Motorola first introduced smart watches in 2014, soon followed by the Apple Watch. Since then, the wearable technology industry has been on the rise.

According to a survey conducted by PwC in 2016, 45% of respondents used fitness bands, 27% used smart watches, and the rest used one or more among smart clothing, smart glasses, and smart video and photo devices. Compared to a 2014 survey, almost 50% of respondents used at least 1 wearable device and more than 1/3rd own more than 2 devices.

It was the general public who started the trend of wearables as a fashion piece, but recently even corporations are adapting to wearables. Gartner estimates that 2 million employees will be using wearables as a ‘condition of employment’ by 2018. Additionally, according to research conducted by Tractica, 75 million wearables will be used by employees by 2020, and utilities are no exception.

Wearables, along with other technologies, can help utilities dynamically respond to the changing needs of their employees.

With wearables for field workers, utilities can closely observe their workers, increase productivity and efficiency, and boost collaboration between colleagues. These devices address rising health and safety concerns with sensors that can send real-time information about the wearers’ health by monitoring heart rate, skin temperature, and other measures; and in case of any risks, give an immediate notification to take corrective measures.

Some may argue that any mobile device can provide the same convenience, but to a worker in a harsh remote location, weighed down by tools and equipment, a handheld smart mobile device is just an extra thing to worry about. But, if that smart mobile device is a wearable, the worker has the convenience of being hands-free and has one less distraction.

Wearables are a necessary tool for field workers, providing quick access to support and valuable information like training manuals, work instructions, customer data, service requests, and a lot more. Wearables don’t replace existing tools, but provide a myriad of new benefits to the utility. They allow knowledge-sharing between experienced and new workers, reduce paper work, and reduce dependency on a central office.

Despite the benefits of wearable technology, there are limitations. One of the most concerning is cost. It would be challenging for a utility to procure wearables for every worker. Not only this, as typically small and non-rugged devices, wearables may not stand up to the harsh conditions and strenuous situations commonly encountered by field workers. Additionally, small devices can be easy to lose and battery life might also be an issue.

Luckily, advancements in wearable technology are happening very fast, and manufacturers are already taking steps to address limitations and ensure the benefits of wearables outweigh the challenges. Because of the cost, utilities may consider pilot projects or collaboration with government agencies. As adoption of wearables increases, it will revolutionize the way utility workforces work and collaborate. To keep up with new technology, utilities must incorporate wearables in their mobility and digital transformation roadmaps.