As the country begins to move toward easing restrictions due to the pandemic, and reopening workspaces and public gathering places, opinions are mixed and people are scared. The risk of resurgence in the rate of infections from the coronavirus is a real danger.
Federal agencies are no exception, with the vast majority of the federal workforce currently working from home, and government leadership eager to return to normal. No one quite knows what that looks like yet, and federal agencies have the additional challenge of geographic dispersal to contend with. One region may have the virus under control, making it safe for feds to return to the office, while another region may still be a hotspot, or under lockdown orders. It’s a massive logistical challenge.
But it turns out, automation can help with that.
“You have to get a handle on your workforce, you have to get a handle on your facilities. And those are the two primary prerequisites before even contemplating how to safely begin moving the workforce back to the office where it makes sense,” said Mike Beckley, founder and CTO at Appian. “And automation can help you gather that data on both your people in your facilities and it can help you then organize your response and your communication and the guidelines by which you return to work.”
The reality is, you can’t just lump your workforce together into one unit and send them back to the office. Facilities themselves can’t be configured the way they were before this started. Agencies must understand what they are, what their capacity is, what their status is, whether there have been incidents of positive testing results, and whether contact tracing or deep cleaning is needed.
Then those two datasets need to be matched up in order to develop a safe, comprehensive plan to bring the workforce back safely.
“So the first element is getting a handle on who your workforce is. And that’s employees, that’s contractors. Keep in mind in the federal government, those have to be kept in different systems and the contractor workforce cannot exist in the same personnel directory system as your employee workforce,” Beckley said. “And so it’s not a trivial challenge to even say, ‘who are the workers at my federal agency?’ Because you’re talking about multiple contractors and multiple contracts. You’re also talking about potentially multiple facilities with different groups that have their own systems.”
Intelligent automation integrated into existing systems can bring all that disparate data together more quickly and accurately than manual processes can to give agencies a better picture of their workforce. It can also handle the self-reporting and surveillance that would have to follow those efforts to keep that picture accurate.
“We expect most organizations will have a daily check-in which is mandatory from their employees and their contractors. And that is something that we can automate through the system, and at Appian we have automated,” Beckley said. “In just a couple of clicks, we can present an employee or contractor with their existing health status, the last information they provided, and they can just update it right there if their symptoms have changed, or if they’ve come into contact with a family member or someone else they care for who has new symptoms. And so there’s the individual health, there’s the community health, and there’s the general incident reporting which can all be automated in Appian.”
And all of that personal data is protected in a secure cloud. Appian’s implementation of AWS GovCloud is HIPAA compliant and FedRAMP certified, as are the three data centers used for this information.
It’s also easy to implement; Beckley said agencies can sign up with Appian and be provisioned in ten minutes. He said Appian helped the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) implement a solution for resource and care coordination in one week, and it now helps a staff of 600 look after about 240,000 patients. They accomplished this through full-stack automation, which means the method of automation varies depending on the system.
“Appian incorporates AI services, integration, business rules engines, workflow and robotic process automation (RPA) all in one in one platform,” Beckley said. “So if we need to integrate to a system, we can use the right automation technique to do it and not be bound by whatever we have in the box. We’ve got everything. So if there isn’t an API available, if there isn’t an automatic way to go fetch the data that’s provided by a third party website or system or custom application inside of an agency, we can use RPA to go get it.”