Ultra accountability

Mobile workers, no matter how far they travel, are increasingly wedded to their employers by technology. GPS in vehicles and on wireless telephones, engine control modules, electronic data recorders and other devices are giving fleets a window on worker behavior that would be impossible to achieve any other way, even by personal supervision. At California-based Remodel Works Bath & Kitchen, for example,

Mobile workers, no matter how far they travel, are increasingly wedded to their employers by technology. GPS in vehicles and on wireless telephones, engine control modules, electronic data recorders and other devices are giving fleets a window on worker behavior that would be impossible to achieve any other way, even by personal supervision.

At California-based Remodel Works Bath & Kitchen, for example, vans and utility vans are all equipped with GPS from Networkcar and technician/drivers carry a GPS-enabled telephone as well, which includes Xora's GPS Time Track for Workers. According to company owner and president Joe Christenson, the two systems combined track everything from vehicle and worker location to driving speed, miles per gallon and vehicle emissions. They also allow technicians to “clock in” from the job site and, what's more, they allow the company to verify it all.

“When a worker gets to the job site, he or she enters a password on their cell phone and then the job code. We can tell if they are at the right job site by matching the job code to the GPS location,” Christenson says, “and the automated time cards are much more accurate.”

“We are entering a new frontier of accountability,” observes Jeff Davis, vp of safety and human resources for Jet Express, Inc. “Wherever you can measure or monitor behavior, you can at least try to manage it. I am all in favor of accountability, but we have to serve it to workers in a way that is palatable, on a gold platter if you will, and we have to make sure that there is room in any automated system for human input and interaction.”

Ultra-accountability is not just impacting workers, either. The public, for instance, is keeping a much more watchful eye on motor carriers, thanks to technology. Fleet SafeStat scores, for instance, can be found online at www.ai.volpe.dot.gov by anyone interested in looking, from customers, to lawyers and insurance companies. All you need is the motor carrier's DOT number to access its safety records. “This worldwide exposure of a fleet's driving performance has caused the motor carrier to be held to a higher standard of accountability for their drivers' actions on the highway,” notes Jeff Davis in his article, SafeStat: A new view of motor carrier accountability. “In fact, with the advent of SafeStat, all motor carriers are faced with the responsibility of managing what is now called the ‘E-Perception of Safety.’”

“E-perception” — that term alone is “E-nough” to give you pause, isn't it? Where is this new level of transparency and accountability taking us all? Like Joe Christenson, Jeff Davis, and many other diligent managers, I am all for accountability. I can't help but wonder, however, if there will also be unintended consequences from all of our monitoring. For instance, are we externalizing the concept of responsibility — moving it from something that has always been a matter of personal character to something that is more a matter of not getting caught by the system?

“We have different people out there today, with a different mentality about accuracy,” Joe Christenson says. If he is correct, which do you suppose came first — a decline in personal responsibility or a shift in focus from building responsible citizens to monitoring those citizens?

So, here is a question for you: Would you rather know that you can absolutely trust someone to do their best or know that you can monitor them to make sure they don't stray? Einstein once noted, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” As we deploy technology to do ever more measuring, it may be helpful to also bear in mind those things that count but cannot be counted. Measuring them is still up to us.

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