it's going to keep recommending I watch Pulp Fiction.)
  • In its continued quest to in some way touch every possible square inch of planet Earth, Google this week announced Project Tango, a smartphone that can map the world around it.
  • You can't put a price tag on innovative thinking. You can, however, attach an age to it, researchers say.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, senior features writer.

This was first published in February 2014

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