Wearable technology: the right fit for procurement?

Peter Kinder
posted by Peter Kinder
14 August 2014

Peter Kinder is chief technology officer at Wax Digital15 August 2014 | Peter Kinder

We’re increasingly a world on the move; more than ever we want information to be at our fingertips wherever we are.

To reflect this global trend investors have spent $500 million (£300 million) in equity and debt on wearable technology start-ups since 2009. Fast forward to 2018 and according to Markets and Marketsthe wearables market will be worth in excess of $8 billion (£4.8 billion).

Unlike the internet of things which we recently blogged about, the jury’s still out on the long term benefits that wearable devices such as smart watches, glasses and cameras will bring to both our personal and professional lives. There’s also the question of its social acceptance. Google Glass for example is still perceived by some as technological excess and an invasion of people’s privacy or ‘social spying’.

But in many ways we think it is possible that some of these wearable technologies, which were designed predominantly for mass consumer use, may actually become more socially acceptable in business environments such as procurement and supply chain, where their purpose is more clearly defined and therefore understood.

Despite the scepticism the potential impact that wearables could have on procurement is huge. One simple area is approvals. Normally procurement people or budget holders would have to interrupt another task to sign off requisition requests, however a device such as Google Glass could ‘speak’ to those people when an approval is required, making the flow of requisitions seamless. Integrated with an internet of things enabled P2P system the wearable would tell the approver who had requested the purchase and why, prompting information like remaining budgets and even recommending a course of action. A simple verbal command is all that would be needed to approve or reject and the person in question could be contacted there and then to discuss the matter further if required.

Equally, wearable sensors such as watches, wrist bands or scanners could improve stock replenishment and also allow for easy monitoring of service based suppliers, such as field maintenance. Wearables like Google Glass could also become part of the supplier’s value-add. A supplier of facilities maintenance services for example could enhance the efficiency and speed of repairs by supplying back-up instructions, product blueprints and even off-site voice back-up via the device, so that fixes are performed more accurately with less need for repeat visits. Scanners could also ensure that spares were ordered quickly and accurately to avoid service disruption.

Wearable technology is becoming more affordable for businesses and prices are expected to tumble significantly in the coming years. In addition to improving productivity, one of the main drivers for using wearable devices is so businesses can more closely monitor the activities of their employees. This will remove the guessing game of attempting to determine how long workers are on or off site and how much time they are actually devoting to their job. In turn it will provide procurement professionals with a complete and comprehensive overview of service provision from one of the biggest areas of service spend – contingent labour.

Although, one of the challenges for procurement (and businesses) to be mindful of is not to be seen as ‘big brother’ or an interfering force by introducing wearable devices which cross the line of breaching employees’ personal liberty. Given that staff are already typically resistant to procurement getting involved in their day-to-day activities, wearable devices should be approached with care and used where there is a clear and accepted business case.

☛ Peter Kinder is chief technology officer at Wax Digital

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