How Smart Glasses Could Change Your Workforce

Could equipping your manual workforce with smart glasses lead to benefits beyond improved efficiency?
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

English concurs. "The hands-on workforce has not benefited from IT the way knowledge workers have," he told me. That's a shame, because people who actually assemble products, perform quality tests or repair machines probably have some great ideas about ways in which they could improve the systems or infrastructure supporting that work. Maybe if these workers started using smart glasses in their workplace—especially during beta tests, when feedback is so key—they would see the glasses as a conduit for them to open a discourse with management regarding how this new technology could best improve workflow, for example. In this scenario, the workforce can be an active participant in a new technology deployment that directly impacts their own jobs.

Skylight offers a software development kit and application programming interfaces for integrating its smart-glasses operating system with back-end software and creating custom workflows. According to English, enterprise software provider SAP is hopeful that smart glasses can help better connect the hands-on workforce with its software products. "[SAP executives] love what we're doing," he said of SAP's interest in smart glass applications, "because they have great [software] systems but they don't reach the last mile [of the workplace] to the guys who are doing the hands-on work."

You may be thinking that this is not the first technology that will extend from back-end IT systems to the hands-on workforce. Voice-to-pick systems guide order pickers in warehouses, for example. Who's to say smart glasses will engage the hands-on work force, instead of the opposite—such as making them feel like cyborgs, or convincing them that management doesn't really understand how things work on the assembly line, and that the smart glasses are just another sorry attempt to bridge the gap?

Sure, that might happen. But unlike technologies such as voice-guided order picking, smart glasses contain interfaces that would feel pretty similar to those that workers already use on their cell phones—with the obvious exception that screen taps are replaced by voice commands and head or hand movements—and they'll thus come to the technology with a certain level of familiarity.

It's ironic to think about: Smart glasses, which I found disengaging while interviewing that Google-Glasses-wearing executive, could be transformed into a tool for workforce engagement.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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