If your COVID-19 reopening plans have gone through more phases than you can count, you're not alone. What was once planned for October has pushed to January or June or maybe never. Even the companies that have managed to get back onsite or into the office often live in constant vigilance, knowing that a single positive COVID-19 test could send them into lockdown.
For companies muddling through COVID (which, let's face it, is most companies), a new software category has emerged to keep reopening plans on track and maintain safe work environments going forward. Workforce safety solutions help organizations comply with health guidelines and data privacy regulations, control facilities, and reduce risk through every phase of the pandemic.
"Low-code and process automation vendors have responded quickly to help their customers and prospects manage the return-to-work process," writes Connie Moore in a new Deep Analysis paper, Managing the Return from COVID: Software Solutions for Workforce Safety. "But confusion reigns because workforce safety solutions are all over the map."
"Because the workforce safety market developed in the space of a few weeks, the available solutions vary greatly across software providers in terms of comprehensive functionality and the effort to stand up a solution quickly," Moore continues. Solutions run the gamut from simple starter' tools to more robust SaaS applications.
It's remarkable that in just a few months so many solutions designed to help organizations throughout the pandemic have emerged. The Deep Analysis report puts them into four different categories, and I added a fifth one to consider as well. It's important to understand the differences when choosing the best solution to reopen and stay open safely. What's clear is that it takes a lot more than simple health surveys to keep one positive test result from derailing your plans.
On the most basic end of the spectrum are office productivity tools like spreadsheets, email, file sharing, and document management. "These are often quick solutions for small organizations or departments that require use of a variety of simple business user tools," Moore says. Many companies started with these solutions early in the pandemic. They may be enough for very small or simple businesses, but they're not sustainable for larger organizations, as they don't include the sophisticated level of business rules and automation that packaged SaaS applications or fit-for-purpose frameworks and accelerators offer.
A category that's not mentioned in the Deep Analysis paper but is worth considering is wearable devices such as GPS trackers (or an activated GPS tracker on your phone). These devices may track information such as your location, health status, and movement for you. Some can also cross-reference your location with everyone around you to automatically contact trace any potential exposure to infected individuals.
Wearables have made some headway in places such as healthcare facilities and on college campuses. That being said, they're a poor fit for most enterprise organizations, since companies can't always enforce the use of such devices, which some employees may view as too invasive to their privacy. Wearables, while useful in their own right, are often considered in addition to or in conjunction with one of the software solutions mentioned above, as they may not offer all of the proactive reporting, automation, and data insights an organization needs to make fully informed decisions.
Companies that have the resources may choose to build their own COVID software from scratch. "In organizations with excess developer capacity or access to low-code platforms, one-off applications have been built to meet the organization's unique and custom needs," Moore says. This approach takes more time and is often more expensive than a packaged application or an accelerator, but it may be a good option for companies with incredibly unique needs and resources to spare.
"[These solutions] range from software providing enough functionality to get developers to first base, to more fully featured solutions ñ both of which require the application to run on the vendor's platform," Moore writes. Frameworks and accelerators are often built on low-code platforms, and they provide the organization a starting ground for their workforce safety solution. But these solutions usually require development work for more robust functionality. They may be offered free of charge to customers with an existing low-code vendor relationship.
However, there is a grey area between packaged accelerators and packaged SaaS applications (our last category). Many sophisticated SaaS solutions are customizable. This customization allows you to meet unique requirements, which is often necessary for large enterprises. But it also means more work to get the exact solution you need.
Out-of-the-box applications are "comprehensive, designed for enterprise employees and HR, legal, and business continuity execs, and often built upon low-code, process automation, and case management platforms," Moore writes. But even within the packaged application category there's a range of maturity. The most basic applications are essentially a survey tool for your workforce. More robust options offer contact tracing, incident case management, health monitoring, COVID testing, and shift and visitor management.
Sophisticated SaaS applications for workforce safety are able to act as a unified command center for your COVID-19 response. Companies have real-time access to track employee check-ins, monitor incidents across facilities, automate return-to-work authorizations, and manage company policies and government regulations. Look for a solution that's mobile native, HIPAA-compliant, HITRUST-certified, and ensures security and privacy of employee health information. The best packaged SaaS applications will help you quickly respond to cases and intelligently manage the complexities of returning workers to the workplace.
Companies can choose from a range of COVID solutions to manage their workforce and support safe office environments during the pandemic. Some software may even offer benefits of multiple categories. For example, Appian Workforce Safety is a packaged SaaS application that can be up and running in a matter of hours, without requiring IT resources. But it can also be easily customized to meet a range of unique needs, similar to a framework or an accelerator.
Learn how to find the right COVID-19 software solution for your organization in our blog post, 6 Criteria for Choosing a COVID Workplace Application. And watch our demo to see how Appian Workforce Safety unites contact tracing, health screenings, rapid response to incidents, and automated return authorizations securely and at scale across large organizations, all for one fixed low price.
Appian is the unified platform for change. We accelerate customers’ businesses by discovering, designing, and automating their most important processes. The Appian Low-Code Platform combines the key capabilities needed to get work done faster, Process Mining + Workflow + Automation, in a unified low-code platform. Appian is open, enterprise-grade and trusted by industry leaders.