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Unbearable Wearables: Lessons we should be learning from 10 years of Digital Transformation

Tony Browne, Manager at Boxwood, is exploring the world of wearable technology in this latest article. However, Tony is concerned we haven’t learnt our lessons from the past 10 years of digital living and new technology, like wearables, are simply offering a slightly different way to do everyday tasks. 

Forgetting any sartorial criticisms of wearable technology – of which I have many – missing the opportunity to re-imagine what these gadgets can do for the customer is at the top of my list of complaints. Through a combination of existing mobile gadgetry, emerging wearable tech and the growing market of connected home appliances, there is an opportunity to re-engineer an almost infinite range of customer experiences for the better. However the sector is in danger of overlooking some key lessons from the past ten years of digital transformation in business, and evolving much more slowly than it should.

Early attempts to ‘digitise’ customer services for example, typically involved downloading electronic copies of a paper form, which could then be printed out, completed by hand, and posted back to an organization who would process them just as they would any other correspondence. Barely digital, hardly transformational.

Over what feels like a long and painful period of time we’re evolving from this into complete e-enablement of customer services – and eventually the top-to-bottom redesign of those services in light of new technology and consumer behavior. In forward-thinking companies such as TopShop and Burberry, they have re-engineered entire organisations around new digital and social experiences in a way which increases satisfaction and responsiveness. That is true digital transformation.

And therein lies my frustration with ‘wearables’. The current crop are not transforming the way we do things, but offering up a slightly different way to do them. You can view your emails…on your watch. You can listen to music…out of your jacket. You can see how many steps you’ve taken today…via your shoe. After initial excitement in this area, the lukewarm response to theSamsung Smartwatch shows that the market is wondering what all the fuss is about. Consumers don’t buy products, they buy the amazing things your product enables them to do. Right now, wearables just aren’t delivering the ‘amazing’.

Developments in connected appliances – ‘The Internet of Things’ – are following a similar path; taking jobs no-one really wants to do, and allowing us to do them remotely. To misquote: customers don’t really want to buy a hammer, they want to have a nail in the wall. Similarly, we don’t really want to control our heating whilst we’re on the train, we want our homes to have a nice environment when we get there. We don’t really want to monitor our home security on holiday, we want our home to be secure and for the right people to be alerted as soon as that isn’t the case.

So what happened to all of our hard-fought digital transformation learnings over the years? Can wearables and connected devices start to disrupt the curve and move to a quicker path of development? Is it reasonable to demand that technology companies reinvent the customer experience? Or is it the business community and the worldwide ecosystem of app developers who will truly start pushing the boundaries of what wearables can deliver? Google is tentativelyopening their Glass product up to app developers and wider consumers, and Apple is on the verge of entering the wearables market. Maybe this will give the entire sector the jolt it needs.

As a business leader, you need to ensure that your organization is ready to respond. What could a wearable future mean for your business? What customer experiences could you completely re-invent with ready access to – for example – location, biometrics and contextual habits? How can you upgrade your operating model to properly embrace these products, rather than becoming just a digital bolt-on?

Most of the underlying technology exists already, but what about the ambition and the imagination to dream up the incredible things we could do with it? That is true digital transformation.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine