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Nick Henderson Jan 26, 2022 4:43:34 PM 7 min read

The problem with automated monitoring

Automated monitoring has revolutionised workplaces where temperature-sensitive items are stored. Staff no longer need to walk around with clipboards and  thermometers to perform regular checks throughout the day. Sensors do that job 24/7. But there’s a problem…

The problem is… What happens when an alert is triggered?

Let’s start with a typical scenario. An alert comes from an automated monitoring system. An agreed temperature limit in a fridge has been breached. Depending on the scale of your operation, you might get over a dozen alerts every day. Valuable food, medicines or other critical inventory may be at risk.

But what happens next? How easily can you pinpoint the source of the problem? How quickly can it be corrected? And how do you prove it’s been dealt with properly?

These questions are symptomatic of dark operations - the state that arises when deskless activity is disconnected and hidden from view.

Dealing with automated monitoring alerts

If you’re working in a busy kitchen, hospital, food retail outlet or laboratory, investigating an alert takes up valuable time. You might need to log into a laptop or PC that’s a long way from the source of the alert. It might be at the other end of a building or even on a separate site.

You will need to get a message out to your frontline team to check up on the situation. And they may not be able to respond until other urgent demands are dealt with. They may not even know how to respond. 

In some sectors with high staff turnover and temporary roles, team members might be new and unsure of what steps to take. At best, there may be some instructions on paper, stored in a folder somewhere.

As the minutes go by, the safety and quality of temperature-critical stock is at growing risk. Exposure to unsuitable temperatures over a period of time can impact both the quality and safety of vital items.

Then there’s the reporting. Are you sure the fault has been properly fixed? Is your team’s response logged for auditing and compliance purposes?

It’s a heavy burden on employees to manually type in their actions or fill in paperwork at the end of the day. It’s a step that is often skipped by busy or exhausted teams, leading to incomplete or missing information. Yet regulators increasingly want evidence of action taken to satisfy safety requirements.

The problem with automated monitoring is that it normally stops at step one.

You got an alert, but what did you do about it?

Automated monitoring meets digital assistants

Change is coming. Combining automated monitoring with digital assistants opens up new possibilities. Alerts can be routed directly to frontline teams via their mobile devices, with step-by-step guidance on what action to take. What’s more, everything is automatically logged in the cloud to provide an end-to-end report of both the event and the response, with time stamps and location details.

At Checkit, we call these Event-Driven Actions, speeding up response times, preventing loss of stock, strengthening the audit trail and saving precious staff time.

In medical environments, this technology can be a powerful source of clinical assurance. In sectors such as food retail, speed, quality and compliance are key and there's a growing focus on reducing food waste.

One early adopter of the technology is saving up to 40 hours per week across a group of sites by eradicating the manual reporting of automated monitoring alerts and subsequent actions. It’s the equivalent of a full-time role. What’s more, response times have been cut from hours to minutes, ensuring cold-chain medical supplies worth millions of pounds are protected around the clock.

In one instance, a critical fridge failure was immediately relayed to frontline staff members with instructions so that stock could be moved to adjacent units, preventing the loss of pharmaceutical supplies worth millions of pounds.

Evolution of automated monitoring

Historically, temperatures were checked with min-max thermometers and recorded via pen-and-paper. There are some instances where that’s still happening.

Then came the introduction of data loggers, which gave retrospective indication of a temperature breach.

Automated monitoring was a breakthrough enabled by internet and wireless technology – allowing for continuous real-time monitoring from any location, immediate notification of changes, analysis of trends and precise compliance reporting.

The latest evolution of automated monitoring integrates digital assistants that prompt, guide and log the steps taken staff, wherever they are located, according to standard operating procedures. Frontline teams are empowered and leaders can see what happened, where and when, in incredible detail.

Where there's a potential fault with a freezer, even non-technical staff can be guided on basic diagnostic checks. Where necessary, an alert can be routed to the nearest engineer for further investigation.

Benefits of combining alerts and action

In sectors where the cold chain continuity is paramount, the impact of integrating automated monitoring with digital assistants can be transformative.

The distribution of temperature-controlled vaccines is one example where the combination of alerts and actions could have a lasting impact.

The system reduces time pressure and administrative burdens on staff, minimising disruption to their daily work, and guides them on what needs to be done when they receive an alert.

This strengthens compliance with standard operating procedures and reinforces best practice.

Paperwork, which is vulnerable to loss, damage and falsification, is removed from cold chain management. The replacement is a time-stamped digital record that provides accurate end-to-end assurance for regulatory compliance.

The risk of stock loss – and all the associated financial, contractual, regulatory and reputational consequences – is reduced with rapid identification and remediation of storage issues.

The use of connected cloud-based technology to provide real-time operational data is growing in several sectors – empowering organisations with the insight to make informed decisions and the means to direct activity by linking up more closely with frontline teams.

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

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Nick Henderson

Content & Communications Manager at Checkit

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