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Big Brother – Micro Manager?

Nov. 26, 2019
Managers now have access to more operational data than ever before, but amid gains in productivity are concerns about privacy and freedom.

We are now in an unprecedented age of connectivity, not just between people, but also between people and machines and (more and more often), between machines and other machines without any human beings involved at all. That connectivity has started us on what many are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. (For those of you keeping track at home, the first was steam power, the second electricity, the third personal/desktop computing, and the fourth connectivity, as enabled by the Internet, WiFi and so forth.)

One of my many side-jobs here at CONTRACTOR Magazine is putting together an eNewsletter called The Connected Contractor that has a focus on building automation, IoT, IIoT, Big Data, integrated operations management software, the Smart Buildings/Smart Cities movement and much, much more.

Not an issue gets put together where I don’t learn about some new protocol, some new device, some new system to make the flow of information—across all manner of platforms to all manner of users both human and machine—more rapid, seamless, responsive and useful.

And it’s led to some remarkable innovations and leaps in productivity. It’s now possible to manage almost every aspect of a contracting business—inventory, dispatch, scheduling, invoicing, marketing, etc.—from your phone. (And have you noticed how we don’t even really call them “smart phones” anymore? It’s just assumed now that your phone can do all these things if you want it to.)

Managers now have access to more operational data than ever before. Just as an example, check out this month's fleet management feature. Telematic systems can provide data on harsh breaking, hard turning, missed stop signs; outward-facing cameras can give a near real-time image of actual road conditions; cab-facing cameras can tell if a driver is wearing their safety belt or texting or eating behind the wheel. And all that data can be instantly organized into driver scorecards designed for coaching better driver behaviors.

But amid all the gains to be made are concerns about privacy and freedom. Al Schwartz discusses some of those concerns in his column, “The Limits of Technology”. And his concerns are very specific to our industry. Plumbers are a pretty independent-minded bunch. Most got into this business because it means being out in the field, making your own decisions about how to do a certain job, not stuck in an office being told how to do a job.

But now the office is everywhere, all the time, right there on your phone. Some managers have their technicians scheduled down to the ten-minute increment. Plumbers are told by software which routes to drive. They have to fill out automated checklists that include “pleasant greeting” and “put on footwear coverings.” It’s only a matter of time before some manager fits their techs out with body-cameras and ear mics to walk them through every step of a service call. The fear—and it’s not an unreasonable one—is that skilled professionals will one day be treated little better than children for the sake of profits. And then what happens to pride in the craft?

I think most plumbers want to work for companies that are highly efficient, because those companies tend to be the most profitable. And I think most reasonable people understand the control afforded by the new technology is a part of that. But a balance needs to be struck between control and freedom before the creativity and problem-solving so crucial to the trade gets sacrificed for the sake of efficiencies no technology can ever realize.

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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