Is Big Brother Watching Your Service Reps?

Global positioning (GPS) and automatic vehicle location technologies give service organizations the ability to locate employees anywhere, at any time. But does it give supervisors too much power? Is it an invasion of privacy? At the Mobile Services Workforce Conference hosted by Itronix in Hilton Head, South Carolina, recently, Randy Crawford of Verizon Communications addressed some of the hot issues surrounding GPS tracking.

There is wide agreement on the advantages of GPS tracking, such as increased delivery speed, less drive time and the ability to make critical dispatch decisions based on actual employee location. GPS takes dynamic dispatching to the next level. However, with these advantages come serious organizational issues.

As Crawford explained: "GPS tracking could be like having your supervisor stand over your shoulder in the office, watching everything you do on the computer." Conversely, without tracking, field technicians might abuse their freedom in the field. According to Crawford, the average technician takes 40 to 45 minutes to get out of a service center in the morning. GPS tracking can help ensure that the time is reduced to a more reasonable 15 minutes.

Crawford stressed the importance of field managers meeting with labor unions to explain what an organization's goals are regarding GPS technology. Let them know up front, he explained, that the goals are to follow the vehicle, not the employee, and to determine the best routing pattern for that vehicle based on job assignments. "GPS technology helps an organization make dispatch decisions based on where a technician really is versus where they're supposed to be," Crawford said. Unfortunately, he added, this is not always one and the same. The technology has the potential to save both the company and the employee time and money, as well as increase the field technician's productivity by scheduling more jobs per day with the most efficient routing.

Supervisors also must be properly trained so that the information they receive about their employees' behavior will only be used in a constructive, not an obtrusive, manner. Crawford suggested that organizations clearly define a set of guidelines and policies prior for implementation. Just as call center operators follow performance-monitoring guidelines--which monitor employees' movements online and in phone conversations--field technicians should have guidelines to follow that their supervisor will be responsible for evaluating. Such guidelines would help employees understand what is expected of them and to what ends GPS technology is being used. In addition, organizations must keep their systems maintained to prevent false information from being relayed. Misidentification of the driver is a concern that employees have when their companies track engine run-time, windshield time and speed.

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