Who is Watching the Watcher?

28 Jun

The last house I moved into was fully equipped with smoke detectors – the new kind – that are wired directly into the house’s electricity. So I was more than a little surprised after a year or so of living in this home that one of the detectors starting beeping – and for no clear reason.

And when I finally took the cover off of the detector I noticed an interesting thing – there was a battery inside. I couldn’t understand why an electric smoke detector would come with a battery – until, that is, my wife happened to stroll by, noticed the confused look on my face (easily recognized after 20 years of marriage), and said:

“It must be a backup for when the power goes out.”

Of course. If the smoke detector is watching out for a fire, the battery within it is watching out for a non-functional smoke detector. In other words, the battery is “watching the watcher”.

Which brings to mind my favorite story of a client using an alerts system:

The client is a hospital that sends out an ambulance with EMTs when an emergency arises. The EMTs load the patient on the ambulance and immediately proceed with triage and treatment to the best of their ability. The patient’s symptoms are logged into an on-board computer where they are electronically relayed to the hospital.

(Now here’s the really cool part.)

At the hospital, the alerts system monitors the incoming patient’s symptoms and – based on those symptoms – the appropriate doctor is notified (typically via their pager or mobile phone).

But there was a problem with this process; sometimes doctors changed their pager number, PIN, or even their cell phone number – and didn’t remember to inform the hospital of that change. So, when the alerts system tried to notify the appropriate doctor, sometimes the alert failed – and continued to fail as the alerts system repeatedly tried to use that invalid delivery address.

Enter “plan B”, which was: “if an alert to a doctor is not successfully delivered within 5 minutes, failover the alert to either an alternate doctor or to a nurse’s station.” Brilliant!

This functionality – referred to under such names as “redundancy checking”, “self-monitoring”, and “alert watchdog” – is essential for organizations that rely on an alerts system for the health and productivity of their HR staff and for the efficiency of their business as a whole. After all, an alert is only as good as its ability to reach its intended recipient; thus the need to identify and act on those alerts that do not reach their recipients is every bit as important as the rest of an alerts system.

Ideally, the self-monitoring aspect of an alerts system should provide the following:

  • Determination if an alert has been successfully delivered
  • Identification of “over-triggering” – i.e., an event whose conditions are met too frequently
  • Identification of “alert overload” – i.e., a single alert recipient who is getting sent too many alert messages (which will eventually cause them to ignore all alerts)
  • Capture of alerts with invalid delivery addresses, such as invalid email addresses, bad fax numbers, or incorrect mobile device numbers or PINs
  • The ability to identify alert events that have been added or customized (and by whom)
  • Trend analysis of triggered events (e.g., “are things getting better or worse?”)
  • Alert events that are configured incorrectly or are missing components

So – when you configure an alerts system for your organization, think positively and hope for the best – no missing data, no invalid contact information, and the like. And then plan for reality. If watching your HRMS data is as important to your organization as you think it is, don’t leave it to chance.

Watch the watcher.

 

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