An Interview with Dan Ledger

Ahead of the WEAR 2016 session on The Rocky Path to Insightful Wearables for Consumers and Employees, we sat down with Dan Ledger, session moderator and Principal at Endeavour Partners, for a a preview of his thoughts on the topic.

WEAR: In your opinion, what are major shifts that need to happen in order for wearables to provide meaningful user data to both consumers and employers?

Ledger: For consumers, we need to start from the goal of the product and this will inform how we use, interpret and present data. If the goal of the product is building a positive habit around walking more (such as a Fitbit), the data required to support that goal may simply be deltas in step data from day to day (along with the right UX and behavior science). However, there are many companies focused on more ambitious goals such as helping people manage higher order physiological states and experiences like stress. To accomplish these more ambitious goals, we need to leverage a more diverse collection of data, and from this develop conclusions and recommendations for the users that are accurate, believable and safe. Crossing the chasm from a product demo works reasonably well on 10 people to building a product that works reliably for millions of users, that is also accurate, believable and safe represents the next major challenges that the wearables industry is facing.

For employers, it's about ROI–wellness programs built around wearables have a short-term promise of improving productivity, and a long-term promise of reducing the cost of healthcare by helping employees delay the onset of expensive chronic conditions. There are still some big questions about whether or not a positive ROI exists, or if employers should be simply focused on specific populations from more of a condition management perspective (similar to Verizon + WebMD targeting employees with high BMIs).  While all of the data from wearables might be considered interesting to employers, generally, they face major privacy issues and the threat of employee backlash if they attempt to leverage this data in any way that might not align with an employee's best interests.

WEAR: How can we move from the quantified self to the quantify us for behavior change as a society?

I don't think most of the population is presently or will ever be interested in the concept of quantified self as it currently exists (i.e. continuously gathering large amounts of data about our own health and using it to further optimize health and lifestyle). Many agree that helping people at a societal level live slightly more healthier lifestyles (diet, exercise, etc.) can have a huge impact on the costs of healthcare (85% of $3T is spent on chronic conditions, many of which are preventable). Activity trackers work remarkably well for some people today. Moving forward, we will move away from a one-size-fits all behavior change model (i.e. what's baked into the Fitbit experience) towards behavioral change models that are customized for the types of motivations that a specific user needs.

Innovations in this area – using machine intelligence to learn about behaviors and optimize a behavioral change strategy for a specific individual using wearable devices (or other engagements) – will be incredibly impactful in the next decade.

WEAR: As more consumers and businesses adopt wearable devices where do you see potential for different form factors and going beyond the fitness trackers?

I'd probably separate the concept of form factor (it's physical manifestation) from its goal / functionality (e.g. fitness tracker). A few years ago, there was a big push to make the form factor more aesthetically pleasing. However, I think we're going to increasingly see this functionality made more invisible – tucked into other every day accessories and garments. Our research found that many 18-25 year old men liked wearing the Nike Fuel band simply because it was an expression of their identity. However, given the choice, I think most people would rather not wear an ugly piece of black plastic on their wrists if a more invisible solution existed.

As for goal/ functionality, again, as step counting and heart rate tracking become commoditized, several OEMs are looking to more advanced experiences (similar to what I described above). The future is wide open here and there's a ton of potential. However, the data challenges are extreme, and it's not just a matter of hiring better data scientists. We're running up against the diversity in human physiology, the limitations of non-invasive bio-sensors, and a lack of robust contextual data needed to fill in the missing pieces.

WEAR: What would be your number 1 wish for getting real insights on human behavior from wearable devices?

I think these problems are going to be solved through interesting collaborations in the industry and not by a single player (and very unlikely by a small startup). Players like Google, Apple, Philips, IBM, Samsung, Facebook and others all have very interesting ingredients that are needed to get towards deeper, more robust insights. It's going to be interesting seeing the collaboration and innovation models that continue to emerge across the industry that will drive some big breakthroughs.

WEAR: What are you looking forward to hear at WEAR next month in Boston?

It's an incredibly diverse collection of people, experiences and perspectives!

Dan Ledger will moderate the Rocky Path to Insightful Wearables for Consumers and Employers sessoin at WEAR 2016. Register to attend WEAR using the link below.

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