This year has seen a mass transition to remote working unlike anything in history, and many businesses that rely on employees being out on the move have unsurprisingly struggled to maintain business as usual. While the initial national lockdown has ended and tighter measures are being restricted to specific locations, the overall continued need to keep apart and reduce close interactions with other people continues to hamper the efforts of many workers to carry out their jobs.
Any technology that helps to limit face-to-face contact is now considered a priority. Being able to monitor and determine actions to take regarding a particular environment from a distance has an incredible value in the efforts of reducing the spread of COVID-19. It’s important for business leaders therefore to understand where remote monitoring is most effective, and how to introduce it to support their employees.
COVID-19: Stopping mobile employees in their tracks
From gas and heating engineers to social care workers, delivery drivers to building inspectors – thousands of workers have been impacted by the need for social distancing which, while clearly a necessity, has prevented these employees from doing their job effectively.
As we head towards winter, there are often more callouts for these types of services. For example, boiler repairs usually peak in January with 16% of boilers needing repaired, followed by December with 12%. For engineers, maintaining social distancing will make their jobs increasingly difficult this winter to still ensure that their customers are receiving the help they need. Not only do companies want to reduce the amount of time that their employees spend in properties and workplaces on call-outs, but it’s also important to reduce the number of visits that have to be made, particularly by different experts, to keep both staff and customers safe.
These are challenges that haven’t been faced before in many industries. IoT technology, however, is enabling many businesses to provide a better experience for their customers – without always being there in person.
Remote monitoring & IoT – the perfect pair
COVID-19 has rapidly altered how businesses look at remote monitoring and digital transformation as a whole. Due to the sudden need for innovative technologies that adapt to changing work environments, organisations are increasingly viewing digital transformation as a necessity to meet changing customer (and government) demands.
IoT-enabled remote monitoring in particular allows more businesses to do the same job as normal, but at a distance. It is helping to monitor work environments and provide useful insights on where maintenance workers should be and when, without the need for an employee to be there monitoring the situation constantly. For private properties, while having sensors throughout the house may be a step too far, technology such as smart meters is increasing the amount of maintenance being done from a distance.
The biggest benefits from remote monitoring are the actionable insights that businesses are able to gather from collected data. Previously, IT teams would use IoT devices and sensors simply to monitor and capture data, then maybe once a month they would look back at the data to make adjustments to their work. This method, though still beneficial, prevents teams from making smart decisions at the point when they will have an immediate impact.
Businesses are now starting to monitor data on a live basis, or better still, have anomalies highlighted to them in real time, enabling the automation of preventative actions to reduce downtime and enhance service quality. For instance, remote monitoring in a heating system in an office block identifies when a fault occurs immediately. An alert goes to a heating engineer who can attend the site and fix the problem, potentially before the employees even notice a change in temperature.
In time, advances in the intelligence of devices such as smart meters will allow heating engineers to also identify problems in private homes in the same way. An expert who knows the problem and has the necessary tools to fix it will be dispatched to resolve it as quickly as possible, with a reduced need for multiple visits.
Getting staff moving again
For some businesses that have little or no IoT-enabled remote monitoring systems in place, taking the first step can seem daunting. However, there are ways to overcome the barriers that may be holding some businesses back.
With any new technology, cost is always going to be a major factor. But it’s crucial to look at how the return on investment (ROI) is increasing, more than just the cost of implementing and maintaining the infrastructure itself. IoT is an enabler that helps businesses to meet multiple objectives. Using remote monitoring with IoT effectively increases efficiency, enhances staff capacity, delivers better customer service, and helps with meeting compliance for SLAs. In the long term, it can be a very wise decision.
The biggest challenge to remote monitoring is making everyone in an organisation aware of its value. Many employees in the IT and operations departments are aware of this, however, many others don’t always understand what it achieves or how to start implementing it into their business. Speaking to peers who are doing it well is key to increasing understanding, and learning from their mistakes as well as their successes. A good place to start is building a business case that demonstrates the expected value, including: efficiencies in the cost of service delivery, easier compliance, reduced administration, and much clearer visibility into results.
As winter approaches and more services are required on an individual basis to attend homes and workplaces to provide care and maintenance, it’s crucial for businesses that deliver these to be able to do so within government guidelines. Technology is rapidly adapting to meet the changing needs of society, and getting on board with this will help businesses to keep customers happy and safe.
By Bobby Bahia, Commercial Director for Transport & Infrastructure, Totalmobile