ResearchKit & Apple – What they can teach the Enterprise

by Brian Katz on March 11, 2015 · 1 comment

I was probably 16 or 17 when we realized that my Grandmother had issues. She had hit another defenseless parking meter. It was just standing there minding its own business when boom, out of nowhere it was knocked down for the count. Now this was the age of the classic boats, you know, the Oldsmobile all steel, double reinforced, who cares how heavy it was, car that could absorb almost any impact. Her car merely showed a few scratches on the fender but it was the first real sign of her Parkinson’s disease that I can recall. She would go on to fight it for many years before finally succumbing a few years after I got married.

I thought about this yesterday as I watched the Apple keynote and they talked about ResearchKit. ResearchKit is Apple’s foray into helping people research diseases while at the same time taking advantage of the sensors and capabilities of their devices and the burgeoning quantified-self movement. They led with 5 apps that were made available at the end of their keynote including one that helps researchers from Sage Bionetworks in collaboration with University of Rochester and Beijing Institute of Geriatrics look into Parkinson’s.

Apple demonstrated on stage that the app allowed the patients to take tests at home, using their device to measure how they walk, how they tap or even how they talk to gauge their symptoms. As long as you qualified for the study the data that this app could provide might be life changing for you or sufferers in the future. The success achieved was demonstrated only hours later in the following tweet.

In a matter of essentially 8 hours, 7406 people enrolled in the Parkinson’s study beating the largest ever study’s previous enrollment by a factor 4.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a commercial for Apple or any other smartphone/OS vendor. While kudos are due to Apple for figuring this out and even open sourcing ResearchKit, there is a rather large lesson here for all the different enterprises out there.

Apple looked at an existing process, research studies, and found a way to make it easier to find research subjects. It also brought down the cost of testing those subjects and enabled their data to be pulled in almost real time while protecting the process and patients privacy at the same time. All the while, using a device that the patients already owned.

This is what is missing from most enterprises today. They don’t understand how to use mobile to enable their employees to be more productive and efficient while being more flexible and agile. Mobile isn’t about email, calendar and contacts. It’s about reimagining processes that can take advantage of the new tools that are already in people’s hands. The funny thing is that employees have already figured this out. They are engaged in shadow innovation that allows them to get their job done. They find apps that allow them to work where and when they need to. They are all about dealing with right time experiences, where they have the right data, with the right tool, at the right time, to get their work done.

I’ve talked about the FUN (Focus on the Users’ Needs) Principle before but it’s not something that you just acknowledge. It’s something that you study and embrace. Look at the tools that are available and what people are doing with them. Imagine how they can redefine the way your current processes and workflows are designed. Then engage your users to see if it makes sense and can work. Done right, businesses prosper.

Apple didn’t invent health tracking. It didn’t even have an activity sensor in its first device when it released it. Instead, their devices, as well as Android devices, ushered in the quantified-self movement with the help of dreamers from Fitbit, Jawbone and the like. Apple later added a motion processor to their devices and created Healthkit as an app to aid the quantified-self movement. They hired researchers to understand how medical devices could be integrated into their own equipment. It was just a simple step to create ResearchKit, although it required a commitment to the ideals of stepping out of their comfort zone.

What does Apple get out of this? While part of their move is certainly altruistic and there is no guarantee of profitability, another part is fully self-serving. If you’re a doctor or a researcher, what device are you going to recommend to your friends or your patients? If you’re someone who suffers from a chronic disease and you know that you might be able to participate in research to help chart the course of your disease what device will you lean towards? If you already own an iPhone and now you can use it to help yourself and others, what device will you purchase next time it comes up for renewal?

Apple found a process that they could improve and did it. It’s high time that the Enterprise steps up and starts to utilize the potential of the tools that they already have and their employees want to use. Only through stepping out of their own comfort zone and committing to their employees enablement can they fully take advantage of mobile.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Valamis August 3, 2015 at 8:43 am

It’s really relieving to notice that the big companies are starting to take responsibility about using their resources for right things and improving our life in areas that really matters. Big up for Apple, hope other companies follow the same way as fast as possible!


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