From fitness gadgets and wearable payment devices to advances in smart clothing and the latest in trackable event wristbands, the last year has seen a further explosion in investments and progress in wearable technologies. While a certain percentage are likely to be relegated to the gimmick bin within a few months, there are some that industry insiders are raving about and are likely to stick around. Here’s a few of our favourites:
Tech reviewers have been pretty much universally wowed by the latest offering from Doppler Labs. These noise-cancelling, smart earphones have garnered serious praise for their exceptional ability to filter external sound, their ability to interact with voice assistants such as Siri and Google Now, as well as their sleek and subtle design. Doppler call them ‘in ear computers’, which makes their tiny scale and list of capabilities even more impressive.
It’s never easy being the pioneer, and this is especially true of VR trailblazers Oculus. Unfortunately for the Facebook subsidiary, its rivals keep beating them at their own game. The HTC Vive is a prime example, with many reviewers and developers describing the headset’s VR experience as ‘incomparable’ to its nearest rivals. The headset’s features include a startlingly accurate 110-degree field of vision, two base sets compared to its rivals’ one which lead to superior movement tracking and experiential games that showcase VR’s capabilities like nothing else on the market.
The market has become awash with a head spinning selection of fitness watches in the last few years. They vary enormously in quality and value for money though, and this offering from industry pioneers Fitbit consistently comes out on top. Its design is 25 percent more slender than its closest relative, the Fitbit Charge 2, and has been applauded by tech critics for its seven day battery life. Its only downside is that it’s not swimproof, a feature that’s sure to be introduced before too long by the ever consumer-canny Fitbit engineers.
Smart clothing isn’t only about gaming and fitness, as proved by this ambitious device from US-based parenting tech experts Owlet. The Smart Sock is a wearable monitor for young babies that uses the same technology as hospitals to track infants’ heart rate, enabling parents to see if their sleep has been interrupted. It aims to make a serious impact on cot death numbers, and has also succeeded (in its Beta phase) in detecting one child’s undiagnosed congenital heart defect.
While certainly not the best known brand on the list, Chinese tech manufacturer Huawei has received generally positive feedback on its Android Wear Smartwatch. Reviewers are keen on the timepiece’s sleek design, high res display (the highest of any Android Wear watch, in fact) and always-on display which minimises the need for constant tapping. The only criticisms are around the watch’s functionality, which has been called ‘clunky’ and ‘confusing’ – a problem that seems to haunt devices running on Google’s wrist-based operating system.
British Airlines hit the headlines in May 2017 for all the wrong reasons. The commercial aviation giant saw an estimated £170 million wiped from its value overnight after a catastrophic computer system outage left around 75,000 customers stranded at London airports. At the time of writing, the cause of the chaos was still under investigation, with BA contractors CBRE denying human error played any role in the incident.
BA’s reaction to the fiasco has certainly provided a stark reminder of the importance of dealing with such difficulties in a timely and reasonable manner. The firm has been criticised for providing confusing reports in the aftermath of the crash, being unclear as to its compensation policy and acting too slowly in response to customer complaints. We look at some key lessons CTOs and senior IT staff can take in case of comparable IT failures in their own organisations:
Speed is of the essence
Companies who find themselves falling victim to a significant IT issue need to deal with the failure and its impact on customer confidence – fast. As well as encouraging any external contractors to respond as quickly and effectively as possible, it’s also essential to make sure the plug is pulled before a problem reaches the point of no return. Just look at the doomed NHS Connecting For Health project or the UK government E-Borders fiasco – both costly and salutary lessons in admitting timely defeat rather than letting badly executed external projects drag on.
Communication is key
Big IT failures test a CTO’s communication skills and patience to their limits. A company board, PR department and shareholders will be advocating for the fastest solution possible in an attempt at damage limitation. CTOs, however, need to balance the likely highly pressurised demand for resolution with a potential lack of tools at hand to fix the problem. If you and your team are stuck with old technology or simply don’t have anyone with the necessary skills, this needs to be communicated swiftly and calmly to potentially fractious bosses. A good reason to regularly hone your communication skills if ever there was one.
Ask for company-wide support
Don’t be worried about asking, firmly but diplomatically, for support from the board and the rest of management. At times of IT chaos, it’s all too easy for a CTO’s team to be heaped with blame and left to face angry customers – it’s up to team bosses to stand up for their staff in such situations.
Deal with external contractors
As more organisations outsource their IT needs, it’s worth bearing in mind that many external contractors will be concerned with legally protecting their own reputations when the going gets tough. Try to anticipate this mentality when drawing up agreements with contractors, building in incentives for them to respond promptly and restore failed systems quickly, rather than simply rushing to cover their backs.
Work-life balance is an elusive concept to many senior IT professionals. A recent survey of tech employees in major US cities found that just 65 percent are satisfied with their work-life balance. It’s a pervasive issue, especially in the US and the UK, and one which can lead to a host of well documented problems, including sleep issues, depression, heart disease and other stress-related disorders.
This – often counterproductive – state of affairs can end up costing both company and employees dearly in terms of health, time and money, but the culture can seem impossible to break. We’ve identified five ways you and your colleagues can maintain a balance in your organisation:
Prioritise personal and work commitments equally
For CTOs and senior managers, often the only way to ensure you make it to your child’s football game or parents’ evening is to put it in your calendar in the same way as you’d schedule a meeting or work event. When someone asks you to do something work-related, you’re then able to honestly tell them you have another commitment.
Limit email expectations
The French recently introduced a law giving workers at all levels the “right to disconnect” from email after office hours. It’s an approach being adopted by more UK and US companies, who are realising the benefits of a work day-only email policy – leaving work communication at work leads to less stressed, and ultimately more productive, employees. This doesn’t have to mean a complete communication shut down after 6pm – in the case of a genuine work emergency, senior staff can still be available on mobile phones.
Schedule regular exercise
The benefits of regular exercise for both mind and body have been widely documented. For senior IT executives who are less able to reduce the length of their working day, a visit to the gym or half hour run before work can increase energy levels, as well as giving them a chance to clear their head and work through ideas before going into the office.
Allow for flexibility
Flexible working has become the norm at some of the world’s biggest companies, including Microsoft and Google. Many of the most able millennial job seekers now actively look for employment opportunities that give them the technology-enabled flexibility they’ve grown up with. Allowing flexible hours and a degree of working from home gives employees and senior executives the freedom to balance their home and work time, as well as reducing commuting hours and increasing productivity.
Take that holiday time
A 2015 report found that a third of UK workers fail to take all of their allotted holiday time. This ‘presenteeism’ – an issue that’s especially prevalent in the tech industry – can eventually do more harm than good, with an increased number of workers taking sickness leave in lieu of leisure time. It’s up to senior management to ensure they take the time assigned to them, setting an example for colleagues further down the ladder who might be tempted to prove their worth by burning themselves out.