Automated Alerts on the Rise
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, investments were being made to advance autonomous technologies to make business processes—and life in general—more efficient and environmentally friendly.
With the rise of the coronavirus, however, came even more interest in using and developing these technologies to limit human interaction and the spread of disease. A recent survey by Honeywell conducted 21 April to 7 May found that more than half of U.S. companies are increasingly open to investing in automation to survive changing market conditions brought on by COVID-19.
“The global pandemic caused a sudden and seismic shift in the global supply chain, driving distribution centers to embrace remote operations and social distancing work processes,” said Chris Feuell, chief marketing officer at Honeywell Intelligrated, in a press release. “Recent consumer studies have shown increased online purchases by 28 percent globally and buy online/pickup in store is expected to increase by more than 60 percent in 2020.”
Automated and connected solutions are also becoming more common in the workplace, where social distancing policies remain in effect while the world races to produce a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The use of robotic technology, guided work solutions, and computer-controlled equipment is seen as very important by companies for future competitiveness,” according to Honeywell. “Warehouse execution software (48 percent), order picking technology (46 percent), and robotic solutions (44 percent)—currently three of the most widely implemented solutions—are most expected to receive further investment soon.”
And this interest is not likely to wane, despite organizational moves to cut costs to address revenue shortfalls and potential economic downturns, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
“From March 2019 to the present (June 2020), 32 percent of U.S. finance leaders say their tech-related spend was driven by growth, including ecommerce and new products and services—and 32 percent expect the same for the next 12 months,” PwC found. “One in five say their tech investments will enable or accelerate cost reduction efforts, like automation. They also plan to invest slightly more in technology related to health and safety. These investments in safety measures like automated contact tracing and workplace sensors can help employees feel safer than manual efforts as they return to the physical workplace.”
Some security companies are already addressing this need, releasing new solutions or enhancing existing ones to allow for increased automation, eased contact tracing, and enhanced ability to carry out best practices to promote a healthy workplace.
Allied Universal, for example, rolled out a new version of its HELIAUS product, an artificial intelligence (AI) workforce management platform designed to improve safety and reduce risk by enhancing on-site guarding services.
The upgrade to HELIAUS added visitor screening applications, such as screening questions based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, like asking visitors if they have experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 in the past week.
HELIAUS also now implements customer-specific visitor screening protocols, such as instructing a security officer to take a visitor’s temperature or asking the visitor to use hand sanitization stations when entering the facility.
“The HELIAUS visitor screening application includes new suggestions for workflows that help with visitor screening, social distancing management, workplace signage, and maintaining a safe and clean workplace,” said Mark Mullison, chief information officer at Allied Universal, in a statement. “All of the information collected in the course of visitor screening or custom workflows is captured electronically and fed into the platform’s AI engine, which makes recommendations for improving the site’s condition.”
Allied Universal has also upped its offerings for advanced screening solutions, such as thermal camera screening solutions, noncontact screening options, and robotic screenings. All the data collected through these solutions can be fed into HELIAUS to provide recommendations to security officers on site.
In an interview with Security Technology, Mullison explains that the new options for HELIAUS came out of internal conversations about what is needed to “get back to business” in a safe way. Allied Universal identified four main building blocks for returning to the workplace: signage and reinforcing social distancing, maintaining clean workplaces, managing employee traffic, and screening visitors.
Using those blocks, Allied Universal looked at its HELIAUS product and added features that would help implement protocols based on CDC guidelines to enable those building blocks, Mullison says.
“Let’s say we had implemented workflows in the lobby around elevator bays—checking for the number of people and making sure they were maintaining social distancing,” he adds. “HELIAUS would remind the security professional to do that at an appointed time. HELIAUS would record the results of that, and if there happens to be a problem it would suggest more activities for the security professional.”
Like Allied Universal, Honeywell had similar internal conversations about the challenges of bringing people back to work safely—especially as the company has divisions in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, including China where the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“As things started to get better and trend down in APAC, we started to see similar challenges of getting employees back into the office safely. And in late February, early March, we realized it’s going to be a global trend—not just China,” says Marcus Logan, global offering leader for enterprise leading solutions at Honeywell.
The company began thinking about what customers—and its own employees—would need to safely return to work while continuing social distancing. That led to the creation of Honeywell’s Healthy Buildings solutions, which are designed to provide building owners with greater control over health, safety, and security factors in the workplace.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the culture of how buildings are managed by making apparent the need to ensure health and well-being in all aspects of our lives,” said Vimal Kapur, president and CEO of Honeywell Building Technologies, in a statement. “Returning to work after a pandemic will not be returning to business as usual. Occupants will want credible information and increased visibility into how building technology is protecting their health and what has been done to ensure that the buildings they enter are safe. Healthy buildings go beyond just energy efficiency to ensure the health, comfort, confidence, and productivity of the people who use them.”
The Healthy Buildings solutions are divided into two packages. The Air Quality package provides insights on containment risk, alerts to change HEPA filters, and cleaning and occupant behavior, among other analysis. It also takes the data collected, presents it on a unified dashboard, and provides a #HealthyBuildings Score to alert owners and operators of noncompliance with a health or security policy.
The other package is Safety & Security, which uses hardware and software to provide monitoring, detection, and response capabilities to manage people flow, temperature screenings, personal protection equipment use, contact tracing, and more.
The ability to implement contact tracing into the solution relies on integrating with the organization’s access control system, Logan explains.
“So if you scan into an area, and then two days later get tested and show positive for COVID—we can leverage that existing data to go back and run reports to see who else was in those areas,” Logan says.
Outside of office buildings, Logan says Honeywell has seen interest in the solution from college campuses and assisted living facilities—which often need to monitor the environment while providing a high standard for duty of care.
“We’re seeing interest in areas where compliance is key, where they need something to show they’re not putting employees or residents at risk and proactively monitoring the health of the building,” Logan says, adding that this is particularly the case for campus housing and “assisted living where you have vulnerable populations in close proximity with the potential for higher rates of communicable diseases. Those end users…are looking for solutions to help them manage their risk.”