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Google's former 'Glass at Work' chief talks smartglasses in the enterprise

Al Sacco | July 9, 2014
In April, Google launched "Glass at Work," a program that certifies Glass-related products and services from third-party vendors for use in enterprise environments. The company last month announced its first five official "Glass at Work" partners and took some significant steps toward legitimizing its Glass smartglasses in the enterprise.

CIO: What are the main IT challenges related to smartglasses that enterprises will need to overcome to make wearables work for their businesses? 

EJ: The biggest challenge, frankly, is focus. There's so much potential and so many problems that can be solved with smartglasses. There's also really "boring," low-hanging fruit, such as using smartglasses for checklists. With a super-innovative, high-tech, bleeding-edge technology, why would you start with something as simple as boring as checklists?

The reality is, there's tons of ROI with something simple like checklists that can increase efficiencies in picking and packing in a warehouse, for example. Logistics is 10 percent of the world's economy. If you can make even single-digit percentage point improvements in picking and packing in warehouses, the impact is huge. It's just that focus. It's not trying shoot for the moon or solve crazy problems right off the bat. It's about solving really simple problems to prove the technology, and then it expanding over time.

CIO: What about cost? Glass is expensive today. Can logistics organizations afford to put smartglasses on all of their factory workers?

EJ: I don't see cost as one of the first things that enterprises push back on. They spend tens of millions of dollars on SAP rollouts or Microsoft Dynamic rollouts. Often they're thinking more about battery power or safety shields or ruggedization as they think past the concept stages. Those things are all manageable in a proof of concept, but as they think about 100- or 1,000- device deployments, that's when they really start to think about these things. I don't hear a lot of pushback on price. Consumers are a bit more sensitive on that. On the enterprise side, I don't see that as a big issue.

CIO: What do CIOs need to know about the state of smartglasses in the wearable world right now? 

EJ: I encourage all the CIOs out there to get engaged and think about business problems they can solve and run proofs of concept. It helps them tap the investments they've already made in large technology software rollouts.

It's a really exciting area. I know a lot of CIOs are trying to find ways to get closer to the business side of their enterprises, to get more entrenched with operations executives. This is a great way to do it. It's a great way to help innovate. Not only is there a lot of hype and excitement around [smartglasses], [CIOs] can really help impact bottom line and increase top line, by making workers more efficient, more accurate and more highly accountable ... It helps them get closer to the business, which is a struggle that a lot of CIOs deal with.


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