Management and Security Implications of the Smartwatch at Work

March 23, 2015
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3 min read

Like the smartphone and tablet before it, will the smartwatch be the next boon for enterprise productivity? When smartphones hit the market just a few short years ago, users from the C-suite to the intern level began to bring these new devices into the office and demand access to corporate resources, leaving enterprise IT scrambling for a solution to the burgeoning bring-your-own-device (BYOD) problem. The introduction of mobile device management helped give IT a way to see and control the devices entering their mobile work environment, providing them with the ability to establish policies and permissions regarding use and secure the corporate resources being accessed by users. These management capabilities helped usher in the BYOD movement that continues to grow today.

However, just over the horizon lies the next evolution of the BYOD movement: wearable technology.

The Current State of Wearables

BYOD was born out of consumer interest in the newly created smartphone market. To really affect the everyday enterprise, the wearable technology industry needs a pioneering device capable of bridging the gap between consumer interest and useful business features.

Some wearable devices have found moderate consumer success in the form of fitness trackers and, to a lesser extent, glasses. Smartwatches, however, seem to be the devices that are most likely to marry consumer interest and business function and ultimately launch wearable devices into the mainstream.

Smartwatches’ Potential

Over the past two years, the smartwatch market has seen both upstarts and stalwarts get into the high-tech watch game, with crowdfunded Pebble Time and the Samsung Gear leading the charge. The interest in smartwatches is there. To illustrate just how, look no further than Pebble Time’s recent record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, where it managed to be the fastest project to reach $1 million in funding — which happened in 30 minutes — and became the highest-funded project of all time, with well over $17 million pledged and growing.

While these records are great for Pebble Time and the smartwatch industry in general, the market still needs to generate massive consumer appeal for the devices if the wear-your-own-device (WYOD) movement is to really take off. Fortunately, there is one device that is expected to do just that: the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch’s Effect on the Industry

The impending release of Apple Watch on April 24 will be very telling about the immediate future of the smartwatch market. Apple’s first foray into wearables is generating a great deal of excitement and skepticism. Will it be just another expensive gadget that falls to the wayside with limited overall appeal? Or could Apple Watch do for the smartwatch market what the iPhone and iPad did for smartphones and tablets?

Analysts’ expectations peg the Apple Watch as immediately making a massive splash in the market, with Strategy Analytics predicting Apple could ship 15.4 million Apple Watch units, accounting for more than 54.8 percent of the total smartwatch market.

Not only would the success of the smartwatch benefit Apple, but it would also increase the awareness and demand for the smartwatch industry overall, adding further legitimacy to the devices and helping spur mass consumer appeal. This is precisely what could tip the hand of the WYOD movement in the enterprise and extend the consumerization of the IT cycle.

Understanding the Benefits and Risks

With the ability to rapidly communicate, glance at data and emails and sync calendars and contacts from their wrist, users will be able to experience important benefits in mobility and productivity on an enterprise level with their smartwatches.

As with smartphones and tablets, apps will also be the key drivers for smartwatch use in the enterprise. Both Google and Apple will have stores specifically created for users to browse and download apps. Although developers will have a much smaller interface to design for, there are still opportunities to develop apps that leverage the context of the users to help them be more productive in their daily life.

While smartwatches can enable users to be productive in new ways, they also introduce new vulnerabilities and threats to the enterprise data a user is connected to.

Since the devices themselves are still considered to be in their infancy, built-in security is very limited, leaving devices and users at risk for data leaks. Jailbreaking and rooting devices and the use of third-party applications to increase out-of-the-box functionality also raise the vulnerability levels for smartwatches.

Considering the damage a data leak can wreak on the enterprise, organizations should take several precautions to address these issues. These steps should include updating the mobile policy, incorporating wearable device permissions and acceptable use and educating employees on best practices. Since smartwatches must typically be connected to a smartphone, an enterprise mobility management platform will help ensure employees can access work data in a secure manner. Additionally, plans need to be made about managing the apps that will be accessed on the devices.

Making Smart Preparations for the Smartwatch

Smartwatches have a genuine chance at becoming an important accessory in business settings. Whether that happens or they remain niche is anyone’s guess. However, if organizations want to be sure their data is safe and secure from all threats and vulnerabilities, the time is now to plan for the wearable movement.

Kevin Olivieri
Online Community and Social Media Manager

Kevin is the Online Community and Social Media Manager at Fiberlink, an IBM Company. He currently manages and writes for the MaaSters Blog, which was named o...
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