Interviewed by Sanjiv Bhaskar, Vice President at Frost & Sullivan
Andrew is a senior executive with deep experience in developing teams and strategies that enable innovation, growth, and profitability improvements. Always a passionate advocate for safety and compliance, he has made them business and cultural priorities in all the organizations he’s led. As an NACD Certified Director and a founding executive member of the Digital Directors Network, he strives to improve board performance and digital governance excellence to shape and secure the digital future for everyone. He currently serves as a board member on the Finance Committee for the Rogers Group, and as the Chairman of the Advisory Board for RealWear where he recently served as COO. Before beginning his civilian career, Andrew served nine years as a physicist and program manager working on satellite and Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence Systems (C3I) systems. He has held positions of increasing responsibility with Hitachi, Warner-Lambert, Pfizer, Energizer, Goodrich Aerospace, UTC, Tyco and JCI. He holds two undergraduate degrees in Engineering Physics from Oregon State University’s Honor Program where he was a distinguished graduate of Air Force ROTC. He has a Master’s Degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California’s Institute for Safety and Systems Management and later completed a certificate of professional development at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
SB: How do you define leadership from your perspective?
AC: My definition of leadership has always been based on a simple concept: you lead people and you manage processes. I believe, as leaders, we deliver results by helping others do more, be more, and aspire to something greater than themselves. It’s a complex relationship, I think, between the leader and the follower. General Stanley McChrystal just wrote a great new book on the subject called, Leaders: Myth and Reality. In it, I think he does a great job of capturing the complexity of this fascinating relationship. Ultimately, effective leadership is both adaptive and situational, but immutable relative to ethics.
I think a good analogy on leadership that has served me well is a ship in a storm. Imagine the darkest, most dangerous kind of a storm. See the ship taking on water and floundering. The captain, at that point, may be highly directive. He’s the expert and he’s been through this before. His certainty of action and demeanor calm the crew and galvanize action. Ultimately, they get through it. Confident, fast decision-making saves the crew in this type of situation.
If you continue the analogy to a now shipwrecked vessel, a different dynamic emerges. Taking direct orders on a deserted island in a survival situation for months on end is likely to get that captain voted off the island. Successful leadership in this context requires more collaboration, engagement, and support. The successful leader must utilize more EQ (emotional intelligence) than IQ.
The truth is that the ship is rarely “sinking” in industry. That means we are operating in an environment where emotional intelligence becomes the key attribute for success. It’s something I look for in leaders of my organizations. Years ago I worked on developing the Leadership Academy for Goodrich Aerospace and they used that for a number of years in helping make this distinction between management and leadership.
So I think great leadership is a fundamental discriminator for companies seeking to create a sustainably superior culture.
SB: You have been in a variety of industries like aerospace, automotive, consumer goods, industrial products, mining and so forth. What are the common safety principles that you have applied across the board?
AC: First of all, I think safety has always been a primary focal point in every industry I have operated in. I’ve always tried to create a culture of safety where everyone looks out for each other. Unsafe situations need to be seen, documented, and addressed as a routine part of everyone’s work. I think the only enduring motivation for a safety program comes from caring as much about your teammates as you care about your family.
Making sure everyone goes home the same way they come to work has been a theme of mine from my USAF days. Safety programs can’t just be a top-down thing. Successful safety programs are culturally based.
I’ve always been inspired by Paul O’Neill and his brilliant turnaround of Alcoa in the 1980s, when he created such a culture of safety that it improved engagement, increased communications, and instilled process discipline to such a point that both safety and productivity were drastically improved.
A true commitment to safety ultimately creates a better and more productive organization. It’s so foundational that putting employee safety first, I think, is the way to best serve customers and stakeholders.
Some jobs are truly more dangerous than others, and some product or process failures are far more consequential than others. Whether we are talking about the recent Boeing 737 Max failures or automotive recalls, the key is to have a culture where everyone thinks about their family flying on that plane or driving that car and then does the right thing.
SB: You joined RealWear as a Chairman of the Advisory Board very early in the corporate lifecycle of the company. RealWear is showing strong growth and it’s growing from an innovator to becoming one of the market leaders. The company has grown from strength to strength under your leadership. What are the challenges you have faced in this effort to bring the company from an innovator stage to leading the market in some ways?
AC:First of all, I would give the credit for their success to RealWear’s executive staff and its CEO, Andy Lowery. I joined the team early on as an advisor, but I think I learned as much as I taught. I came to the team to bring my professional perspective; a perspective that was honed in large organizations like the Air Force and Fortune 500 companies. In those organizations, it was easy to take for granted things that are huge challenges for a startup. Every startup CEO and board knows the usual suspects here: raising capital, hiring good people, and developing processes and structure where, frankly, there are none.
RealWear was no different in this regard and we talked about these challenges constantly. But the unique challenge we faced was growing a startup and creating a market at the same time.
When we approached these large global industrial customers, we had to show them a solution to a problem they had not struggled with yet. We had to sell the value and benefits of a hands-free wearable computer for their workforce first, and then convince them that RealWear’s HMT-1 was the best solution for them. It wasn’t enough to be the best ruggedized wearable. We had to give them a reason to want it on a clear ROI basis.
We brought together software partners, VARs, channel partners to literally create an entire ecosystem that delivered the level of safety, security and stability that large companies expect. Companies like Shell, Wal-Mart, BMW, and Colgate basically demand that level of performance before they’ll deploy a technology. So for a startup do that on a global scale early on, I think, is both the greatest challenge and truly the biggest success the team has had.
SB: Over the years you have seen the industrial wearables market sort of mimic the consumer wearables market. How has the market changed in the last several years?
AC: Well, I might rephrase your question a bit in saying that many companies tried to enter the industrial wearables market with products designed and developed for the consumer market with varying degrees of success.
Just like the consumer market, we’ve seen companies come and go as the market evaluates products from a hardware point of view. So I think the market has begun to choose winners and losers around reliability, availability, form factor and suitability for truly industrial environments, which are quite a bit more demanding than the average consumer product sees. Let’s consider wearable computers separately from the other types for this question.
With respect to industrial wearable computer applications, it’s really gone down to just two players from a hardware point of view: Microsoft and their HoloLens-2 and RealWear with their HMT-1 and HMT-1Z1. All three are great devices with broad applications but distinctly different advantages.
RealWear brings ruggedized, hands-free tablet performance with IP 66 compliance and ATEX Zone 1 Div 1, Class 1 compliance for the HMT-1 and HMT-1Z1, respectively.
HoloLens-2 does a great job with an immersive experience and a headset that is a huge improvement over the first-generation device, but surely not ruggedized or suitable for uncontrolled worksite applications. What it does phenomenally well is training and augmented reality in physically safe locations. No routine walk around a factory or job site where “reality” takes second place with respect to attention without consequences.
RealWear has focused on that hardhat-wearing connected worker. A micro-display on a boom arm with voice controls puts “reality” first and does not compromise situational awareness for the user.
From what I’ve seen, the wearable sensor side fares somewhat better in the transition from consumer to industry. Everything from wrist-worn sensors to sensors in clothing and other kinds of indicators have propagated tremendously but haven’t quite found broad application yet. There are some cases where solutions seem to be looking for problems, but the larger contributor is that the ecosystem necessary to support the total solution has yet to be completed.
I see a market that reflects the classic hourglass response were there are a lot of entrants that don’t meet the market needs and are winnowed out to create a set of standards the market can accept, resulting in an explosion of activity on the other side of the constraint as standards and winners emerge.
SB: What role do you envision for wearable computers in the coming years, for example, in the automation industry or in the PPE industry?
AC: Great question! Improved automation, connectivity, and AI are the keys to Industry 4.0. The basic concept is that you can extract value from all the data collecting from the networking of machines and processes. With inexpensive and ubiquitous data collectors acting as endpoints, the cost of acquiring deeper performance insights into operations should go down. The last six inches of that feedback loop are between the ears of a connected worker who will take action on the information provided. Being that knowledge transfer platform is the role of wearable computers like those from RealWear.
The future of manufacturing is going to be more automated and there will be fewer operators to be sure. Those that remain are going to become even more crucial to operations. Additionally, the wearable computer will act as a connecting hub for all the smart PPE being worn by these operators.
There are a number of biometric sensors out there that can evaluate heat stress, heart rates, and man-down situations. These sensors will transition, I think, to being a networkable safety net around the worker. The analogy to me is the home automation movement. We have all these disparate devices running and managing separate systems in our home: camera systems, security system, thermostats, door sensors, lights, and more. We see the trend of all of these being centrally controlled through a single hub, be that Alexa or Google Assistant. Doing that simplifies the operation and programming of these systems. That improved user experience is driving adoption.
I think the same is happening in industry and will need to happen in the industry for the PPE wearables to be successful. We’ll ultimately have standards to pair the sensors in our clothing, on our wrists, belts, and helmets to a central hub on that person’s body. It will be that hub that connects and transmits to the central monitoring and control system.
Without that local hub, the energy demands on the individual sensors become too much. When you think about it, it’s pretty exciting that not only are those sensors monitoring the user and increasing their safety, but they can also act as mobile sensors to sample the air, measure noise, and detect differences over time. I think it’s coming, but it’s going to need that connection hub to be effective.
SB: As you know, the biggest challenge for the PPE industry is that it’s very price-sensitive. What will allow wearables to find a foothold in the marketplace for PPE?
AC: I couldn’t agree more that PPE has been, and is currently seen, as a commodity market for a lot of reasons. Things like safety vests, gloves, boots, and respirators are seen as simple, and mostly undifferentiated, items. That has created a commodity mindset for the buyers, the users, and the companies themselves.
Commodity markets are typically a race to the bottom for pricing. However, I see the PPE market evolving to create better-value options. So when a company can deliver an ROI that goes beyond passive defense against a potential harm, the cycle can be broken. When adopting these technologies prevents injury and provides useful insights to operations, that will signal a change to the paradigm. It opens up the path to adopting some of these technologies that are thought now to be too expensive.
SB: Based on your experience in different industries, what do you think are the major impediments in adoption of wearable technology in the safety industry?
AC: I think we’ve discussed some of them already. Things like interoperability, standards and protocols are certainly necessary foundations to get wearables to a widely deployed state. That presupposes the economic ecosystems around software platforms, hardware solutions, and system integrators mature and address the three big concerns of enterprise deployments: safety, security, and stability. First, they need to see that adoption of these technologies makes the workplace safer and can’t distract the user. Second, they need to be assured that the systems and tools are in place to secure their networks and properly manage the PID they will be collecting. Third, they need to know that the companies providing these services are stable, sound, and can support deployments at scale.
One element that is rarely discussed is the influence of design thinking over the user experience. Good design enables frictionless interaction of the user and encourages engagement.
Finally, a challenge for anyone working to establish new technologies into this industrial space is to escape the so-called “pilot purgatory” and making that leap from being a bright star in the innovation center to being truly invaluable.
Large organizations adopt technology in a fairly predictable way that is often confusing to a startup company. They may think they have great sponsorship of the technologies in the company when they get a foot in the door and get a trial. They don’t understand that without fully addressing network security concerns, without strong backend integration, without a training and support program, they’re probably going to stay in that “not ready for now” stage for a lot longer than they expected.
SB: You mentioned communication protocols. Are communication protocols open or proprietary in this industry? Experience from other industries shows that proprietary protocols slowed down the adoption process. What is your opinion on this issue?
AC: At least in the wearables market, I have seen open protocols from the beginning. Previous history shows that some of the industrial protocols of the past were very proprietary and niche. That made further networking and connections more difficult. The connectivity protocols of today, however, are primarily internet technology: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, TCPIP, and the like.
I was a certified acquisition manager in the US Air Force. The DoD had a very negative term for the adoption of proprietary systems and that was “vendor lock.” You see a lot of that in the press today. Companies do not want to be locked-in and when it comes to these longer-term investments, propriety systems, by their nature, reduce the number of options for the customer. That’s why, as you say, they slow down adoption.
A word of caution: going to the cloud is not necessarily without this risk. Users need to read their contracts carefully to ensure portability of their solutions. Design application for portability so they are not tied to the hosting ISAS cloud vendor.
At the end of the day, I do think that the future of the industrial PPE market will be primarily open.
SB: We feel that the market conditions impact the growth of a company or technology in the near and far terms. Will the current trade war situation in the US or the economic uncertainties of Europe after BREXIT impact growth in the safety industry? What about the growth of RealWear—will it be impacted in any way?
AC: It’s a great question and you know there are a lot of smart people spending a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this. I describe these as “trade skirmishes” rather than “wars” because nothing has really blown up yet, in my opinion. We’ve already seen the USMCA treaty get through, and we may be on the cusp of resolving most of the US-China trade issues.
Brexit creates a far more interesting regulation and compliance trade issue, and by all appearances is more likely than ever given the recent Parliamentary elections. All I can say is that the market needs will not change overnight and after all of the posturing is done, there will be buffers built in around the PPE and safety products markets to get products where they are needed. In the short term following Brexit, companies will have to figure out their supply chain dynamics, but that won’t change the market demands. Companies will adapt, and I don’t think it will be the zero-sum game that some fear.
As for China, RealWear had early Chinese seed investment. We’ve enjoyed active participation by state-owned enterprises like China Grid, the world’s largest utility. Andy Lowery, the RealWear CEO, really founded the company on a belief that our customers operated globally, so we would also.
Frankly, I find it amazing that a three-year-old startup is certified in more than 50 countries and already has locations in Vancouver, Amsterdam, Shanghai, and Bangalore. This is the real testament to the depth of the international experience of the RealWear team.
Companies that do not think of themselves primarily as international will suffer more in any trade war situation than ones who try operating within a single national market.
SB: The PPE industry has witnessed aggressive M&A activities in the last few years. You have seen many acquisitions by industry majors. Does this help in focusing on possible partners and collaborations or make it more difficult.
AC: In general, as consolidations continue, the remaining players tend to get stronger and cover a broader set of solutions. I think that is good from a buyer’s point of view and may even lower the risks of selecting a specific partner. As this trend continues, of course, it can make further consolidations more difficult.
From a customer’s point of view, consolidation is certainly making it easier to select an integrated solution. The ultimate key to success is having a high degree of organizational agility. The best companies respond quickly to changing scenarios.
As the dominoes begin to fall, certain patterns tend to emerge within market verticals. In RealWear, we actually see how certain software applications may be getting more traction in the automotive area and where others might be getting more traction in the remote expert area.
Success in a vertical makes it easier for an end user to select a software solution that best matches their own problem set. I believe this consolidation also accelerates market adoption as the user is presented with fewer and more comprehensive options and that shortens the decision purchase cycle. In this way, M&A activities reduce market friction and therefore create greater value in the PPE market as a whole.
SB: Do you envisage seeing close collaboration between wearable companies and some of the major PPE players in the marketplace in the next few years?
AC: I think in every industry, especially if you’re talking about wearable sensors, smart sensors, and even intelligent portable gas sensors, those types of things you’ll see a lot of collaboration around because, as I said before, there’s going to be this drive to integrate those into a networkable solution. It’s just not practical to have 10 or 15 individual sensors all communicating separately about the wearer’s status. I think it will be driven from a network traffic point of view and a consolidation point of view.
I think distribution channels will also have an impact on how we go forward and in what ways companies collaborate. I think if they refuse to do so, then it’s going to put those players on the outside, not as much from a technological point of view, but looking at how these products are purchased and delivered to global customers. That’s the piece that I think may drive more collaboration than just the technology evolution alone.
SB: In your opinion, how close to reality is the connected worker? What collaboration do you see between the automation industry and the PPE industry over the next five years?
AC: I think it’s close, and I think it’s happening now. Lack of harmonized standards has always been an issue relative to deployment of proprietary solutions. They inhibit access to valuable data and give industrial buyers reason to pause.
From the beginning, RealWear has focused on Android and industry standards to create an ecosystem where customers can pick the best solutions for their needs.
The idea of knowledge transfer is being recognized as value creator and so you’re beginning to see large-scale deployments happening now. Companies like BMW, Volkswagen, Wal-Mart, Colgate-Palmolive and Shell have decided it’s real for them, and their successes will accelerate broader adoption over the next three or four years.
SB: In your opinion, what are some of the competitive factors that will help the leaders in differentiating and staying ahead in a fast-developing world of industrial safety and connectivity?
AC: I think probably it’s going to be finding the right balance between agility and security. Remember the Get Smart TV show? In it, they had the cone of silence and this cone of silence would come down when they wanted to have a classified conversation. The trouble was it worked so well they couldn’t hear each other, so they would lean out of it and yell at the other person, defeating, of course, the purpose in the first place. I see this as a metaphor for the organization pathologies faced between creating a product that is easy and accessible and one that is highly secure. The more you are the former, the more agile you can be, but the more of the latter, the less agile you become.
In the consumer world that trade-off has been decided by consumers who have said, “I give up security willingly to cheaper insurance, faster service, or better movie recommendations.”
Inside industry, the threat of cyberattacks, data breaches, and digital disruptions are driving companies to look more closely at this idea of security. And boards are looking at making sure that they have expert boards of directors of public and private companies that are deep enough experts in this area to be able to evaluate strategies and countermeasures in a reasonable way.
SB: As you know, there are a number of startups like RealWear and other companies in play that have the technology to make connected worker or connected PPE a reality. What is the market reaction to this competition? What is the market reaction of PPE players to this kind of offering?
AC: The way I like to think about this question is to consider an office desktop from the 1970s. You’d probably see all kinds of things like a calculator, a telephone, maybe an adding machine, a typewriter, or a computer monitor, and notepads all cluttering the desk. If you show the future, maybe there’s a smartphone and a laptop and that’s it. All of those other objects’ functions have been subsumed into these two devices. I think that we certainly see a market reaction that is asking for fewer of these single-purpose devices that they have to manage.
So there will be a move to embracing devices that can do more of that. That will inevitably drive a focus on software because once the hardware platform is established and working, then I think you get a really clear focus on the software and user experience.
I am a huge believer in design thinking and the extent that companies in the industrial PPE space utilize it to improve the user experience is the same extent that we will see broad adoption by industry and acceptance by workers.
The market reaction I see is one that says wearables are here to stay. Industry has seen the success of Hololens-2 and the HMT-1 with RealWear and they’re realizing this is not just a flash in the pan; it’s here to stay. The market is losing its fear of scaling up the deployment and getting a little more fear of missing out.
SB: At Frost & Sullivan, we’ve been saying for a very long time that smart and wearable PPE is bound to come in—it’s not a question of if it would be adopted in the industry, the question is when it will be adopted in the industry. What you are saying is that when is now; it is happening. Is it a fair statement?
AC: I think it’s a fair statement and I think that it will only get truer as time goes on and more of these disparate sensors are integrated into industrial PPE and standard gear.
You know in the past we might have picked up a hard hat, a pair of goggles, some gloves, and safety boots that simply provided passive protection. Now it’s possible that helmet comes with a wearable computer that is voice-controlled, the shirt holds biosensors that detect perspiration and heart rate, and everything has a smart tag to identify it. We’re there when that data has a place to go and reside. We’re there where it can be managed by the company to create value.
And I think we’ve entered the first phase of this new reality and are moving rapidly toward the grandiose vision that Frost & Sullivan has been talking about for years: the age of ubiquitous smart PPE.
SB: As we have learned from our recent research, smart/connected worker programs face some challenges about privacy concerns from workers and unions alike. What can be done to allay these fears and focus on enhancing worker safety and productivity?
AC: These are complicated questions, answered in the long term by governments. The EU has, in particular, led the way with data privacy. GDPR is becoming the defacto standard because compliance with it opens up the ability to move data across national boundaries. Compliance with GDPR is being motivated by the large fines (scaled to a company’s global revenue) being levied on violations.
In the short term, it comes down to one word: trust. I’m talking about companies taking a proactive stance with their employees about why they want to go down this path, how it will be of benefit, and who will ultimately have access to it.
The next phase is about trust and communication. Working with the unions and employees, you’ve got to build the rationale for the application and the technology in such a way that it fits with the culture of looking out for themselves and their workers. The more it is seen as big brother, productivity, or observation of behaviors by the company, the more resistance you get. When you can tie it to health and safety of the individual or the collective group, then it begins to break down the barriers.
As an example, one could put a camera on a high-risk area that would alert every time a human enters it. This might clearly be a safety advantage, but do you need to actually see enough detail to know who it is? Would it be enough to have a machine vision algorithm identify the figure as human and then obscure any identifying features before storing the image?
This trust discussion is something that boards need to be asking management about these programs before they are implemented.
SB: In some markets like Russia, the insurance industry plays an important role in enhancing use of PPE. Have you seen any interest from the insurance industry that supports the use of HMT-1 and HMT-1Z to enhance safety and reduce premiums?
AC: This is an excellent question that may be a little ahead of the data that supports it. Insurance companies have always been data-driven companies. Until there is more data to support that connected worker programs are resulting in fewer injuries or less-costly injuries, or some such similar benefit, it’s difficult for them to come up with a premium reduction. I believe everyone in the industry sees this as a likely outcome. We are just a few years away from the best date that will make the insurance industry feel confident about implementing it. I’m certain it’s coming. As two examples, just look at how consumers are “opting in” to apps that continuously monitor their automobile driving for reduced insurance premiums or how home insurers have the data that demonstrates that houses with fire alarms, smoke detectors, and intrusion detection systems reduce claims and hence results in premium reductions for their customers.
SB: So you are saying that in the years to come, connected workers/smart PPE platforms will generate enough data to determine that their use will reduce the risk of injuries and can support reduction of insurance premiums, correct?
AC: Yes, I absolutely do. This will be just one more compelling case showing the ROI from deploying smart PPE.
SB: IoT is a growing field and has entered our daily lives in a big way. In which industry do you see the most interest in IIoT in the safety space? What are your biggest focus areas in the IIoT safety space? Which regions of the world do you see the most interest in IIoT safety?
AC: I think the interest is high everywhere, but the fastest adopters are in Asia in terms of what can be done and how to roll it out. Also, there is high level of interest in the Middle East with respect to the oil & gas industry. As a vertical itself, the oil & gas industry is most open about it because their exposure is so high. They have a global footprint and their supply chain challenges are so broad and geographically dispersed. I see a lot of interest in discreet manufacturing in the short term, but a lot of products that are being used facilitate data acquisition, machine learning, and predictive maintenance.
One area I am very excited about is video as an endpoint. I recently heard a comment from a startup in this space describe data entry as “waste.” Imagine Fredrick Taylor with his stopwatch in the cloud automatically assessing flows in your worksite by machine vision alone and building a digital twin to evaluate changes in condition. Vision systems like these could automatically detect humans in high-risk areas or performing non-standard, high-risk tasks and intervene before an accident.
Overall, I think we are a little ways away from all these things getting tied together. The challenge is to get all the endpoints in place, get them all to flow, and then having the capacity to handle large streams of data and come up with timely information that can be valuable for the company. This is a huge transformation; it will take a while and we will have to see how it all comes together.
SB: You mentioned predictive maintenance. Could IoT technology be used for predictive safety?
AC: I think it’s a great idea and a powerful concept. If you have knowledge about physical location of the worker, his training, and certifications, then it’s a very short leap to assess if that person is authorized to enter an area if they are wearing the proper PPE. Since a worker’s wearable computer would be networked to, or at least aware of, the PPE they have donned, it would be easy to give a green light or an alert via his or her HMT-1 or other smart wearable. I believe that the reality of predictive safety will come out of the combination of having the geolocation of the worker with the details of the person’s knowledge base and training and an inventory of their PPE. If you have the answers to those questions, then predictive safety is very plausible indeed.
SB: Is it possible that IoT technology and connected safety can help in increasing the compliance rates?
AC: Absolutely it can. Think of it this way: a fully networked environment at the workplace would know what PPE is required in all locations. It would know who is where, what training they have. Workers with inadequate PPE or training would be alerted through their wearable computer that they are not to enter a risk area. With this functionality, it’s possible that a worker could be given refresher training pointers on the go before he or she enters the hazardous area. Routine training could be “pushed” to workers after being individually customized based on their previous demonstrated learning through AI systems. No more boring one-size-fits-none training. The ability to access written or video-based procedures before beginning a job might, in the end, have a bigger impact on worker safety behavior than geofencing and identifying their physical location on the job site.
SB: What is the industry doing to communicate the benefits of IoT to safety leaders? What are the challenges in adoption of IIoT in the safety space?
AC: My short answer is, “Not enough.” I think it comes down to ROI. Executives are looking for examples of payback with completely deployable solutions for a given use case. Today, that’s still a hard argument to make. There isn’t enough completed infrastructure in place yet. That’s why I think 5G will have such a big impact on IIoT deployments as it will make high-speed data transmission from these endpoint devices far easier.
SB: Growth—it’s the most important word in a CEO’s vocabulary. Where will the growth come from for RealWear in the coming years? Will it come organically, from M&A activities, from collaborations or from innovation?
AC: Speaking as an advisor to the company, I see the majority of near-term growth coming organically as large numbers of current customer’s transition from proof of concept and pilot tests to large-scale deployments. Of those, I see certain industries that are more open to adoption of technology than others.
In general, manufacturing, warehousing, and transportation are verticals where we see rapid acceptance of the technology. The value proposition of a “remote expert” shortening repair times and eliminating travel and delays is an easy ROI.
RealWear prides itself on its technology and the value it brings to customers, so I know there will be continuous innovation and improvements, but in industrial markets, that must be done with more of a view toward backward compatibility than is often the case in B2C business models.
As to M&A, the company certainly has the wherewithal to selectively add attractive technologies, capabilities, and personnel so one can’t take that off the table.
In the end, this all comes back around to solving real problems for customers in their respective verticals. M&A or not, ecosystems of hardware, software, and system integrators will continue to get more coherence so that the industry verticals begin to adopt these solutions. Ultimately, it’s that competitive need for advantages in safety and productivity that is going to drive RealWear’s growth.
SB: What are your thoughts about cybersecurity and data privacy in relation to adoption of wearables in the PPE industry?
AC: Security is paramount to enable large-scale industrial deployments. Companies like RealWear take it extremely seriously as they recognize that without it, adoption is not possible. Today, every business is a digital business, whether they fully appreciate it or not, and the PPE industry is no different.
Risks can come from mismanagement of personal data, network breaches, third-party errors, malicious code, emerging technologies, and many other domains. This is a complex systems problem that requires leaders who appreciate and understand the trade-offs from the edge devices to the network architecture, and all the way to the business strategies employed to be effective.
As a qualified technical executive and founding executive member of the Digital Directors Network, I am committed to improving digital competence and diversity at the corporate boardroom level to shape and secure the digital future for everyone. People who want to learn more about the five systemic risks to the eight domains of digital operations should reach out to learn more from the DDN.
SB: Where do you see the future of wearables in the PPE industry in the next 5-10 years?
AC: I think in the next 5-10 years, you will see expansion beyond standalone smart wearable technology along with the de-Balkanization of connected hardware. Instead of having a number of independent devices on your person, you will see a suite of connected sensors working compatibly with a wearable computer acting as a “hub” to collect and then pass on this data to cloud solutions, if necessary. As sensors become cheaper and more ubiquitous, they will generate geometrically more data to be analyzed, modeled, and acted upon. Ideally, much of this can be done on a more powerful and capable processor locally, but some things will require broadband-speed connectivity to secure cloud solutions that can then send actionable data back to the worker. The wearable computer will be the mechanism for this knowledge transfer whether it comes as voice (à la Alexa), assisted reality (à la a heads-up display), or even as a haptic signal to the wearer. Commercially, this means that the companies that do this well will work with larger established PPE companies to capture the industrial market through established channels. I think you are going to see a continuation of the “more, faster, better” arc into the foreseeable future, but with fewer, bigger players.