Tracking staff Big brother or big breakthrough

 
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Our world has been transformed by technology with a vast array of different uses. But when a new technology arrives it often takes some time for the world to figure out the applications that are acceptable as well as deciding that some are unacceptable. This article looks at the ability to track individuals and vehicles. This is something that smartphones have made particularly easy so he looks at how these should be handled in the installation business.

The progress of technology

Technology has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, but this isn’t a new phenomenon. Aqueducts, which the Romans were famous for, is a form of technology as is the printing press. That latter innovation revolutionised the world as it made it so much easier to record and then widely transmit knowledge.

The new kid on the block is possibly more revolutionary than anything that has come before. That’s because smartphones are the fastest adopted technology in the world’s history. They have gone from first being introduced in the common form of a large touch screen with no keyboard in 2007. (That was with the introduction of the iPhone). Then in just ten years they have gone to being owned by billions of people around the planet.

There are many impacts from smartphones such as the ability for a president to tweet their thoughts to their followers at any time of day or night; now most of the world’s knowledge is available at any time and on the move; they have brought some powerful companies to their knees while raising others from nowhere. Alongside, the smartphone has created a host of new billionaires.

Big brother is alive and well

“It may no longer be an exaggeration to say that big brother is watching” says the Stanford University Law web site. Carnegie Mellon University went even further when it showed how much can be learned about a person’s life just from their Twitter feed. Not everyone uses Twitter but Facebook also makes a lot more information available than we might imagine.

What’s even less well known is that it’s been possible to track mobile phones for years, even before GPS capability was added. Mobile phone companies have always been able to “triangulate” movements of phones using multiple phone towers. In fact, if you ever send a text, send an email, use a payment card, carry a phone in your pocket, post on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, you are often giving the game away about what you are doing. Judging by the billions of people that do these things, most don’t care.

You can argue that this is all very intrusive. There is also an argument that only people that are up to no good really worry about being tracked.

Tracking using smartphones

Smartphones are now cheap and ubiquitous and it’s not far off the truth to say that everyone has one. Since a GPS and data connection has been added, tracking is much more accurate and apps can do the tracking as well as the mobile phone companies.

As was discussed earlier, this isn’t entirely new. However, none of it was easy in the past. The biggest application came from law enforcement tracking people’s movements. That tended to be in connection with serious crimes.

Virtually all technology is neutral, but the way it’s used can be either good and bad.

Nuclear power is a good example. The sun, which we can’t live without, is nuclear powered as its light and heat is the result of continuous nuclear fusion. Nuclear power may be the means that can eventually take us to inhabitable planets. Meantime, it provides the capability for the human race to wipe itself out. To illustrate the point, some nations have been rattling their sabres at one another threatening nuclear destruction even in the last year.

The smartphone is under intense scrutiny for its involvement in dating (early research suggests it has had a mostly good impact) through grooming (bad) and influencing elections improperly (also bad).

Tracking individuals

It’s necessary to keep an open mind when it comes to the application of tracking to individuals. Like other technologies, there can be good and bad applications.

Both myself and my business partner travel a lot, exacerbated by the fact we live over one hundred miles apart. We get together pretty frequently and the “Find friends” on our iPhones has saved us lots of texts and time. It also saves lots of texting and phone calls with my wife as well as eliminating worries.

Let me give one simple and fairly mundane use of this tracking. My business partner tries to have a fresh cup of tea ready on the table for the moment his wife walks in the door after visiting their grandchildren.

There are also now a range of ways of protecting children with a mobile phone. For instance, parents can “ring fence” an area and get an alarm if their child wanders beyond the limits. It’s also possible to establish your innocence of a crime if you can prove from tracking that you were nowhere near at the time. Facebook has recently added a feature that helps in the case of a terrorist attack or other disaster like a fire or earthquake. There’s good as well as bad.

The case against

Apart from not wanting to be caught doing something that we shouldn’t, the case against tracking individuals pretty much comes down to the loss of privacy. Extreme privacy advocates argue that all personal information should be protected, particularly as an authoritarian government could abuse it. There is a more pragmatic view that suggests that there should be certain controls on personal information but that an authoritarian government would rapidly remove protections once it was in power anyway. Just look at Russia.

Business benefits

Tracking vans and lorries has been around for some years but it has always been very expensive. Now that everyone has a smartphone with GPS, there is a lot of potential for low cost replacements.

Software from my company, Powered Now, enables companies to deploy solutions that let individuals within the business to be tracked. Of course, permission has to be given first and we are not the only people able to supply this type of technology.

There are many ways that it can be used to simplify administration, eliminate paperwork and improve efficiency.

One way to cut down drastically on administration effort is by automatically booking people into and out of jobs based on their arrival and departure from the job. While things like lunch breaks and trips to the builder’s merchants must be considered, this offers the opportunity to do precise time-based billing (or tracking actual cost when the job is fixed price) based on precise numbers without the hassle of timesheets. That’s because time and location stamping can provide an error-free record all with no manual intervention.

When the real-time location of staff is known, this greatly increases the efficiency of responding to emergencies and call-outs. There is no need to ring round. The nearest people and the time that will be taken to respond can be determined electronically.

With a system that shows all jobs on a map, it is just a small step further to be able to minimise driving between jobs. Driving time is dead time so this can help to improve profitability.

The last obvious benefit is making sure that staff and vehicles are acting responsibly wherever that are. The mere fact that colleagues know that they are being tracked is most likely to eliminate poor behaviour. As is well known, the certainty of being caught is the biggest deterrent of all.

The tracking touchstone

Owners of trade businesses can get some major benefits using tracking. You can make sure that staff are where they are supposed to be. You can confirm that vans are being used correctly. If you do a high proportion of callouts, you can use resources much more efficiently. What’s not to like?

Emma Dyer