Nick Offin, head of sales, marketing and operations, Toshiba Northern Europe explains why the idea of smart glasses in the enterprise is no longer a futuristic concept, but instead one which is now on the cusp of impacting a whole host of industries – from manufacturing and logistics to healthcare and security.

Although not yet a mainstream tool, the latest research from Toshiba reveals that 82 per cent of European organisations expect smart glasses to be incorporated into their IT infrastructure within the next three years.

This is part of a broader trend surrounding wearable technology, which has the capacity to change the way organisations operate. In fact, ABI research predicts global enterprise wearable device shipments to reach 154 million by 2021. It is evident that smart glasses are at the forefront of this movement, with market conditions finally ripening to the point of a mainstream breakthrough.

What are the key driving forces?

One such condition is a rise in IT budgets, with 76 per cent of Europe’s IT leaders enjoying an increase in funds this year, according to Toshiba. With improving business productivity, a priority for 54 per cent of those IT decision-makers, it is no surprise that turning to innovative mobile solutions like smart glasses is becoming increasingly appealing. This is especially the case in the age of IoT and mass data proliferation, with such solutions capable of pairing with mobile edge computing devices, which allow mobile workers to perform data processing at the edge of the network in a secure and efficient manner.

This will be amplified further by 5G, the emergence of which is also considered as catalyst driving the arrival of smart glass within the enterprise. 40 per cent of IT decision-makers cite this opinion, with Ericsson forecasting one billion 5G subscriptions by 2023 as industries including manufacturing, healthcare, and utilities discover the potential of the technology. A further report from the company reveals 5G’s transformational potential in the enterprise, with 78 per cent of organisations expecting it to enable them to improve or develop new customer offerings.

Beyond this, the arrival of more Windows 10-based smart glasses solutions is seen as another key driver of smart glasses, almost one-third (28 per cent) of European IT decision-makers being of this opinion. The most notable advantage of Windows 10 smart glasses is the ease at which they can be integrated into the existing IT infrastructure – in particular compared to other less business-focused platforms – while simultaneously benefitting from the support and security delivered through Microsoft updates to the platform. Windows 10 also brings greater potential for mobile edge computing through Microsoft Azure IoT services, meeting the need for organisations to develop a competitive edge and drive new ways of gathering and analysing data.

Which industries are leading the way?

Industries with significant numbers of frontline and field-based workers are set to benefit most from the opportunities provided by smart glasses, which can enhance the ways in which these mobile workers perform their jobs. Those currently leading the way include manufacturing, logistics, maintenance and healthcare, and Industry 4.0 is certainly a major influence as such companies seek to derive greater intelligence from the Internet of Things (IoT) and related data revolution.

This is supported by Toshiba’s research findings, which revealed that 89 per cent of engineering, 83 per cent of transport and logistics, and 77 per cent of manufacturing organisations plan to deploy smart glasses within the next three years. For example, boiler engineers conducting an annual service could use Assisted Reality smart glasses to call up the schematics of the boiler to enable a hands-free view of service procedures. In manufacturing, smart glasses can enable workers to access and overlay highly-detailed specifications or instructions in real-time – ensuring greater manufacturing precision, reducing any errors, and creating a more efficient overall process.

What are the main benefits?

In terms of where smart glasses will enable organisation to implement next-level business efficiency, hands-free functionality is considered a benefit by 49 per cent of organisations. This is especially the case within the manufacturing (59 per cent) and engineering (58 per cent) sectors, and closely aligns to the manner in which Industry 4.0 is driving technological innovation as it becomes increasingly mobile and data-centric. Indeed, the broad capacity of smart glasses to deliver improved mobile working is another widely-mooted benefit shared by 47 per cent of respondents to Toshiba’s research, as is their ability to improve information sharing and collaboration (41 per cent) across the organisation.

What is evident is that, as organisations seek ways to both embrace and manage the IoT, smart glasses are an emerging technology with the potential to increase productivity across multiple working environments. While their impact is yet to be seen in earnest, the latest solutions in this area are beginning to make an impact within the professional world, and it is certainly an area Europe’s IT leaders are keeping a close eye on as technologies such as 5G and assisted reality continue to develop.