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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 18 months you’ll have noticed that the wave of wearable technology is about to break into the mainstream at any moment. Analysts agree that sales will easily climb past 100 million units by the end of this year as the likes of Apple and Microsoft look to corner a rapidly expanding market. But what exactly is taking the idea beyond the preserve of tech nerds and fitness freaks?

It’s simple. The need for individuals and organisations to gain a greater understanding of, and have more control over, their overall health is now essential to drive higher levels of performance. We spoke to Dan Zelezinski, founder and director of Peak Health, to find out more about how wearables are working for some of the world’s most high performing corporate cultures.

Tell us a little bit about the work you are doing within the financial industry.
I’m currently working with a number of investment banks and hedge funds who are looking to make positive behaviour changes among their workforce through wearable technology. My end of the wearables spectrum primarily focuses on leveraging health data to build personal resilience and leadership development within organisations.

What does that involve?
It initially involves raising individual awareness to existing behaviours, monitoring data regarding stress, recovery, sleep quality and activity patterns. We then utilise wearable tech to promote engagement and accountability in order to achieve sustainable behaviour change.

What measurable areas are your clients most interested in?
There’s a few things that jump off the page. A big surprise for many people is the location of stressors, particularly outside of working hours. There’s a popular disconnect between what people perceive and the reality, and it definitely surprises people to learn that work is not necessarily always the biggest driver of physical stress reaction.

The other area is sleep. From the vast majority of data profiles from individuals in investment banking, I can tell you that people are absolutely horrified by the lack of quality in their sleep cycles. We can assess objective data and illuminate the drivers behind that but, again, people are very surprised by their own behaviour and what they perceive to be normal. Poor quality of sleep can soon lead to poor nutritional choices, reduced activity levels and research now demonstrating the negative impact upon IQ is particularly worrisome for those in a sector who have to stay sharp in highly pressurised trading environments.

Does the simple fact of having a wearable encourage people to do more than they would otherwise?
Absolutely. There’s a gap between perception and reality that we’re trying to close. Most people believe that they are a lot more active than they actually are. They don’t realise the impact that sedentary work can have on their health and the importance of regular movement.  Some of these devices have very intuitive settings to encourage you as well, such as vibrating every hour reminding you to get up and move your legs. It’s a small thing but it can be incredibly powerful in terms of driving these changes at corporate level. The relationship between the mind and the body is very much a two way process that sits at the heart of the digital health revolution.

Will wearables become more and more integrated as part of working life?
Certainly. We’re still in the Stone Ages in terms of where this technology might go. When forecasting what lies ahead, the obvious comparable is the tablet market which has seen sales explode in past 5 years. It’s only a matter of time before sales of wearable technology go through the roof. CSS Insight have forecasted a rise from 20 million sales last year to 135 million sales by 2018.

Why the sudden boom in sales?
It’s inevitable that this type of technology will become more mainstream. The design is a massive contributor to this; the earlier hardware used to be a lot clunkier and harder to imagine in a corporate setting. It was also harder to extract relevant data. It wasn’t so long ago you’d have to physically take the device and hook it up to a computer, run a program and load the data in. These days that process is completely automated. Battery life and connectivity to smartphones has also significantly improved over the past 18 months.

From a technical standpoint there’s also been a shift in the complexity of algorithms – they’re now incredibly accurate. This is a real game-changer – being able to capture a picture and identifying blind spots within an organisation is becoming easier because of this technology. It’s all plug and go now.

What type of impact will this make at organisational level?
I believe it will be key for employee engagement. Here is something that gives organisations an amazing opportunity to gather reliable information about their workforce and therefore make more targeted interventions and a strategic approach. As the technology progresses it’s going to be an integral aspect in accelerating that learning curve.

We’re a knowledge based economy, where productivity is fuelled by human capital – and so it’s vital that we encourage people to look after themselves and think about the health risk of sedentary work. If the reality of that is a little reminder to get off the tube a few stops earlier to fulfil your daily exercise quota then great! It’s about getting people to make informed choices and change their behaviour.

What are the best devices currently on the market?
That’s a tough one to answer and really dependent upon the individual users demands – with so many manufacturers fighting for market share the consumer will benefit from growing capability and lower price points. The major players: Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, Sony all have great devices. The user interface is obviously a key determinant and something Apple will capitalise on with the spring launch of their eagerly awaited iWatch. Lesser known devices from Withings, Misfit, Emiota and Razer have recently caught my eye at CES 2015 in Las Vegas.

What is the biggest challenge facing wearable technology?
Collecting data is not the difficult part anymore as the hardware gets smarter and the process is almost entirely automated. The missing piece in the puzzle is what we do with the data. This is where Peak Health adds value: we work with both individuals and organisations to assist in deciding what metrics are relevant and actionable and use that insight to promote behavioural change.

Bear in mind that having an X-Ray doesn’t make the problem go away; there also needs to be a plan of action in place to improve it. Big data is everywhere at the moment but it is how we use it that will make the difference.

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Dan Zelezinski

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