Barcharts on Our Wrists

With the imminent arrival of the Apple Watch, many tech enthusiasts, including myself, are contemplating whether the new “wearable” device category deserves our money and attention. While this product will undoubtedly propel wearables into the new phase, it is worth pondering whether the benefits outweigh the costs at this early point for the category at large. I am not yet fully convinced it is so for the first generation of Apple Watch. And I get a sense that a lot of people out there are trying to figure this out as well.

As I was browsing through the Apple website describing the use cases for the Watch, I was intrigued by the snapshot of Salesforce Wave, the new Salesforce watch app. Apple has partnered with Salesforce to produce a small glaceable app to show the state of a sales pipeline. In the world of CRMs, you can hardly find a SaaS provider without this image on their website. It is somewhat of a cliché and a way to say “look, we’ve got pretty charts!”

Sales pipeline tracking is something that is critically important to any sales team. As they say, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Good sales teams continuously analyze their data to understand how they can fine-tune their sales process, shorten the sales cycle, remove the bottlenecks, etc. There are people whose full time responsibility is generating this type of analysis. Any sales executive who has been managing a sales team for more than 1 day will laugh at the idea of viewing these data points on a watch.

Enterprise “jobs-to-be-done”

It is useful to ponder what are the meaningful jobs-to-be-done for a smart-watch in the enterprise space.

During the recent unveil, in a Jobs-like pitch, Apple touted three main use cases for this device: it’s a watch, it’s a new way to communicate and it’s a health & fitness companion. What do these mean in the context of enterprise software? What are the opportunities that these devices present to those who want to push the technlogy envelope for the enterprise? Out of the three themes above, communication is most relevant to the enterprise on the surface but it remains to be seen what it really means for us in our day-to-day lives. I doubt it means having colorful bar charts on my watch but I‘ve been wrong before.

Let’s approach this from a different angle. Holistically, enterprise software attempts to do several broad jobs for me:

  • Helps me communicate and collaborate with others
  • Guides me as to what I needs do and where I need to be
  • Makes my jobs simpler and easier
  • Provides me with timely and relevant information to make decisions

There are obviously many different shades and variation of the above (in terms of what problem the technology addresses and how well it solves it) but these are the overarching themes where technology can be transformative and revolutionary.

It would be foolish for us to think that we can foresee all the interesting and useful scenarios where the wearables can bring value to the enterprise. The evolution of the category and of our understanding of its potential will gradually unfold as we try incorporating this technology into our lives. There are, however, some basic questions we can ask ourselves as we ponder what jobs that these devices can do for us in our work lives:

  • What are the glanceable bites of information that I need to know at this moment and that can trigger an appropriate action or decision? Context will be king in this use case. For example, being aware of my location, can it remind me that I’m late to a meeting?
  • How can wearables integrate into the jobs that technology already does for me? A lot of interesting work has been done in thinking how to help users do things across the spectrum of devices. Wearables is a new territory that will undoubted bring new challenges and opportunities. For example, can it help me send an incoming message to my to-do list so I don’t forget to look into it later? Can it bring it up on may laptop when I open it next?
  • What are the new jobs that this technology can do that are not being done well at the moment? Does it reduce friction through the fact that is being worn and commands a greater degree of urgency from us? It is important to remember that distractions from wearables will be much more difficult to ignore so we need to understand what would be deemed useful and timely. This will be a particularly hard problem to solve but it needs to be solved by the Apple and Google first if they want these devices to become essential in our lives.

The Promise

During the seminal unveiling of the first iPhone, Steve Jobs pitched three tent pole features: it was a large-screen phone, it was an iPod and it was a revolutionary internet communicator. The third job was not fully understood at the time of the presentation but turned out to be the most transformative, enabling a large ecosystem of apps and use cases, for consumers and enterprise, that we could not think of before.

It is obvious that we do not fully understand what use cases the new category of wearable devices will enable in the next 3–5 years but it’s a good practice to refrain from trying to make it do the jobs that are already done well by the existing technology, even if it means not having pretty graphs on our watches.