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Middle East enterprises warm to wearable technology

Organisations in the region are increasingly investing in wearable technology, but there are hurdles to overcome before there is broad take-up in the enterprise sector

Enterprises in the Middle East are beginning to create business models for wearable devices, and analysts predict strong growth over the next three years.

New smartwatches, connected jeans and virtual reality headsets are expected to launch in the region this year.

The wearables market for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) is forecast to grow by 56% between 2016 and 2019, according to IDC.

Wearables are attractive because they are small, lightweight and convenient mobile devices that often allow users to perform tasks hands-free, say industry pundits. Smartwatches, in particular, can contain powerful sensors that collect and analyse data, then feed it back to a computer or other device or to an organisation’s network.

Feras Ibrahim, analyst at IDC MEA, said that although the wearables computing market is growing, there are hurdles to overcome on the technical front. A lack of apps, security issues, attractive designs and high price points could limit mass adoption of wearables, he said.

However, Ibrahim said adoption is increasing in the commercial space as suppliers such as Fitbit, Samsung and Huawei bring enterprise-focused wearables to the Middle East market.

“Influences for wearables in the consumer segment revolve around fashion and style statements, while in the commercial space, wearables in the Middle East are limited and depend on the industry and usage model,” he added.

Monzer Tohme, Middle East manager at business apps supplier Infor, said there are already many case studies of how wearable technology is improving productivity and user experience in the commercial and enterprise space in the Middle East.

In logistics, for example, DHL is already using augmented reality (AR) glasses to improve the picking process, said Tohme. “On the other hand, UPS and FedEx have used versions of wearable scanners instead of point-and-shoot scanners,” he added.

“And in the hospitality sector across the region, a number of hotels now give guests wristbands that can be used to open doors, pay for meals and many other things during their stay.”

Alexious Mulemba, director of IT at Qatar-based Abdullah Abdulghani & Bros (AAB), importer and distributor of Toyota and Lexus cars, said that although the wearables market is significant, there are not yet many major players in Middle East enterprise sector.

Broader BYOD strategy

Mulemba said AAB already allows employees to bring in their own devices, such as smartwatches, and connect them to the company’s network as part of a broader BYOD [bring your own device] strategy.

“Wearables like smartwatches are already allowed in our environment as we believe these devices bring effective communication and alerts for any pending workflows, especially for senior executives when there are in meetings,” he said.

Mulemba said that because of the business AAB is in, it encourages its IT team to use wearable devices so the company’s IT infrastructure can be tested for its readiness and security for such technology. “We also see this in the broader context of being innovative,” he said. “If you do not innovate in this industry you miss opportunities and stagnate.”

AAB is exploring ways to pilot wearables with the IT team, IT security and senior management before deploying devices all employees, he said. “Over the coming years, we expect to see rapid technology development as product lifecycles for smart devices, including wearables, become shorter.”

But Mulemba said that although the region has a hunger for wearable technology, the lack of major players in the Middle East market, especially on the apps side, and lack of awareness on commercial usage models is hampering potential use cases in the enterprise space.

Maged Eid, regional director at analytics technology supplier Nexthink, said that apart from the lack of business apps, IT security is still a major concern for Middle East organisations considering adopting wearable devices.

Before organisations in the region begin to collect data from wearable devices, they need to take several steps to safeguard their IT systems and infrastructure, said Eid.

Prospects in the enterprise sector depend on the industry. For example, Dubai Police introduced the use of Google Glass in October 2015, and its patrol officers have since issued more than 60 fines using the devices.

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The gadgets allows police officers to use car number plates to identify motorists who have outstanding warrants.

Google Glass is part of Dubai Police’s Smart Services plan to create the “smartest” police stations in the world by 2018. Two apps were developed for the four sets of Google Glass Dubai Police is currently using, but which might be increased, said Khalid Nasser Al Razooqi, director general of the organisation’s Smart Services department.

IDC’s Ibrahim added: “The future looks bright for wearables in the public sector as a lot of buzz is also happening around the healthcare sector, where wearables can be beneficial, tracking the elderly or the young, also sending and receiving medical notifications and tips.

“Aviation, banking and construction are other potential sectors that the app developers should looking at.”

As wearable device suppliers continue to innovate, sensors on the gadgets will become more advanced, apps more robust and the battery life longer. These improvements will make the technology more useful in many industries.

Arif Hassan, operations director at IT consultancy Entermarkets, said: “I believe there will be a great opportunity for virtual reality using streamlined wearables in the educational space. Content will be a key driver in this and other areas.”

Hassan said there will also be progress in internet of things (IoT)-based solutions, with the development of single wearable devices that offer universal functions.

Enterprises can improve productivity and efficiency if they use wearables to focus on business challenges, said Hassan. “Niche-driven products and solutions that help to drive efficiency and productivity in a cost-effective manner will be most useful to enterprises in the Middle East,” he said.

“For example, with paramedics, surgeons and other medical professionals who work in a sterile environment, a wearable device can be developed that is attached to their arm or clothing, providing them with a hands-free option in communication, which is vital in such environments.”

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