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Creating business value with wearable technology

Clare Simmons — January 2015

Wearable devices are set to become pervasive across the enterprise, argues Virgin Atlantic IT director David Bulman.

The countless applications for wearable technology within business means that the market for the devices will almost certainly exceed demand among consumers. That’s the assessment of David Bulman, Virgin Atlantic’s director of information technology. He is not alone in that observation. Analysts at Forrester Research expect demand for company-provided wearables to overtake the early consumer market within five years. As Bulman outlines in our exclusive video: “Wearable IT is one of the most exciting trends in technology at the moment.”

And he’s already taking Virgin Atlantic fast down that route. Last year, the UK-headquartered airline ran trials of smartwatches and Google Glass in interactions with its high-value customers. They allowed customer-facing staff to be passed information such as customer preferences, flight schedules and the weather at destination without having to disappear behind a screen. Wearables enable greater engagement and improve customer service, says Bulman: “Service with a smile and eye contact is always better than service from behind a barrier.”
Tech à porter

The next step for Bulman’s team is testing wearable technology among its operations teams, starting with flight turnaround coordinators, who are responsible for transitioning aircraft from one flight to the next. Though this application will be invisible to most of its customers, Bulman anticipates it will have a significant impact upon them. “Our turnaround coordinators are continually on the move in and around aircraft, so a wearable gives them the ability to interact with all elements of the flight turnaround, making that a smoother experience,” says Bulman. “Anything that means we get a flight off on time is of obvious benefit to our customers.”

Wearables will ultimately be everywhere. “An engineer will be able to look at a part he’s never dealt with before and have a video in the upper corner of his vision telling him how to change it; the benefits are obvious,” predicts Bulman.

Despite the clear use-cases there are obstacles to their application that must be factored in. For the Virgin Atlantic team, “one of the greatest barriers is connectivity,” which can be particularly challenging in airport environments, says Bulman, where there are radio waves and numerous physical devices to work around. The second-biggest challenge encountered in trials has been battery life. “They’re small devices and unless they can operate for a full shift it can be disruptive to the flow of work,” he reports.

As that underlines, the widespread application of wearables at Virgin Atlantic is only just getting under way. “We think that wearables will have an impact throughout almost all of our organization. I can see use-cases for just about every individual in the corporation,” Bulman concludes.

• David Bulman was a keynote speaker at Nimbus Ninety Ignite in London.

First published
January 2015
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About: David Bulman
With over 25 years’ experience in IT, David Bulman is director of information technology at Virgin Atlantic Airways. Originally from Canada, he has managed digital teams at media and advertising multinationals, including News International and Aegis Group.

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