Google Glass Helps Enterprise Workers Help Themselves

Google recently announced an expansion of its Explorer Edition program to anyone in the U.S. — still at $1,500. This doesn't constitute the mass market release of the product; it's an incremental move to extend its beta program. I believe the move mostly benefits enterprise customers of the device — continuing Forrester's research call that Glass will be more successful among enterprise customers than among consumers, at least in the short term.

Recently, I've received a number of questions about wearables as they pertain to field service work. In the age of the customer, field service work has a direct impact on customer service. Think of the cable repair person. The top reason cable repair people fail to fix a problem with your cable service on the first visit is that they have never seen the specific problem before; it's a long tail of possible problems. Traditionally, the cable person would need to go back to headquarters and log a return visit -- inconveniencing the customer, who might have stayed home from work to meet the repair person, and harming the workforce productivity of the cable company's agents. It's lose-lose.

With wearables, cable companies and other companies employing field workers can increase the percentage of first-time fixes. Recently, ClickSoftware and FieldBit posted a video demonstrating one such solution:

As you can see in the video, Google Glass helps the field technician deal with a number of challenges:

Inability to continue working while consulting a smartphone.

Challenge: Using a smartphone isn't hands-free, and makes it awkward to work continuously on problems.

Solution: Google Glass plus smart applications can use voice control for navigation. It's also glance-able, and can be consulted when hands are busily working. (This also applies to warehousing and logistics professions).

Need for lengthy phone conversations for real-time mentoring and training.

Challenge: Field technicians face a lot of technical complexity.

Solution: Rather than going back and forth on the phone — possibly waiting in a phone queue to reach someone at their own company — Google Glass can empower how-to guides that offer step-by-step tutorials. In the video, the technician was trained on a new model of equipment and benefits from an instantly-available training manual.

Time-consuming approvals; lack of confirmation of success; and difficulty filing compliance reports.

Challenge: Lots of administrative red tape.

Solution: Technicians can automate a good bit of the process, taking a photo of the finished work to confirm completion of the task. Location-based tagging can also come into play here (verifying the worker's presence at the site).

Each of these applications of Glass (plus some back-end software that's key to the solution) drives better productivity for the field worker. Other wearables take this in a different direction. Vidcie by Looxcie allows real-time collaboration via head-mounted camera. If a field technician hasn't seen a problem before, he or she can beam live video back to headquarters to get real-time help. It's another way wearables can empower a workforce and drive customer value as well. If she can fix the problem on the spot, the customer isn't inconvenienced by the need for a return visit.

For more information on how wearables help workers help themselves, I invite you to read and download my major report, The Enterprise Wearables Journey

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder


Do Wearables Really Educate

Hi JP, very interesting article.

I have a concern about the wave of new technology in that I question whether it educates the operator or renders them purely as someone who is executing instructions.

Some time ago I ran a project for the military and one person raised the question - 'If you put a trainee helicopter pilot in a simulator and they can hover the craft, do they have knowledge of hovering?' The answer is no. They can do it but they don't really have an in-depth understanding of what is happening, how or why.

To impart knowledge to others requires a higher quality of communication than 'instructions' - give a great explanation of this principle, their approach codifies knowledge.

Given the above, I think that there is a need to reconsider how knowledge is communicated in order to really leverage this new wave of technology.

Yours is an important point:

Yours is an important point: These technologies can't take the place of training. They should be used to augment the skills of personnel. They're one tool in the toolbox, not a replacement for workforce skill sets!

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