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Wearables, Drones and Virtual—Is This Really the Future of Work?

Wearables, Drones and Virtual—Is This Really the Future of Work? Connie Moore, Digital Clarity GroupAt a recent conference, one of the panelists made a startling comment about the future of work, which spurred me to immediately tweet the news:

Connie Moore @cmooreclarity‬‬‬‬‬ Cognizant information officer speaker at #appian15 says the future of work isn’t mobile, #social, cloud. it’s #drone, #wearable & #virtual

If that’s really true, then we’re talking about a significant leapfrog from the state of work today and the future impact of new technology on work for all of us.

I couldn’t let the idea go; I wanted to know more about what is driving wearables, drones and virtual to the point that it’s going to shake up the nature of work. The end result of my curiosity is a research report that looks at the business apps for all three technologies. This blog post is a brief introduction to the report, which can be read in its entirety at Wearables, Drones and Virtual—Are You Ready for Work?

Today’s technologies have turned work upside down

Before looking at these new technologies, let’s look for a moment at the tools that have been driving our current workforce:

  •  We take mobile for granted because it is literally everywhere. The Economist recently featured Planet of the Phones on its cover, saying, “the smartphone is ubiquitous, addictive and transformative.” If that’s the case — and it is — mobility has already reinvented the workplace. According to The Economist about half the world’s adult population already owns a smartphone; by 2020, 80% will, and that trend is dramatically changing the workforce, customers, students, children, criminals, terrorists . . . just about every cohort you can think of.
  • Cloud has transformed work too, whether it’s icloud,, Microsoft Azure or something else. Cloud makes it easier, faster and safer (from a backup perspective) to use software off premises than it is to implement big, time-consuming software suites on site. And cloud makes it possible to have as much storage as we ever dreamed of having. According to SiliconAngle, if given the choice of only moving one application to the cloud, 25% of respondents would choose storage, making cloud storage a key enabler of mobility.
  • Social is so ubiquitous that the tag line for every TV show, entertainment offering and advertisement links to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The question that always surfaces, at least during the internet age, is: does social enhance productivity or decrease it? But the more germane question is whether workers will stick around if they don’t have access to social, particularly given how creaky our 50 year-old e-mail systems are. Plus, in many jobs, social has become intrinsic to the job. Reps routinely engage with customers via Twitter or Facebook; anyone in media or public relations had better keep their finger on the social pulse; marketing gleans customer feedback (much of it negative) from social, and so forth. Social has definitely become a work tool.  

Wearables, drones and virtual hold lots of promise

Now let’s take a look at technologies on the horizon but coming at us quickly:

  • Wearables hold great promise, particularly in industries that involve working with the physical world. One of the most easily grasped examples for wearables is logistics — warehousing and shipping — where workers can quickly scan inventory and examine items that have been damaged or misplaced. (For an impressive graphic depicting the use of wearables in industries, see According to Andrew Sheehy, the eight most common use cases for wearables are for healthcare, diet management, car insurance, policy and security, outdoor navigation, personal trainer, arranging a meeting, and memory aids. (see “8 Mind-blowing Uses of Wearable Technology.” Andrew Sheehy, Generator Research, March 6, 2014. While some of these use cases are more oriented toward consumers than workers inside companies, it’s relatively easy to imagine how consumer wearables that track exercise and diet could also transform the health care, insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
  • Drones have begun to make business inroads, and manufacturers have high hopes for the nascent civilian market. While drones have become so commonplace (if not uncontroversial) in Afghanistan, they are also quietly and quickly making inroads into the commercial sector. Interestingly, this growth is not just a US phenomenon; several manufacturers are based outside the US, including Switzerland’s senseFly (owned by France-based Parrot); the Canadian firm, Aeryon; publicly traded Swedish firm CybAer; China-based DJI; and the Korean firm, Gryphon. Amazon recently announced that it is testing the use of drones for package delivery. Yet industry watchers don’t think package delivery is the killer app; instead they see a wide adoption pattern emerging across a number of industries, including aviation, city/government, construction, disaster response, education, engineering, environment/climate, inspections, insurance, mapping, marketing, maritime, meteorology, mining/oil & gas, real estate, tourism, utilities, and videography/photography. (For a comprehensive overview of drone adoption, see “THE DRONES REPORT: Market forecasts, regulatory barriers, top vendors, and leading commercial applications,” BI Intelligence now predicts “12% of an estimated $98 billion in cumulative global spending on aerial drones over the next decade will be for commercial purposes.” This means a wide swath of workers will be impacted by the deployment of drone technology. (For more details on the high growth industries, see “20 great UAV applications areas for Drones.”
  • Virtual is a broad term that means not engaging directly with something that physically exists, but having some type of representation instead. In the IT world, virtualization can reside anywhere: starting between the physical technology and the software layer and going all the way up the stack to a digital representation of a real person or thing. When it comes to changing how we work, virtual could be considered as: 1) referring to the digital representation of a person or thing over a network, Skype, or Facetime, 2) virtual or simulated worlds like Second Life, and 3) virtual assistants along the lines of Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson. Most of us already use some version of virtual technology when it comes to engaging with other workers. For example, video conferencing is a reality for many workers as companies (or the workers unofficially) move toward video over Webex, GoToMeeting, Skype or Google Hangout. But these business uses for ad hoc meetings haven’t revolutionized the world of work. The promise for new virtual experiences in work has taken a huge jump forward with Facebook’s multi-billion acquisition of Oculus — breakthroughs may literally be around the corner.

These technologies will be as disruptive as mobile, cloud and social. Are you ready?



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