Insightful lessons from ServiceNow's Emergency Response Applications Insightful lessons from ServiceNow's Emergency Response Applications
Business Operations Blog Post

Insightful lessons from ServiceNow's Emergency Response Applications

Picture of Bipin ParachaBipin Paracha

What we learned from deploying ServiceNow’s Emergency Response Apps at INRY

On Tuesday, March 17th, ServiceNow released four apps to help organizations coordinate emergencies in the wake of the COVID-19/novel Coronavirus pandemic. These four new Emergency Response Management apps do not currently carry a license cost.

We at INRY intend to implement these applications for our clients free of service charges starting with hospitals and non-profit organizations.

We deployed these apps at INRY to help our emergency response as well as understand what our clients would be experiencing. This blog article details what we learned about these apps through our deployment process.

Watch our two-part video series here: Part 1, Part 2

First a little bit about the four apps

  • Emergency Outreach:

    Digital workflows to assist organizations in connecting with their employees during a crisis.
  • Emergency Self-Report:

    Allows employees to notify their employer about their self-quarantine status and their date of return to work. It also allows the employer to track employees who may be impacted by the crisis.
  • Emergency Exposure Management:

    When an organization learns that an employee is diagnosed with an illness, they can use this app to identify other people who might have been exposed based on the employee’s meetings history and job location.
  • Emergency Response Operations:

    This app was created by Washington State’s Department of Health, and they are now sharing it with all government entities at no charge. It provides an incident management structure for field responders and professionals to manage outbreak response and mitigate spread and impact.

Now, what we learned...

We tested the apps with a pilot group of 50 employees, and it turned out to be an effective learning opportunity. While none of this is surprising or new, and some of these were known to us through our Business Continuity Management (BCM) plans - it is good to see the interesting insights provided by these apps.

The dashboards provoked thoughts and new ideas on how we can get better at managing a crisis that is unusual and unprecedented. We expect that a lot of these will resonate with our clients too.

Top take-aways

The apps provided deeper insight than our manual processes were able to, which also brought on more questions.

A handful of people self-reported symptoms using the platform. All these cases were known through our manual process before we implemented the ServiceNow apps, but the dashboard helped drive home the message and drove deeper conversations across the Business Continuity Management (BCM) team. We also uncovered some insights around specific functions and departments that helped us pay more attention.

As we were coordinating the response, we had questions regarding balancing the occasionally competing needs of individual privacy vs. emergency response.

  • How much can we share across the organization, and how much can we not? What's appropriate to show in an app, and what's not? How should we be securing the information so that all people can’t access all data, particularly if it impacts someone’s privacy? Our outsourced HR firm (PEO) and our lawyer helped us handle these difficult questions and more. We wonder how individuals in bigger, more complex organizations are dealing with this.
  • As we are heading into Spring in many parts of the world - how many of these symptoms are related to COVID-19 vs. allergies or ill-health in the normal course? How do we track this more effectively? What are other firms doing? How can we track whether employees exhibiting symptoms have been tested and what are the related dates?

For Business Continuity, the dashboard tool helped quantify our exposure and risk. We already informed our clients that our people are working from home, and our tools and processes are in place. We can now continuously quantify the risk – big emphasis on “continuous integrated risk management”. This is HUGE. Since our business runs on ServiceNow, we can proactively act at a task and project-level granularity to enable business continuity while addressing and mitigating risk.

We only had a 50% initial response rate in the app: even in a small pilot of 50 users

Our leadership reached out and connected with team members to ascertain their well-being.

Our leadership reached out and connected with team members to ascertain their well-being. Most responsible organizations we know are already doing this. But we were curious about the individuals themselves – did they see this as an intrusion? In cases where they already self-reported to their manager, would they consider self-reporting an unnecessary operational step?

We found one predominantly specific reason why employees did not respond initially. Anyone who uses enterprise systems knows that a lot of users turn off notifications or set up email rules to filter out system alerts. As a small organization, we were able to reach out to non-responders to get the process completed. Larger organizations may need to identify better ways to improve their response rates.

We have a highly mobile and distributed workforce, which presented some unique situations

As a virtual organization, we have been asking people to stay at home since early March. Our managers know where their team members are, but as a group, we had limited collective visibility.

For example, some of our team members in India were staying in PG (Paying Guest) accommodations that were shut down for social distancing purposes. These team members had to go back to their hometowns or make other arrangements so that they continue to work uninterrupted. This is a nuance that our manual process had not accounted for, but the app helped us catch it.

For a small company like ours, location data presented some challenges in translating to action like exposure management. When someone responds and provides an update that they have symptoms, their office location is used. This may not be their current location - like a home address (this feedback is already on the ServiceNow community for product improvement).

When people report symptoms, both their current and past locations are critical - getting to know how the exposure management application works is crucial. For example, the location from a user profile is different from the location in the Outlook calendar. An Outlook calendar meeting may be a virtual location – so how do we know who was exposed?

In our specific use case, we needed to catalog the other employees that the team members had been in contact with and also find a way to tie back to the projects they were working on in order to identify the client personnel they may have been in touch with.

Industry matters.

Anyone who works on ServiceNow knows that ServiceNow leverages best practices. In this situation, there seems to be no universally applicable best practices like ITIL is for IT Operations. The use of terminology and the lexicons vary by industry. For example, the terms used by hospitals and by state agencies are not the same, even when they are responding to the same crisis.

While we always listen to our clients and learn their processes, this situation demands a heightened sense of awareness. We need to be more aware of these nuances and listen more carefully - the potential impacts of this situation far exceed anything we have done so far.

Different industries are likely to have different emergency response and coordination challenges. Employees/contingent workforce/field distribution/geographic distribution are all significant and must be considered when these applications are deployed.

Summary

The last two days have been highly informative and educational. Deploying these apps has provided some interesting observations and learning – not just from a technology standpoint but also about people and processes.

Yes, we know technology. Yes, we are ready to implement the apps now. INRY is offering our services at no cost to implement these digital workflows out-of-the-box for hospitals and not-for-profit organizations. We will lean on you to bring the process and industry knowledge for your specific use cases.

We are very fortunate to be able to help with our technology expertise, our ServiceNow partnership, and a very dedicated and committed team.

It is also very humbling to know what real emergency responders are going through. This is a good reminder to be thankful to the countless trained professionals and experts who are managing this event and actively fighting to win the war against the Coronavirus. 

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