Data collection and reporting is a common issue for small to large organizations. While it can be time-consuming, it’s also necessary to be thorough when assessing people, places, or things for quality and safety. Just this week the DC Metrorail closed for an entire day to conduct emergency safety inspections.
During this time, crews checked almost 600 underground jumper cables to prevent potential fire hazards. Though this shutdown inconvenienced DMV riders for one day, it’s taking necessary steps towards ensuring their safety for years to come. Halting all trains for a day came after a problem with those cables caused a fire at the McPherson Square station early Monday paired with a smoke incident in January, 2015 that killed one person and injured more due to faulty cables.
Meticulously inspecting 600 cables in one day is no simple feat. Not to mention the reporting that goes along with each inspection and any repairs that must be completed. We’ve compiled a list of ways to better collect data from the field that will help day-to-day data collection operations and help you prepare for the unexpected.
Eliminate Unnecessary Lag Time
1. Collect Information in Real-Time
This means no pens and no paper. Completing inspections by hand means that you will eventually have to transcribe this data into an excel sheet or database if you ever want it to be actionable. Even worse would be storing paper files of past inspections in the depths of filing cabinets at your office. Both are time-consuming tasks, especially if you need to reference past inspections or compile data for quality analysis.
Utilizing mobile devices, tablets, and laptops to collect data is much more efficient. In most cases employees already own a smartphone or tablet, cutting down on training costs, whether devices are company-issued or BYOD. Paired with a mobile inspection platform, these devices allow you to collect data in real-time, without the need to re-enter it later.
2. Limit Human Intervention
This specifically refers to when data is collected and there is an extra step between the collection and reporting steps. For example, entering information into an Excel spreadsheet or similar database. This is cause for human error and is most common when conducting assessments on pen and paper. By nature, we are going to make mistakes, type the wrong number, forget a decimal, etc.
Relying on an online system, preferably cloud-based, that compiles the information collected and creates a report storing all data consistently is the best way to limit human intervention. Check out our blog post, How to Efficiently Conduct Audits and Inspections for more tips on assessment efficiencies.
3. Sync Information quickly
When utilizing a cloud-based inspection or audit software, a good question to ask is…
Is data stored on the device when there is an internet connection?
Ideally, you want to constantly be pushing information to the cloud while you are collecting it. This requires an internet connection but vastly reduces the risk of losing data. If someone steals your phone during an audit or you drop it in a puddle of water, the information you recorded has not been lost. This is not the case if a solution is storing information on the phone requiring someone to press a button to ‘sync to the cloud’ once they have completed an audit.
Report Results Efficiently
4. Report Information in Real-Time
This step ties in closely with how often data is synced to the cloud. Say you are conducting a 75 question safety inspection and on question three you uncover a vulnerability that could lead to a carbon monoxide leak. You don’t want to wait until you finish the other 72 questions to report this problem and fix it.
When you record this hazardous incident, it needs to be reported to supervisors and actionable parties immediately. Not after the entire assessment is complete.
5. Set up Automatic Alerts, Notifications, and Escalations
We will continue to use the potential carbon monoxide leak example. Once this is reported, there should be automatic alerts, notifications, and escalations set in place so the correct parties are made aware of the situation immediately. You should not rely on yourself or someone else physically sending an email, text, or fax – if they are away from their desk, you are already wasting precious time. Automatic alerts and notifications need to be configured to report incidents as quickly as possible.
Automated escalations are important if the person notified is not resolving the issue in a timely manner. After a certain threshold of no resolution, the issue is bumped up the chain of command until it is taken care of correctly.
We call these alerts, notifications and escalations workflows, and they can apply to almost any organization. Think of any manual tasks that could potentially slow a process down in your organization. For the most part, these tasks can be automated. Read What is Workflow Automation and How to Determine if you Need It for more on workflows.
6. Store Files in an Organized Fashion
All of these reports, pictures uploaded, checklists, and incidents need to stay within the one system you are using. You should be able to easily search for an inspection report for reference and compile data for organizational analysis. Make sure a file repository is available within your audit or inspection software so that none of your data, incidents, and reports get lost in the shuffle.
Ensure a High Level of Security
7. Store Information in a Secure Cloud
First you want to make sure the mobile devices your employees are using are secure. If you support BYOD then there are options to separate business and personal applications on your employee’s devices for iOS, Windows and Android (details here). There are also companies like AirWatch that provide complete enterprise mobile device management.
Be sure to consult with your cloud provider to make sure you have the proper security settings for safeguarding your information and if you are managing your own servers in the cloud, like GoDaddy, you also need to verify that your servers have the proper security software on them.
8. Verify the Security of your Datacenter
Cloud-based audit solutions store all of this information being collected in a datacenter. But do you know the security-level of this datacenter? Do you know what happens to your data if there is a natural disaster where your datacenter is located? We recommend going over the 12 Questions You Need to Ask your Datacenter Provider to ensure your data is secure.
9. Have Plans in Place for Lost or Stolen Devices
If you decide to implement a BYOD strategy, you need to be sure that you have detailed policies in place outlining what’s acceptable, lost/stolen procedures, and security guidelines. IT Manager Daily published a BYOD Policy Template to get you started.
Company-issued devices are less of a burden, but you still need to have procedures in place outlining the steps employees need to take immediately after their device is lost or stolen. These can be similar to the BYOD policy, excluding some of the cost responsibilities.
During the shutdown, DC Metrorail was able to complete 80% of the planned inspections, found 26 defects, and repaired 18 of these defects by Thursday morning. I wonder, if all of the inspections were completed on an online, seamless platform, would they have been able to complete 100% of the inspections and begun preventive assessments? You can see in the images below (from MetroForward) that, while one person is taking a picture of the frayed cables, the other is jotting notes down on paper.
If these two actions could have been completed by the same person on the same platform, Metro would already be freeing up resources for additional inspections. Not to mention the time it will take to input/transcribe all of these inspection findings in a database.
When collecting data from the field in the interest of safety, ideally an organization wants to have a position of proactive not reactive. This cannot happen until inspections are completed efficiently, the data collected is secure, and findings are reported as they are uncovered.