When most people think about wearables and the Internet of Things, it’s usually smartwatches and fitness trackers that come to mind. But the world of wearable IoT is a lot bigger than that, and the devices do much more than alert users to text messages or track their number of steps.

By 2020, the number of wearable devices sold worldwide will surpass 400 million, up from 123 million in 2016, according to projections by CCS Insight. The research and advisory company projects that roughly two-thirds of these will be wristbands and watches, but nearly 100 million pairs of smart glasses will also be on the market.

Many of these will be used in work settings to make employees more productive and organizations more nimble. In fact, wearable IoT devices are already transforming multiple industries in a variety of ways. Some of the most dramatic examples are in healthcare, construction and manufacturing.

Healthcare: IoT Data Improves Patient Care and Outcomes

From networked heart rate monitors to connected insulin pumps, IoT devices have revolutionized hospital healthcare. The ability to track patient health remotely — and respond quickly when needed — saves millions of dollars annually and promotes better health outcomes.

At home, wearable biosensors can track heart rate, breathing, temperature, blood pressure, sleep patterns and physical activity, and then transmit that data to a healthcare professional.

Some organizations are offering incentives to employees who wear fitness trackers, reducing the cost of their healthcare plans if they meet certain activity goals.

Construction: RFID and Beacons Promote Worker Safety

Smart technologies are also helping construction companies create safer environments for their workers. On a major dig site, with huge pieces of equipment moving around, managers need to know where every construction worker is at all times. If people walk into an area with heavy equipment traffic, IoT solutions can send an alert to the drivers of those bulldozers or backhoes. RFID and Bluetooth chips embedded in safety vests, hard hats, wristbands and badges make that possible.

Many construction firms are also using Bluetooth beacons on big jobs to detect locations inside buildings where GPS can’t reach, allowing them to track both assets and employees. Location beacons also drive efficiency: Subcontractors using construction management software on mobile devices or smart glasses can use these tools to bring up work orders, schematics and diagrams relevant to the task at hand.

Manufacturing: Connected Glasses Streamline Production

Some of the world’s biggest companies are realizing huge productivity gains with industrial-strength, connected glasses. Shipping employees use them to locate parts inside a warehouse more quickly and get products out the door faster. Manufacturing employees can view assembly instructions on the glasses, leaving their hands free for other tasks. Repair technicians can call up schematics and watch 3D walk-throughs of procedures they’re about to perform.

As augmented reality glasses get smaller and cheaper, IoT wearables will become useful in more environments. But taking full advantage of what this technology offers will also require an investment in infrastructure. Organizations will need a robust wireless network with sophisticated mobile device management and asset tracking. They’ll need custom software that lets them apply these devices to specific business use cases. And they’ll need to figure out how to securely store and manage all the information they collect, as well as how to apply analytics to glean new insights from that data.

Very few organizations possess all the expertise required to support these initiatives. That’s why it’s important to find partners who can help architect infrastructure design apps that allow organizations to realize the full potential of IoT in the workplace.

Learn more about CDW’s expertise in the Internet of Things.

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