Salesforce fleshes out its plans to become the platform of choice for wearables

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez September 3, 2014
Summary:
Despite some growing scepticism amongst us here at diginomica, Marc Benioff and his team are pushing hard to be the go-to platform for developers wanting apps in the enterprise.

Salesforce.com has fleshed out its Salesforce Wear initiative, in what can be seen as a bid to further entice developers and become the

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platform of choice for enterprise applications on wearable devices.

Salesforce threw its hat into the ring back in June when it first announced the launch of the Salesforce Wear Developer Pack and support for a number of devices and manufacturers, including Android Wear, ARM, Fitbit, Pebble, Philips and Samsung.

Today it has extended the initiative to include companies such as Epson, Jawbone, Meta, Oculus and Vuzix. It has also struck a partnership deal with Accenture to deliver customisation and implementation services to customers wanting to adopt wearable devices, which it hopes will drive adoptions.

Now, before I progress, it is worth pointing out that there has been growing scepticism (to put it lightly) in the diginomica camp about the reliability of wearable devices – most notably in the form of Dennis' piece about how he believes Fitbit has conned him out of $129 for a device that is easily tricked into recording data that doesn't accurately reflect daily activity (basically by just waving your arms around a bit).

The piece is certainly worth a read and raises some good questions about the reliability of the latest and best wearable tech, which in turns raises concerns for enterprise applications.

I've grown sceptical of the wearables trend too – not because of the reliability factor, but just because I'm yet to talk to a customer that has gone live with a project that is of any use. That may be a fault of my own and it may just be that the market isn't mature enough yet, but it does make me wonder how much of this is vendor excitement, as opposed to reality.

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And this excitement is at an all-time high – with estimations that the wearable devices market will hit US$18 billion by 2019 and with analysts predicting that they will become an integral part of enterprise mobile strategies over the next five years.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is certainly a firm believer in wearables. In his most recent earnings call he said the following:

We're really pioneering with wearables, [with the] software development kits and applications that we’re building. You’re going to see a lot of that at Dreamforce as well.

And when you start to combine it into the different verticals that we are looking at, we can really start to do demonstrations with our customers of what their future looks like, not only in their own productivity but also in how their customers will be automated as well. And you’re going to see this become a huge part of the future.



With that all this in mind, ahead of today's announcement I got the chance to have a chat with Salesforce's VP of Platforms in EMEA, Adam Spearing, to find out more about why Salesforce is so interested in wearables, what it's strategy is, and how it's customers are using the new Salesforce Wear platform (if they are at all).

Spearing started off by explaining that Salesforce is making a land grab to become the destination of choice for developers that want a platform that is easy to develop on (Salesforce1) and can easily have their applications pushed out across multiple devices. He said:

I think the point is that as we look at this wearables marketplace and the pace that it is growing at, it's just ferocious. What the announcement this week does is validate that we are kind of in the right space with the technology, and our approach, which is pretty novel, is resonating as well.

If you look at a lot of the very first entrants into the wearable technologies market, it was about a device doing one thing – a heart rate monitor, a camera. What we are really trying to do with the Salesforce platform is to create multiple applications on a platform that can run across multiple devices, so you start to get more ubiquity into the marketplace in terms of how apps can work on different devices.

I think that's pretty novel, it's no longer the proprietary application that's provided by the device manufacture, it's about making the Salesforce1 platform available as a development environment for other people to make other things.

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Adam Spearing

When asked about the use case for wearables, Spearing admitted that from a consumer perspective – where he gave the example of Google Glass – the use case is questionable. However, he believes that there are plenty of situations where enterprises would benefit greatly from wearable apps. Spearing said, for example, an oil rig company may find it useful for its employees to use Google Glass, where all the manuals, instructions and guidance could be provided hands free and data could be captured and sent back easily. Spearing said:

I think that's where wearables will really start to take off.

However, he also conceded that there are currently still few examples of enterprise adoption of wearables at scale.

This is still early days, I couldn't say here's an enormous petrol company that's using Google Glass to do this today, but we do see a lot of our enterprise customers very interested in the potential of this and how it can transform their business. Whilst its early, I think it's something that will take off at a ferocious pace.

Spearing acknowledged that the hardware for wearables is still “first generation” tech and that this might be putting some companies off huge rollouts, but he added that with new competitors entering the market over the next two years, this should drive innovation and refine the products. Spearing also agreed that companies haven't quite figured out the killer use cases yet. He said:

As far as why people aren't jumping on this and using it at the moment, as with all these things, you have to ratify the use case. Often with technology we get ahead and then we work out where the benefit and use case is. These things take a little bit of time.

So how does Salesforce envisage wearable adoption playing out? Why will enterprises use them? Spearing said that this is all dependent on the vertical. For example, service engineers will likely use wearables for efficiency gains by not having to carry loads of information around with them in the form of manuals and instructions. Whilst in healthcare, wearables are likely going to be used to improve the quality of service, according to Spearing – where, for example, someone may be comforted by an elderly relative still living at home alone if they were wearing a device that monitored their biorhythms. However, there's money to be made too. Spearing added:

And then I think you are going to go into a whole new world of revenue generating opportunities, but those will start to come as people continue to understand the use case. What we need really is the ISV community to say here's a device with capability and build an unusual app for it.

Finally, Spearing said Salesforce's job in all of this is to take the complexity of the devices out of the development of applications so that developers can create, without worrying about how the app is going to run across a bunch of different hardware. He said:

That's why we have tried to create a layer that allows people to build applications very easily that can work across multiple technologies. I think that's a big technical challenge and there will be wearables that come along from companies that we have never heard of, a new start-up, that will get some crowd source funding – we have got to be there at the same time to help them. Hopefully companies like that will want to come and work with us as well.

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Verdict

I believe that there will be some really interesting use cases for wearables in the enterprise, but it's still very early days and the companies that are rolling out wearables to employees are currently the exception, rather than the rule. And having spoken to Spearing, you get the impression that Salesforce knows this.

However, there is excitement there and Spearing was adamant that Salesforce customers are asking how they can use wearables to improve their businesses. Salesforce simply wants to have its ducks in a row and to be the first one they come to when they are ready for those enterprise-wide rollouts.

Salesforce recognises that the company that owns the wearables platform of choice for developers has the potential to make a stack of money...when adoption does begin to take off.

Disclosure: at time of writing Salesforce.com is a premium partner of diginomica.