How Should CIOs Handle Data From Employee’s Wearables?

More data is always better, but what if it's personal data?
More data is always better, but what if it’s personal data?
Image Credit: Timo Newton-Syms Follow

As the person with the CIO job, you are the one who is responsible for managing all of the data that the company collects. We are all pretty used to what this means. We set up databases, we create backup programs, and we create processes for acquiring, cleaning, storing, and eventually discarding data because we understand the importance of information technology. However, things are changing. With the arrival of electronic products like Fitbits and Apple watches, your employees now have the ability to collect and report a great deal of data on their daily activities. How should a CIO deal with these new very personal data streams?

The Power Of Personal Data Streams

The arrival of new devices that employees wear throughout the day and which track their every movement represent a powerful new tool for employers. When employees are wearing these devices, they are constantly collecting information about where they are, what they are doing, and the physical status of the employee (pulse, heartrate, speed, etc.). From an employer point-of-view this offers new ways to measure employee productivity and ensure that safety policies are being met. Additionally, insurers will now be able to track employee’s key health indicators and their daily habits.

For firms, the ability to track where employees are at any given time and the ability to measure productivity can be valuable tools. Firms realize that they won’t be well served if their employees are overworked, stressed out, or anxious. One of the biggest problems with these conditions is that all too often, the employee doesn’t even realize that they are suffering from the condition.

In the world of sports, things have evolved so quickly that these days athletes don’t even think twice about wearing measuring devices that are built into their jerseys or helmets. These are there so that the force of impacts can be measured in ways that have never been possible to do before. Everyone agrees that in such situations, getting and using more personal information can be a good thing.

The Danger Of Personal Data Streams

Where things can get a bit tricky for the person in the CIO position is when you start to realize the truly personal nature of the data that is being collected. The company is going to have to have to create a social contract between themselves and their employees that deals with this data. The company is going to have to have a culture of trust and accountability. They are also going to have to make sure that the data that they have collected is made visible for all to see.

One key point that CIOs need to be aware of is that the personal data that is being collected may not be all that accurate. These devices are made to be inexpensive and because of that there may be serious questions about the apps that are being used to power these devices. There are serious privacy concerns about making decisions about workers based on their personal data. However, these concerns become much larger when you realize that the decisions may be made based on bad data.

Wearables can provide a great deal of value to employees. They can monitor such things as radiation, particulate matter in the air, and accidents. However, in order for employees to feel comfortable sharing their personal data with their employer, there is going to have to be an environment of transparency and reasonableness. Employers are going to have to find ways to be transparent with their employees regarding the data that they are collecting on them. At the same time, what the employer does with this data is going to have to be agreed to with the employee in order to ensure that everything is reasonable.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs are starting to live in a brave new world. We’ve always been dealing with large quantities of corporate data and we know how to do this. However, in this brave new world, employees will be wearing wearable devices that have the ability to report on their whereabouts and what they are doing at any given time. This data may be valuable; however, it comes with a lot of personal privacy concerns.

There is a great deal of power associated with these new data streams of personal information. Productivity can now be effectively measured. Even if an employee does not realize that they are suffering from a given condition, their monitoring gear may reveal this to be true. In other areas, such as sports, there is no longer any question that wearables can provide real value. The company and its employees are going to have to create an environment of trust and accountability if they want to be able to share data. The data that is being collected may not be all that accurate. This is why employers will need to be transparent with their employees regarding what they will be doing with the collected personal data.

We can’t turn the hands of time back. The ability to collect a great deal of personal information about the workplace habits of our employees has now arrived. CIOs are going to have to take a very careful look at these new data streams and determine how best to use them. Their solution will need to work for both the company and the workers.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that employees should be able to opt out of sharing their personal activity with the company?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The person with the CIO job, you, is the person who is responsible for securing the company against attacks from outside. We all know that try as we might, we’re not going to be able to prevent the bad guys from trying to break into our networks. However, given that we know that they will be coming our way, what kind of obligation do you think that we have to tell the world when the bad guys do come knocking on our door? We can keep quiet about it, or we can tell everyone. What’s the best thing to do?