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Battling COVID-19 at the workplace with technology. An insider’s view.

Suresh Babu
   

As the world fights back to get to the ‘Next Normal’, technologies such as Digital Contact Tracing have become frontline weapons for businesses trying to contain the pandemic at the workplace.

As someone who had a real-time preview of the strategy and tactics in Imaginea’s initiative to build a comprehensive COVID-19 technology solution, this is my inside story that throws light upon the thought process and challenges we overcame in our journey.

Before I delve into the details, I take this opportunity to salute the phenomenal determination and sacrifice of thousands of healthcare workers and emergency response members across the world, who risk their life to keep us safe. We bow down to your grit. Your sacrifices will be remembered eternally!

So, where do I begin? The havoc the virus unleashed on both the health care system and the economy is unprecedented. In the first phase of the battle, until now, businesses have taken short-term preventive / protective actions to stabilize and minimize impact on business, customers and employees. The second phase of the battle will be fought with technology. Digital tools will help businesses effectively navigate this crisis by digitizing and automating the pandemic response.

Navigating through the crisis – options at hand

Navigating the crisis hasn’t been easy. The decisions that are being made today, will permanently alter the course of businesses for years to come. Leaders are facing a dual challenge of minimizing the impact of the slowdown by getting back to ‘business as usual’ mode at the earliest, and at the same time, preparing the organization for a V- or U-shaped recovery while ensuring safety of all the stakeholders at the workplace.

As we were exploring technology options, we identified the following factors at play that serve as a guiding light to an effective digital response strategy.

Digital Contact Tracing (DCT): The lifeline of today’s pandemic response

Digital contact tracing is now at the heart of any risk mitigation and pandemic response strategy. The manual process of contact tracing is tedious and ineffective. DCT, combined with Digital Screening and Analytical Dashboards, serves as a single window solution with all the required tools for an effective response. DCT uses a combination of mobile data along with enterprise application data to effectively trace the contacts.

Privacy and civil-liberty concerns

One serious concern, which is widely being debated, is individual privacy, raising moral questions around building such a solution. Our search for a technology that preserves individual privacy, led us to Decentralized Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (DP3T). Rishav Verma thoughtfully explained the functioning of DP3T in our recent webinar. Here is the link >

The DP3T protocol doesn’t trace the location of the user, it sends random gibberish to all the nearby devices using Bluetooth. Since the messages are random and don’t use GPS, they contain no personal user information such as identity, location, etc. DP3T is similar to the technology that Google and Apple are using in their contact tracing solution that they recently announced. Here is a simple infographic that my team put together to explain the solution.

Automation and enterprise integration is the key

As we connected with business leaders and the analyst community, we realized the needs of each organization are unique. For instance, one of the business leaders we were interacting with was looking for answers on how to ensure customer safety and proactively trigger communication when an employee tests COVID positive. In another case, a mining major, their employees are not allowed to carry smart phones or any other smart devices in the mines. How do you digitally contact-trace in this scenario?

There isn’t a simple answer. It is best to design a loosely coupled solution that is easy to customize, extend and integrate. Our research combined with insights from business leaders helped us to identify three automation and integration touchpoints – a) Automate risk assessment with digital employee screening, b) Enable effective risk management with a 360-degree COVID-19 status dashboard, c) Automate risk mitigation strategy with digital contact tracing.

Into the future: What to expect

State / Federal App Integration

The policies of the government and the regulatory bodies seem to be evolving to these changing times. Several agencies such as EEOC, HHS, CDC, DOL and OSHA now encourage employers to proactively classify employees under risk bands and initiate prevent health measures.

Integrating enterprise DCT with state/federal apps continues to be a challenge. Only RI and UT have built and released their apps so far. We anticipate this list to grow in the coming weeks, and CDC is currently exploring a nationwide app. When that happens, we are presuming businesses will be able to integrate with government apps to extend employee contact tracing to the external world as well. This would allow employers to devise more accurate preventive measures at the workplace.

Apple and Google Contact Tracing Protocols

While many of us were excited at first, they are allowing only government agencies to leverage their framework to build contact tracing apps. This isn’t great news for businesses trying to extend the scope of contact tracing to outside of the business network. Things might change, we never know.

As smart business leaders, I am sure you would be thinking far and wide – to build digital tools to help your organization effectively mitigate the risk from COVID-19. The ideas shared in this blog are broad guiding principles that helped us build a comprehensive digital response strategy and framework. I hope this provides a unique perspective and serves as a useful reference. If you are interested to know more, or share your insights – feel free to drop me a note at suresh.babu@imaginea.com

I would be happy to share further details, or any other inputs you might need to help digitize the pandemic response of your organization.

Hope this was useful. Stay safe, and take care!

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