3 Steps to Escaping Pilot Purgatory & Nailing Your Wearable Tech Pilot

Ever since I became involved in the wearable and immersive tech space, I’ve wondered how a digital revolution really gets underway in an organization. What goes on behind the scenes within organizations? What’s the best starting point? What are the most common mistakes made during the pilot phase? What should enterprises know before piloting or adopting wearables, and how can they avoid pilot purgatory? I spoke with Sanjay Jhawar, co-founder and president of RealWear, maker of the HMT-1 and HMT-1Z1, to get the inside scoop. Read on for best practice advice, pilot lessons, and steps to nailing a pilot:

In a May 2017 survey of companies exploring digital manufacturing strategies, 84% of respondents said they had been stuck in pilot mode for over a year, while less than 30% were beginning to scale (McKinsey & Co.) In another McKinsey report, 41% of industrial firms surveyed said they were in pilot limbo and 30% were still discussing how to start a pilot—that’s 71% stuck in pilot purgatory. Though these findings aren’t wearable tech-specific, a similar story holds across the industry spectrum—pilot purgatory remains a common dead end for companies pursuing wearable technologies like smart glasses and mixed reality headsets.

“Every sales cycle looks like this: Evaluation, pilot, deployment, scale-up. What’s exciting is that we have hundreds of evaluations and pilots, and a large handful now moving into full-scale, large deployments for their enterprises.” – Sanjay, RealWear

Though enterprise wearables are new tech, we’re beyond the first mover stage. At this point, there have been hundreds of pilots by early enterprise adopters for newcomers to learn from. Over the last several years, companies big and small in all areas of industry have tested wearables, making mistakes, establishing some best practices, and even making it to the rollout phase. Solution providers have also learned lessons. At RealWear, according to Sanjay, “the more pilots we do the faster they go.”  So, why do pilots fail? One root problem is the use case itself.

Step number one to nailing a pilot is finding a high-value, hole-in-one use case, and the best place to start is with those closest to the problem, i.e. real workers.


Step 1: Choose a viable use case

“The biggest pitfall is when there’s a customer [looking] for an AR wearable to solve a problem that may not exist. We’ve found that in the conservative world of industrial, pragmatic applications that provide value now as opposed to eye candy demos of AR are the way to go. When we get engaged with the operations, quality or training executive who owns the profit and loss for the specific problem, that’s when things go fast—solving for a specific pain point that yields measurable ROI.  We need to be talking to the executive that owns a seven-figure dollar problem that they must address in under 6 months.” – Sanjay, RealWear

Start simple by matching a known business problem or need to a wearable solution. To identify a “good” problem, you can, of course, look at past safety data, quality statistics, etc. to figure out where the business incurs the greatest risk of injury and profit loss; you should also brainstorm with actual end users by going out into the field or onto the factory floor and speaking with respected frontline workers.

Ask employees what tools and methods they use to access task-based information, get help from others, verify or record their work, and interact with customers on the job. Do they have any complaints about the tools they use? Have they come up with any makeshift solutions or hacks to speed up their work or make themselves more comfortable? When is vital information not at the ready or delivered to workers in an inconvenient, inefficient manner? Are you using the best training methods for a multigenerational, changing workforce? Try to pinpoint sources of error, fatigue and injury, paid travel and rework, downtime and customer dissatisfaction; and consider inserting a wearable. And if you have the resources, consider setting up a kind of hub for employees to try out new devices on their own.

Choosing a use case around a clear business problem will help you determine an appropriate wearable form factor and guide you to the right software partner. The enterprise wearable tech ecosystem has matured to the point where most hardware companies have multiple software partners and many software solutions are cross-device/platform. If working with a hardware provider like RealWear, consult with them to find a software match for your use case.


Step 2: Determine requirements

“[Our] type of customer, which is medium to heavy industrial, is very concerned about not violating any of their sacrosanct safety standards. We’ve also seen a heightened awareness in IT security.” “My biggest advice is to involve IT from the start, rather than hiding your project from IT in the hope that it will go faster…Try to understand and address IT’s objections as soon as possible, even if takes a few months, because when IT has weighed in as an internal stakeholder, you’ll have IT pulling for you. Remember that wearables are part of IT’s jurisdiction as it’s connected to the enterprise.” – Sanjay, RealWear

Security reviews following software selection are often the greatest hold-up in the pilot phase. It’s so important not to lose momentum, so engage with IT right away. Give them a sense of ownership, as Sanjay said, and they’ll try hard to make the solution compliant to the business’ needs. Support from IT will also be critical to scale up down the road.

In this step, work with IT as well as EHS (Environmental Health & Safety) to determine all the operational factors you would need to account for in order to deploy the technology. This includes security as well as usability, safety, connectivity, mobile device management, and training. Sanjay perfectly summarizes the process of setting up a pilot: “It’s really to say if we had to deploy this headwear, how would we do it?”

How would you integrate the tech into existing processes, systems and facilities? Determine the limits and requirements of the workplace and use case, including:

  • How many devices you will need to test and where the funds will come from
  • Who will participate and what are their needs (comfort, safety, ease of use)
  • How you will measure the results (what KPIs you will track) and for how long
  • Any aspects of the work environment itself that might interfere with use
  • The scope of current MDM platforms and policies
  • Industry safety requirements

Given these factors, what needs to be addressed, worked around or changed before the pilot begins? A common workaround, for instance, has been to deploy a wearables-only wireless network when the existing network’s security protocols are incompatible with the new tech.


Step 3: Wrap it up in 6 months or less

Time. Kills. All. Pilots. The longer it takes, the more risks there are that something will happen: The budget goes away, a new shiny object steals the focus, an organizational change or your sponsor changes roles or jobs. If it takes more than six months, it’s almost not going to succeed by definition. A successful pilot should take three months. What we recommend is to have entry and exit criteria defined and agreed in writing up-front while designing your pilot.”  – Sanjay, RealWear

Before pressing “Go,” prepare to measure results and gather feedback. Work with all stakeholders to define the pilot objectives and agree on a method for measuring success. Prepare the workers involved, as well, clearly explaining to them the potential benefits, assuaging concerns, and providing a channel for honest feedback. Hopefully you chose a use case based on a problem the entire organization wants to solve.

Common pilot killers:

  • Not knowing what problem you’re trying to solve (going tech-first)
  • Overly complex use case
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of top management and IT support
  • Employees weren’t properly trained on the devices
  • Too much time: You want a quick win to prove the business case and justify next steps

A successful pilot should expose security vulnerabilities and opportunities for improvement to work out and apply in the rollout phase. I asked Sanjay from RealWear if he could share any examples of improvements made to the HMT-1 as a result of pilot feedback:

The core hardware hasn’t really changed, but the software and accessories have evolved. On the accessories side, as one example, we started out with a head strap to attach the device to your head and clips for different types of hardhats…We eventually came up with a succession of different baseball cap mounting options but we didn’t have a way to accommodate an existing baseball cap without damaging it.”

In that case, workers wanted to be able to use the HMT-1 with their own baseball caps, so RealWear had to innovate, figuring out a way to combine form, function and user preference. The company recently came up with a special clip that achieves this. In another example, Sanjay recalled customers having trouble with Wi-Fi password entry using RealWear’s voice keyboard. While the voice tech was great for words or commands, it was less so for entering secure, enterprise-standard passwords. In response, RealWear is preparing to release a new voice keyboard with a radically improved user experience for entering complex text. The company also built more functionality into its smartphone companion app, allowing users to enter a Wi-Fi SSID and password and generate a QR code that the HMT-1 is scanning for with its camera, right out of the box on the very first power-up. “From using another device to configure, we’re moving towards a single sign-on in the Cloud which will take away the need for passwords altogether. That has been a lot of learning from end users and customers.”  – Sanjay, RealWear

 

About Sanjay Jhawar:

Sanjay Jhawar is Co-founder, President and Chief Product Officer at RealWear, makers of the world’s first head-mounted tablet computer, a wearable that completely frees the hands of industrial workers. Known as a strategist, innovator and leader for over 25 years, Sanjay has a deep product background in mobile devices, including smartphones and wearables, mobile SaaS cloud services, client apps, accessories and core network infrastructure. Prior to RealWear, Sanjay served on the senior executive teams at three tech startups:

  • VP/GM Solutions and Marketing at Sonim Technologies, maker of the world’s toughest mobile and smartphones for industrial and public safety users, a private company that quadrupled revenues to $115M in a 3-year period during Sanjay’s tenure
  • SVP Marketing and Product Management at BridgePort Networks who invented the telecom technology that lets you use voice and messages to your phone seamlessly between Wi-Fi and cellular networks
  • VP Marketing, Bus Dev and Product Management at Sendit AB in Sweden, a mobile email pioneer acquired by Microsoft in 1999 for $128M

Sanjay also product managed the world’s first Java based smart phone at Motorola and co-founded WAP Forum, the standards body for the early mobile Internet. Sanjay started his career at IBM and has also spent time in venture capital in Milan and Boston, and in consulting. He holds a Masters with Honors in Electric Engineering from Cambridge University.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 5th annual EWTS will be held October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. For more details, please visit the conference website.


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