The Internet of Everything Comes to Work

HR should prepare now for the influx of wearable technologies—before they’re undetectable

By Aliah D. Wright Dec 8, 2014
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By 2018, 95 percent of people will connect to the Internet from a smart device—and HR might not be prepared to handle what some are calling the Internet of Things (or the Internet of Everything) and its impact on the workplace.

“The Internet of Things is here, and we are likely to see a surge in wearable devices in the workplace,” said Rob Clyde, international vice president of ISACA and CEO of Adaptive Computing. “These devices can deliver great value, but they can also bring great risk. Companies should take an ‘embrace and educate’ approach.”

Few workplaces worldwide are prepared to welcome the influx of wearable technologies, which presently includes devices such as Google Glass, smart watches, smartphones and other devices connected to the Internet, according to a new study from ISACA, a global IT association.

The Internet of Everything is expected to be big business—and potentially a big headache for those charged with managing employees who use those devices on the job.

Consider this:

Cisco predicts that global businesses hope to make $14 trillion over the next decade by leveraging the Internet of Everything to improve operat­ions and customer service, and, according to Cisco’s VNI Global Mobile Data Forecast, by 2018:

  • There will be 5 billion mobile users globally.
  • 52 percent of mobile traffic will come from Wi-Fi connections.
  • There will be 7.6 billion people in the world, and there will be 10.2 billion mobile connections (there will be 1.4 mobile connections per person).
  • 95 percent of mobile connections will come from smart devices,
  • 69 percent of the world’s mobile traffic will be video.

Not all of it will come from laptops, tablets or desktop computers, and many people will connect to the Internet from more than one device.

According to ISACA’s aforementioned study, the 2014 IT Risk/Reward Barometer—a 110-country survey of 1,646 ISACA members who are business and IT professionals—43 percent of global respondents say their organization has plans in place to leverage the Internet of Things or expects to create plans in the next 12 months.

“However, the majority [are] not ready for wearable technology in the workplace. More than half (56 percent) say their bring your own device (BYOD) policies do not address wearables and 23 percent don’t have BYOD policies in place,” the study states.

“This is significant because the use of connected devices is growing, and 81 percent of the IT professionals surveyed say BYOW [bring your own wearables] is as risky as, or riskier than, BYOD,” ISACA stated in a release.

What Should HR Do?

“Just like HR is struggling to partner with IT on the BYOD generation, it will struggle with wearables,” said Jason Averbook, CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Group. “The real issue is not whether the wearable will be allowed at work; that ship has sailed. The real issue is will business-facing transactions and interactions be available on that wearable. The answer to that is no for the foreseeable future, but there will be nothing HR will be able to do to stop people from ‘wearing’ their ‘wearables’ to the office,” he said.

Policy will still be important, he added. “Regarding company information and policy, just like we have had new technologies over the decades with telephones, faxes, copy machines, USB drives, etc., the same thing will apply to wearables. Confidentiality agreements and security policies will need to be updated to address not only confidentiality of data, but more than likely, how the wearables are used in a business context, which is only being invented as we speak.”

Jessica Miller-Merrell, CEO of Xceptional HR and founder of Blogging4Jobs, agreed, adding that the divulging of trade secrets, proprietary information and protected health information are the three biggest concerns, depending on the industry where you work. “Personally,” she says, “I believe the benefit outweighs the risk. We have hired employees and trust them to do a job. Having a piece of wearable tech is no different than a smartphone. If you are going to ban wearable tech at work, you should ban the smartphone as well.”

HR can prepare for the eventual influx of such technologies in the workplace by training employees “about best practices that go beyond signing a simple form or watching a 12-minute video,” she said.

“Hiring managers, senior leaders and leadership as well as HR need to understand how this technology is being used before creating a program or policy that limits use. Education starts at the top down,” she said.

Training today can alleviate growing pains tomorrow, she and other experts said.

“Right now wearable tech is big, obvious and clunky,” Miller-Merrell said. “It’s easy to spot who is wearing it, but keep in mind that in five years it will be undetectable. Google filed a patent last year for contact lenses. Your Google Glass will likely be as small as a contact lens. The best defense for an employer is one that trains and helps employees understand how to use the tech responsibly in the workplace before it’s too small for the eye to see.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM Online.

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