Preference Choice Publication

Using intelligent systems to improve communications and workflows during crisis

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As organisations around the world continue to readjust to the new normal, Amber Peters, solution sales strategy, Americas, and Elias Moreira, senior product manager at SAP Digital Interconnect, look at the important part that technology and messaging play in business continuity planning.

Ordinarily in these posts, we talk about the consumer-facing side of digital communications, and the potential that a Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) offers to manage engagements with your customers and prospects and keep them happy. 

But in this piece, we would like to focus on the workplace, and specifically employees, and the part that a CPaaS solution can play in helping to maintain business continuity when something out of the ordinary happens – a subject that we should all be able to identify with right now. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to reassess how they organise their workforce, and how they communicate with their employees. As they do so, we suspect that many have found they are ill-prepared, and over-reliant on time-consuming and inefficient manual processes to keep the business functioning. 

The Gig Economy
COVID-19 may have brought the issue into sharp relief, but even before the pandemic hit, businesses were being forced to come to terms with the new realities of a dispersed workforce, and the rise of the Gig Economy. 

In addition to those employees on the full-time payroll, many organisations around the world now rely on a diverse assortment of contractors, third party labourers, and people more loosely associated with the business, but no less important to its success.

It’s reported that flexible working and the Gig Economy represents a $560bn total addressable market globally, and among those earning more than $100,000 per year, independent, project-based careers have grown by 70 per cent over the last seven years. 

So when something out of the ordinary happens, the task of communicating with this disparate workforce and ensuring their safety and wellbeing is more complex than it used to be. Yet according to the Business Continuity Institute, 42 per cent of companies said they use a spreadsheet as part of their preparedness solutions to contact employees during a crisis. Of these organizations, 62 per cent admit they are not sure the employee data is up to date. 

Flexible system
If a spreadsheet is not the answer, what is? Well the point is, enterprises need a platform that can integrate with all the systems that need to be brought into play, from HR at one end of the spectrum, to the organisation’s Travel Data Management system at the other. They need a flexible system that can integrate with multiple employee data and risk monitoring sources. A crisis is no time to make a plan. Organisations that are prepared for a crisis emerge faster and much better from it. 

The way we like to think about this is in shifting processes from manual to automated to intelligent. The manual way of doing things is clearly not fit-for-purpose. It ties up manpower, and results in delays that ultimately cost the business money. So what about automated? To explain how automated trumps manual, think of an air conditioning unit in an office. Control it manually and someone needs to attend to the unit and flick a switch to turn it on at the start of the day, and return to flick it off at the end of the day. 

In the automated world, the unit can be programmed to switch itself on and off at set times, or when the desired temperature is reached. Already much better. So what does intelligent look like? In the intelligent world, the air conditioning unit is fitted with sensors that monitor everything from whether anyone is in that part of the building, to the ambient weather conditions, to switch itself on or off accordingly. Much more efficient even than the automated version. 

Humanitarian disasters
The benefits of automated and intelligent processes can also be seen when you look beyond the corporate world, at humanitarian disasters, and the relief efforts that follow them. In 2017, 200m people around the world were impacted by 335 different disasters and 133m humans were displaced or affected by conflicts. In Nigeria, Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) monitors events and uses an SMS-based notification system to deliver key medical and social services to women who may be victims of gender-based violence.  WARIF has sent more than 8,000 messages to nearly 500 points of contact enabling real-time connections to help deliver aid and save lives.

While one can only applaud the intent of the relief efforts deployed to help those affected by these disasters and crises, the fact is that many were plagued by manual processes that significantly delayed the time taken to help those who needed it most. In Mali, for example, it typically took four weeks to assemble a task force to fly to the affected flood area, carry out a needs assessment, return to HQ, wait for aid to arrive, and then return with it.

Thanks to a project called 1bn Lives, which met with the NGOs to figure out what they were doing and how it could be automated through things like field surveys and facial recognition, that lead time to deliver relief was reduced to just three days. This is just one of many examples of relief and humanitarian projects that have benefited from automation and standardisation of processes. 

SAP People Connect 365
Underpinning WARIF and other projects is a solution called SAP People Connect 365. It enables organisations to invite employees (and in the case of relief efforts, volunteers) to opt in to a platform that enables the organisation to keep in touch with them via SMS while at the same time reassuring them that the personal data they are sharing with the organisation is safe, and will only be used in these sorts of situations.

The solution includes a geofencing feature that enables you to create custom areas of impact by drawing polygons that identify a zone for alerts and deliver messages to every user in that area. 

The solution also features a customizable and configurable risk feed that continuously monitors potentially significant incidents around the world, and then sends notifications to persons or groups located in affected areas. The professional services firm, Xoriant Corporation, uses this feature to safeguard its dispersed workforce. “Having a top-notch crisis management system builds trust with our employees and their families,” says Xoriant director, Ashok Chawla. “This gives them confidence that management can reach out to them when help is needed.”

There are many reasons why all of this matters. Yes, business continuity is a key one, but no less important is the duty of care that all organisations have to their employees. With a robust and intelligent CPaaS solution in place, organisations are better prepared to see out the next crisis, whatever form it might take.

To learn more about how your organization can prepare for disruptions and improve productivity and personal wellbeing, visit the SAP Community and register for a SAP People Connect 365 30-day free trial.