BIG DEAL BREW­ING

Bud­weiser and La­batt’s owner An­heuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller are in talks to merge and cre­ate a beer gi­ant,

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - RAJU MUDHAR TECH RE­PORTER

Most peo­ple who have tried ac­tiv­ity track­ers get an ini­tial kick out of know­ing how many steps they’ve walked, then the nov­elty wanes and it ends up in a drawer gath­er­ing dust.

That might change as more com­pa­nies de­cide to in­cen­tivize em­ploy­ees to use the de­vices at work in a bid for a health­ier work­force — and hope­fully lower their heath-care costs.

On Wed­nes­day, re­tail gi­ant Tar­get said it is work­ing with Fit­bit to of­fer ac­tiv­ity track­ers to its 335,000 em­ploy­ees in the U.S. BP Canada al­ready has a sim­i­lar pro­gram in place. Some in­sur­ance com­pa­nies have also of­fered clients lower premi­ums if they wear the de­vices and share their data.

“Al­most ev­ery large en­ter­prise has some in­ter­est in wearable de­vices and how it might re­late to their or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Rick Hu, CEO of Cal­gary-based Vi­va­met­rica, a firm that analy­ses health data and works with com­pa­nies to take ad­van­tage of it.

“The the­ory is with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the mea­sure­ment, a com­pany can bet­ter di­rect their re­sources, un­der­stand what po­ten­tial in­puts may have a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence, which will then im­pact pro­duc­tiv­ity and per­sonal healthcare costs.”

Vi­va­met­rica made some head­lines last year, as the com­pany was in­volved in the first civil case that used Fit­bit data as ev­i­dence. The com­pany is also work­ing on a pi­lot pro­ject with Telus, which also in­vested in Sprout in May, another firm us­ing tech­nol­ogy in the well­ness man­age­ment space.

Pri­vacy and data se­cu­rity are two ar­eas of con­cern with these kinds of pro­grams, said Hu. So far, though, the pro­grams have been vol­un­tary.

As well, the cur­rent met­ric for most of these de­vices sim­ply count steps, which is not that rel­e­vant. Vi­va­met­rica has cre­ated ad­di­tional al­go­rithms and sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els that take other fac­tors into con­sid­er­a­tion to pro­vide a bet­ter pic­ture of a per­son’s health and use the data to com­pare to an in­di­vid­ual of the same age and gen­der.

“This way, we’re com­par­ing ap­ples to ap­ples,” said Hu. “We’re now able to pro­vide in­di­vid­u­als with a bench­mark and give them an idea of what ef­fects their BMI, age and gen­der will have on the like­li­hood of them ex­pe­ri­enc­ing those par­tic­u­lar prob­lems,” such as chronic back pain, di­a­betes or po­ten­tially even de­pres­sion.

The other is­sue is that stud­ies have shown that users tend to stop us­ing fit­ness track­ers af­ter a few months, so com­pa­nies need to come up with con­tests and com­pe­ti­tions, of­fer­ing re­wards to keep em­ploy­ees us­ing them.

Tar­get work­ers who opt in will be or­ga­nized into teams for a month-long com­pe­ti­tion, and the win­ning team will get to pick a char­ity to re­ceive a $1-mil­lion do­na­tion. Fit­bit will work with Tar­get to de­sign fur­ther pro­grams around the de­vices, ac­cord­ing to Amy McDonough, di­rec­tor of Fit­bit Well­ness, who also over­sees the cor­po­rate ser­vices busi­ness.

While cor­po­rate ser­vices gen­er­ate less than 10 per cent of Fit­bit’s rev­enue, it’s “one of the fastest-grow­ing parts of the busi­ness,” CEO James Park said in an in­ter­view with Bloomberg. The Tar­get deal is one of the com­pany’s largest cor­po­rate ac­counts yet.

The cor­po­rate “well­ness” mar­ket is pro- jected to be worth $11 bil­lion (U.S.) by 2019, Park said on an Au­gust con­fer­ence call with an­a­lysts.

McDonough claims one of Fit­bit’s cus­tomers, Ap­pirio Inc., shaved 6 per cent off its health bill af­ter the first year of us­ing the de­vice. Other cor­po­rate cus­tomers in­clude Bank of Amer­ica Corp., Time Warner Inc. and BP PLC.

Cor­po­rate prod­ucts may also help San Fran­cisco-based Fit­bit dis­tin­guish it­self from an in­creas­ingly crowded mar­ket for wearable de­vices, where it’s com­pet­ing with Jaw­bone Inc., Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics Co. and Ap­ple Inc.

For Tar­get, the move is part of the re­tailer’s ef­fort to im­prove its im­age as a “well­ness com­pany,” Jodee Kozlak, Tar­get’s chief hu­man re­sources of­fi­cer, told Bloomberg. Next year, it plans to start pro­mot­ing more healthy foods and prod­ucts to its cus­tomers from the mo­ment they en­ter the store to when they leave at the check­out aisle. It will also give em­ploy­ees a dis­count on healthy foods with the hope that the ef­fects will trickle down to con­sumers, Kozlak said. With files from Star wire ser­vices

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