Not in Kansas any more

PA Consulting's Alastair McAulay looks at the commercial potential of smart watches, Google Glass and the latest smartphones

There certainly appears to be a lot going on with user interfaces at the moment. In recent months, we have read about Google Glass, Samsung’s eye-tracking software on its smartphones and the Kickstarter-funded launch of the Pebble smartwatch.  

Cynics might suggest that these wearable devices are just trinkets with no practical use in the real world, that technology companies are attempting to grab headlines to convince the market of their worth.

But there is a bit more to it than that.  

Clunky first attempts

First, it’s worth remembering that today’s wearable devices are first attempts at using new technologies. Over the next couple of years that these devices will be refined by the early adopters. After that, the first crop of genuinely useful applets and cool games – currently being developed by the globally dispersed ecosystem of developers – will start being used by the rest of us.

My fellow commuters playing Candy Crush in the railway carriage are testament to the fact that a compelling game can do wonders to speed the take-up of a new technology.

Exploration of ideas

Second, there really is a widespread desire to explore new ways of receiving and interacting with information. 

We already use the processing power, network connectivity and functionality of our smart devices to draw on an ecosystem of cloud services and share our life as it unfolds on social media. It is not going to take much to add a personal network of sensors and display devices to provide even more context awareness, focused information delivery and gesture-driven interfaces.

Beyond the tech community, there is now an openness and an appetite for experimenting with this stuff.


But, “So what?”, says Mr CIO. “Why should my enterprise be bothered? We aren’t going to fund any fancy watches and glasses to access our enterprise resource planning systems.” 

That’s what he thinks. The reality is that there has already been a massive resetting of expectations over the past five years – without us even realising it.

We’re not in a metaphorical Kansas any more. Not only will employees be taking this technology into work and using it, but customers will also be expecting to use it to interact with you. Before your business knows it, customers will want to know why they can’t use their smart glasses to access nutritional details about their tin of beans as they browse in the supermarket.

Business value

I believe the most sensible response for organisations is to look at all the information they hold and ask: If we could filter this information and make it relevant to a single individual, in a specific time and space, would it have value to that individual? And could we make money out of it?

A whole range of opportunities then presents itself. As a starter for 10, I would put forward the following scenarios as examples of things that are theoretically possible now:

  • Your smartwatch vibrating with the following message: “Wink twice to order a special-offer coffee that will be ready, waiting and paid for in a shop that’s just 20 metres away. (The shop is overstaffed for the next 30 minutes and we would rather sell you a coffee at cost to earn your loyalty than have our staff doing nothing.)”
  • A similar message, specifically for readers in the UK: “Your train line home is not operating. The best alternative route involves using a taxi. Click your heels together three times and one will be ordered to arrive in two minutes’ time, from where you are standing now.”

If your organisation doesn’t do something like this soon, it’s likely one of your competitors will.

Alastair McAulay is an IT expert at PA Consulting Group.

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