Tech

Big tech companies want to help get you back in the office

Enlarge / Office staff respecting social distancing during a meeting. Group of business men and women having a meeting in office during corona virus pandemic.Getty Images

Many things about Matt Bruinooges senior year at Brown are different from his previous college life. One is that he logs on to a website from tech giant Alphabet twice a week to schedule nasal swabs.

Brown is one of the first customers of a pandemic safety service from Alphabet subsidiary Verily Life Sciences called Healthy at Work, or Healthy at School at colleges. It offers a website and software for surveying workers or students for symptoms, scheduling coronavirus tests, and managing the results.

The site Bruinooge uses to schedule his tests has similar styling to Googles office suite. When a test comes back negative, he sees a graphic of something like a COVID-era hall pass, with a big check mark in soothing green. “The testing process is streamlined,” Bruinooge says—although he wonders where his data may end up.

Bruinooge is an early adopter, if not a volunteer, for a potential new market for large tech companies. Alphabet and its peers sent their workers home quickly as the pandemic surged, and many have said employees wont return to the office until well into 2021. That hasnt stopped them from launching services to sell to others that are willing, or required, to get people back into offices and classrooms.

Back to school

The University of Alabama System is also using Verilys new service. Swabs are processed by commercial labs, and for a small number of customers, at Verilys own recently accreditedCOVID-19 lab in San Francisco. Microsoft has its own bundle of COVID-era tools that can help with symptom screening and test scheduling, as well as mobile apps that can display a digital pass to control access to an office. Oracle and Salesforce has created its own pandemic services on top of existing products for managing staff or customer relationships.

All those COVID safety services are marketed with caring statements about helping people stay safe. They also offer a new revenue source during tricky economic times—and a chance to nudge businesses to invest more deeply in digitizing their operations.

As the coronavirus spread in March, administrators at the University of Kentucky turned to their health faculty for advice on operating safely and to their IT experts on what tech could contribute. Staff talked to reps and watched demos from vendors, including Google and Microsoft, but chose a new pandemic suite called Work.com from San Francisco–based Salesforce.

The school already used Salesforces flagship customer-relationship tools for programs like email campaigns and other communications with prospective and newly enrolled students. The companys pandemic tools provided a way to leverage its existing database of student information to help contain coronavirus.

Students and staff on campus now receive an email each morning asking them to fill out a survey about any symptoms theyre experiencing. A person with nothing to report can be done in seconds. Anyone who doesnt fill out the survey gets a reminder by text message later in the day and a phone call if they still dont respond.

Head to CVS

If a person does report symptoms, they get a phone call asking for more information and, if necessary, a recommendation to get a coronavirus test. The university can rely on its own lab, but Salesforce also has a partnership with CVS to provide tests. At Kentucky, test results from the university medical center are logged in Salesforce, and positive tests automatically open a case with a team of contact tracers, who use software the company developed after Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo asked Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff for help.

Tyler Gayheart, the universitys director of digital engagement, says the program has worked so well it has convinced him the university should probably spend more money with Salesforce. “In the long term this is not a pandemic response app, its a system for engagement and health and well-being across the university,” he says. Tactics being used to survey and monitor staff and students for coronavirus today could be adapted for other uses tomorrow, such as helping students with anxiety or other health issues, he says.

Kate Leggett, an analyst at Forrester, believes that pattern of pandemic software leading to other business is part of the plan. “As much as Marc Benioff is here to save the world, its a savvy business model,” she says. Rivals such as Oracle and Microsoft appear to be using a similar strategy.

Location, location, location

That could make more digitization of everyday life a legacy of the pandemic. Real estate firm CBRE, a customer of Microsofts pandemic services, is preparing for that.

CBRE clients trying to reopen their offices are encouraged to consult dashboards Microsoft created to monitor local trends in coronavirus infections. A CBRE app for workers called Host, built on Microsofts cloud, has been upgraded with new COVID-19-era features. People can use the app to signal to bosses whether they plan to go to the office, take a symptom survey, and (if they pass) receive a virtual entrance card that integrates with electronic doors. Mobile COVID-19 passes, sometimes linked to testing programs, have been a major part of Chinas coronavirus response.

Alex Andel, who leads CBREs digital workplace services, says even when the current crisis (finally) ends, going to the office will be a more digital experience. The pandemic “will accelerate use of these tools,” he says. “Weve gone 10 years into the future.”

Health care is notoriously analog, but the pandemic has provided Alphabets Verily a chance to show how that can change quickly if institutions are willing to experiment. The company is one of Alphabets collection of “other bets,” such as self-driving car company Waymo, that collectively lost $4.8 billion last year.

Verilys Healthy at Work service for COVID-19 is the latest addition to Verilys dizzying list of ventures that includes selling a $195 spoon that compensates for hand tremor, working with Johnson & Johnson on surgical robots, and a recent announcement that it would sell health insurance to employers.

The company jumped into COVID-19 services early, partnering with Californias Department of Public Health in mid-March on an Read More – Source

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