An Inside Look Into Developing an Apple Watch Platform

Earlier this month, IMS Health announced a new wearable app platform that is entirely dedicated to the life science industry. The platform, called IMSHealthWear 1.00, will also serve as the basis for two new apps: MGRWear and REPWear. As one of the first life science companies to delve into this space, PM360 spoke to Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer, IMS Health, about the advantage of smartwatch apps, the challenges of creating this new platform and the future for wearable apps in healthcare.

 REPWear 1

PM360: How do the two Apple Watch apps you announced help someone working in the pharma industry?

Richie Etwaru: The ability for one brand representative to differentiate from another in pharma continues to get increasingly difficult. Sales representatives, sales managers, marketers and other stakeholders representing a brand need three improvements: Speed of information, context of customer and precision of decisions.

The IMSHealthWear apps deliver information to wearables (starting with the Apple Watch on the wrist) increasing the speed at which information can be exchanged between brand representatives. In addition, IMSHealthWear will help to deepen the context a sales representative knows of the customer by integrating information from sales, marketing and operations into a single form factor—the Apple Watch. Lastly, IMSHealthWear bolsters the precision and confidence with which brand representatives can make decisions about customers by delivering to the wrist immediate and poignant insights for sales representatives to make just-in-time decisions.

What value do they provide as Apple Watch apps that they couldn’t as an app for a smartphone or tablet?

The debate on the viability of the wearable computing form is one we are having globally. This is similar to the debates we had regarding other form factors—the laptop, the tablet and the smartphone. As we contribute to the debate and corollary conclusions, our customers are keen on exploring wearables. As a result, IMSHealthWear delivers value in three areas: Ambient notification, the glancification of enterprise data and positively augmenting existing applications (such as CRM) already running on other form factors (such as iPads).

Can you explain what you mean by “ambient notifications”?

Like most wearables, the Apple Watch notifies the wearer in a subtle way of traditional items such as calendar entries. A scenario in which multiple stakeholders in a business process are all wearing devices creates a network of wearables through which the members of the network can quickly communicate with user-created or triggered notifications. These communications may be questions between users, requests for approvals, or just-in-time recommendations—delivered in an ambient manner—enriching the out-of-the-box calendar type notifications with which the Apple Watch is manufactured.

You said that one advantage of the apps is the glancification of enterprise data. Considering the size of the screen, how have you been able to make the data useful and easy to read and understand at a glance? What kind of information are you able to offer to users?

The glancification of enterprise data is a study of information science and design. The screen size and the presentation of information for quick glances requires unique design elements to find the most poignant information, deliver it at the most crucial time, and with an extremely high level of visual simplicity. This means that our team had to revisit human-centered design and the natural user interface coupled with some of the more modern icon libraries and visual information consumption metaphors. Sales, brand performance, real-time team statistics and crowd-developed insights can all be shared immediately and at a glance.MGRWear 1

You also mention augmenting the experience so it improves a user’s interaction with your platforms across all devices. Can you provide some examples?

The Apple Watch, running apps built on the IMSHealthWear platform, have features and functions that can be accessed in crucial moments when larger screens may not be optimal or appropriate. For example, displaying the name and face of a customer’s administrative assistant for just-in-time information, being notified that a customer opened your email just minutes before you meet with him, or an ambient notification that you and a person you just met are connected to five of the same colleagues on LinkedIn.

All of these examples are currently available in our applications running on non-wearable form factors. The reality, however, is that looking at them or searching on them in highly engaging and crucial moments can be rude, or uncharacteristic of good service. Existing functions and information from non-wearable applications served up at crucial moments can enhance the experience on smaller screens, such as smartwatches.

Can you talk about any of the challenges you had to overcome developing these apps? Was there anything about the process that surprised you?

The challenges were mostly related to ensuring an effective user experience. As with every new form factor, a new set of information and user flows had to be considered. These challenges were not difficult to overcome, but they were new and exacting. One unique experience: Testing the apps. While we used an emulator, in order to experience all of the vibrations and gentle physical attributes of the overall experience of wearable computing, you need to actually wear the watch. Lifting your wrist, for example, to trigger an action is not something you want to test on an emulator. You need to test it while the watch is being worn.

Overall, what role do you think the Apple Watch will play for people working within the pharma industry? Will it become as important as the tablet or will it be more of a niche product that only a few in the industry can enjoy? To put it more bluntly, ultimately, do you see this as a product that will help people be able to do their jobs better?

This product will absolutely help people do their jobs better. The pressure on pharmaceutical representatives to provide the right information, to the right person, in an extremely limited amount of time will only increase. The Apple Watch is a vehicle for addressing this challenge.

Where do you see this wearable trend going, specifically regarding smartwatches? Besides what you have developed, what other kinds of apps do you think would benefit people working in pharma?

The term “smartwatch” is as much a misnomer as “smartphone.” The smartphone is barely a phone, and is many other things. Similarly, the smartwatch will likely be barely a watch, and many other things. For example, there are applications for identity that could be used for security instead of badges that are still to be explored. Things such as smart shirts, smart socks, smart hats and gloves may be more niche. But the wearable wrist hardware is here to stay.

What about from the pharma manufacturer’s perspective? What kind of smartwatch apps should they be developing to provide value to patients or HCPs?

The jury is largely still out for patients. The space is still maturing. HCPs and other types of healthcare providers such as nurse practitioners and physical assistants, however, can likely benefit in the team construct from IMSHealthWear. The ability to send ambient notifications between a team of providers can reduce friction and touch points. The glancification of data in a practice area such as a hospital can be powerful. And finally, the ability to augment the usage of the myriad of other hardware devices in a practice area such as a hospital is all fertile ground for IMSHealthWear.