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Businesses develop apps quickly to manage disruption of Covid-19

Healthcare companies, insurers, government agencies and big tech companies have used technology from Pegasystems to develop apps to manage the disruption caused by coronavirus

Pegasystems (Pega), which provides technology to some of the world’s largest companies, has used its expertise to help businesses reorganise at lightning speed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has worked with governments, healthcare companies and insurers to build apps that will help the organisations continue to communicate with their customers during lockdown.

Pegasystems may not be a household name in big tech, but the company, which made revenues of $900m last year, supplies sophisticated IT systems to some of the world’s biggest organisations, including Centrica, Ford, Coca-Cola and Cisco, and most recently the US Internal Revenue Service.

The company specialises in case management tools, cloud software, artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics technology, and customer relationship management (CRM) software. It offers “low-code” application development which allows businesses to build and develop apps quickly.

When the pandemic struck, Pega worked with businesses to develop apps to manage the problems of Covid-19, including technology to process insurance claims from their customers, manage the safety of their employees and make social distancing possible at work.

Google deploys app to reduce Covid-19 risks for network engineers

Google used Pega’s technology to change the way it manages the deployment of network engineers to minimise the risks of catching and spreading Covid-19.

The company saw unprecedented demand for Google Meet, an online conferencing system similar to Zoom, following the coronavirus outbreak.

Between January 2020 and the end of May, demand for the service rose by a factor of 30, and three million people were joining the service daily.

The normal peaks and troughs in demand for Google Meet have been replaced by a steady upward demand, said James Stravoprolous, global lead for network deployment operations at Google.

“That has caused us to change quite a bit of how we operate across the globe. The build [rate] and urgency of how we built the network has increased, even as we have more strict safety requirements,” he told an online conference.

Google, which has operations in 50 countries across thousands of locations, which it calls “points of presence” (Pops), is using Pega’s technology to allocate job tickets to network engineers, contractors and staff in independent datacentres which host Google servers.

The software, known as “dispatch logic”, allocates job tickets, based on skills, the quality of work required and cost, to the most appropriate person or team. It schedules the work and requests access to third-party colocation datacentres that host Google’s servers.

Once the work is complete, Google uses its data warehousing platform, Big Query, to analyse the work and plan the growth of its networks.

“We have two main priorities. The first is to keep people safe, and this is of most importance to us. The next is to ensure that all our customers have the best quality of service possible,” said Vidhya Shankar Govindarajan, operations manager at Google.

Companies roll out technology to respond to Covid-19

For Virgin Media, which has four million subscribers, the coronavirus outbreak meant the sudden closure of its offshore contact centres. It used its Pega-developed customer service technology to provide online support to customers and to allow 400 volunteers from across the company to step in and provide telephone support.

An Asia-Pacific airline, which was forced to suspend its flights because of the pandemic, has agreed a contract with Pega to help it use technology to reach its customers more effectively and win them back once it is safe to open for business.

Banks and governments are using a small business lending application developed by Pega that can be configured in a few days to manage loan programmes.

A US state government is using Pega’s technology to manage a flood of unemployment claims. It was able to develop a mobile app with a chatbot to process the claims in three weeks. By April 2020, it had processed 750,000 applications.

Google came up with what it called its “Metro partition plan” to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections spreading throughout the workforce.

In the past, a Google engineer working in a city such as New York or San Francisco could be allocated a ticket to work on the network at any Google location in the city.

Google developed software to segregate the workforce by ensuring that individuals or groups of staff only carry out work at a limited range of Google locations.

The company was able to create the application from scratch in less than a week.

“From concept to final deployment, we did it in about five business days, which was very important for a system like this because we are reacting to a health care crisis,” said Govindarajan, speaking at an online conference organised by Pega.

Google has also created a reporting system using the Google Chat service to alert people if they go to the wrong location.

The company plans to develop the app to trace workers’ contacts if they are exposed to the coronavirus to limit the spread of infection.

“We want the system to trace all the points of presence that have been contaminated, and who went to those specific locations,” he said.

Insurance company rushes out chatbots to speed claims

Insurance company Aflac, which provides critical illness, life and accident insurance to 50 million people, had developed apps to make it easier for people to make claims before the pandemic struck.

Aflac, which provides insurance mainly to people in the US and Japan, discovered before the pandemic that its customers were having trouble logging into the company’s website and mobile app whenever they need to make a claim.

They could not remember their user IDs or passwords, Rich Gilbert, Aflac’s chief digital and information officer, told conference viewers.

Aflac redeveloped its mobile app and the website to allow people to file claims based on the information they could remember. The system is able to use information they can recall to identify the right insurance policy.

“Now, policyholders don’t have to know their user ID, their password or their policy number to file a claim. When they log in and they come to our system, all they have to do is be able to provide a few pieces of information,” said Gilbert.

“Take the time to train your employees in the new technologies. Don’t assume immediate adoption, especially if you’re going from a legacy platform and process to a new process. It takes time to adapt and become proficient”
Rich Gilbert, Aflac

The company has also created a claims tracker which allows customers to keep track of the progress of their claims as they go through the assessment process.

Behind the scenes, Aflac used Pega to automate steps in the claims process, making it easier for staff to process payments.

These technologies may not be revolutionary in themselves, but applying them in insurance – which is frequently a late adopter of technology – was “transformative” said Gilbert.

Aflac was in the process of developing a live chat service for its customers when Covid-19 struck.

The company moved quickly to extend the service across the organisation. “We were able to scale that chat across all lines of our business in just a few weeks,” said Gilbert.

The company has gone on to create intelligent chatbots that can answer the top 15 queries that customers make. Aflac has found the bots are able to resolve 86% of these requests without human intervention.

The insurer has turned its Northern Ireland site into a centre of expertise for Pega, where it has hired and trained 32 Pega specialists.

Rolling out the technology was not completely smooth, and employees found it difficult to master at first. “Even when we implemented new technologies, even though they’re better, quicker, easier technologies, they had difficulty learning those new technologies,” said Gilbert.

“One lesson is, make sure you take the time to train your employees in the new technologies. Don’t assume immediate adoption, especially if you’re going from a legacy platform and process to a new process. It takes time to adapt and become proficient.”

Hospital group develops tech to monitor staff sick leave

HCA Healthcare, which runs 180 hospitals in the US and six hospitals and medical facilities in the UK, used Pega’s technology to develop an application to track how many of its staff were reporting in sick during the coronavirus pandemic.

The healthcare group found that a third of its hospital workforce, some 12,000 staff, were not registered on the scheduling system used across the rest of the group to monitor staff sickness.

HCA started mapping out ideas on a whiteboard to solve the problem and had a working prototype within three days, Barbara Coughlin, assistant vice-president of case management operations at the healthcare company, told the conference. By the following week, HCA had a fully working app that employees could use to report in sick.

The care group started a second project to help with discharging patients who had been treated for acute conditions into other areas of care more quickly.

Covid-19 had significantly affected discharges of acute patents, so HCA needed to develop a way of identifying the reasons for delays in discharging them.

HCA’s case management team started with an online polling tool, Survey Monkey, to gather data and to identify issues and trends. The technology required manual intervention, including downloading the results from Survey Monkey into an Excel spreadsheet twice a day.

HCA’s teams across project management, information technology, case management, and analytics and data worked with Pega to develop an application to automate the task.

The app, which went live on 17 April, pushes the discharge data from 185 in-patient units into HCA’s enterprise data warehouse, allowing the case management team to analyse the data and to identify the problems that are preventing patients from being discharged.

“It provides a high-level view of patients with barriers and those that have not been resolved with patients remaining in the hospital,” said Coughlin.

Bavarian government creates emergency aid app

Pega has also worked with the Bavarian government in Germany to develop an app to provide emergency financial aid to farmers, self-employed workers and small businesses during lockdown.

“They had a set of outdated and not really attached systems that they needed to be able to use to handle this enormous surge of people who needed financial support and financial aid,” Pegasystems founder and CEO Alan Trefler told the conference.

Pega, the government and cloud service provider T-Systems developed the app in five days. It allows people to apply for financial aid without having to manually fill in forms and email them to contact centres.

Some 500 clerks at the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs can now review and approve applications for financial assistance from home – a task that would have been difficult and time-consuming using the previous document-heavy processes.

The unexpected benefits of lockdown

Pegasystems’ Trefler said his own business, which supplies technology to many of the Fortune 500 companies, is well positioned to weather the Covid-19 storm.

“It is very fortunate that the preponderance of our revenue and the preponderance of our sales is very much tied to companies which are clearly going to make it through this,” Trefler told Computer Weekly.

Since 2017, the company has shifted its business model from selling one-off software licences to subscriptions and cloud services, providing it with a steady flow of revenue.

In February, the company raised half a billion dollars in cash, just before the Covid-19 crisis became clear, putting Pega in a strong financial position.

The company has money in the bank, said Trefler, and might make acquisitions should opportunities arise to acquire technology companies that fit with Pega.

In May 2019, the company bought digital messaging platform In The Chat, which it is using to build chat services into its own products.

“When we do something like that, we’re always doing it with an eye of really weaving it into our platform, as opposed to leaving it as some standalone piece of software,” said Trefler. “We think that leads to what we sometimes refer to as a ‘Frankenstack’ which is lots of little dead software companies glued together, which ultimately is just not good for clients over time.”

“I think we’re going to see much more distributed workforces, much more digital engagement with customers and much higher standards inside businesses for how their technology and business architecture should work”

Alan Trefler, Pegasystems

And Pega is still hiring. Most recently it poached Hayden Stafford from Microsoft – where he was responsible for growing sales Microsoft Dynamics 365 cloud CRM service – as Pega’s president of global client engagement.

One unexpected benefit of widespread lockdowns is that Trefler and other Pega executives have been able to speak with the CEOs and CIOs of its clients far more frequently.

“A lot of the senior people we’ve wanted to talk to have been incredibly accessible. If anything, I think Covid has tripled or quadrupled our ability to have those right conversations,” he said.

Pega’s strategy is to link applications from different suppliers – such as Salesforce, an online service for managing sales leads, HR systems, email systems and robotic process automation (RPA) services – with Pega’s own technology so they work together.

The company has developed a technology it calls process fabric, which will, for example, allow employees to manage their work from a single page, even when it is held in multiple software systems.

Pega’s chief technology officer (CTO), Don Schuerman, said: “Business leaders [will be able] to see and understand where that work is flowing and where it’s being done, so that they can see where the potential bottlenecks and gaps in the process are. And they have visibility into work no matter where it lives.”

Pega’s clients have quickly rolled out the apps and technology they need to survive the next two or three months and are now focusing on what they need in the longer term.

“We’re going to see much more openness to people being able to work in a distributed fashion, much more of a need for the applications that interface with customers to be smarter,” Trefler told Computer Weekly.

“I think you’re going to see much more distributed workforces, much more digital engagement with customers and, to be honest, much higher standards inside businesses for how their technology and business architecture should work.”

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