Earlier this year, ASUG spoke to Qualtrics about how the experience management software company was assisting government and education entities to combat COVID-19. We sat down with Sydney Heimbrock, chief industry advisor for government at Qualtrics; and Thack Brown, COO of SAP North America to discuss the Quatrics Vaccination Status Manager, a solution the company released in August that allows users to track vaccination information from their employees. Check out our conversation focused on this new solution and how it's helping customers.

ASUG: Can you give us an overview of the Qualtrics Vaccination Manager?

Sydney Heimbrock: With the vaccine manager, we are trying to help all organizations—commercial, nonprofit, government—anything with employees, subcontractors, contractors, and visitors to their facilities. We need to have a way for organizations to keep everybody safe by gathering attestations about vaccination or negative test results. We then need to enable individual cases that are potential exceptions to the requirement to be worked very, very quickly through workflows that already exist in HR systems.

So essentially, it's about speed. It's about meeting any local regulations and requirements. We want to enable everyone to get into compliance as fast as possible because deadlines can be quite timely. But at the same time, we are making sure that we're mindful of the experiences that people are having as they engage with this attestation process. Because how people experience requirements like this has a very direct influence on how they engage as employees, or how they perceive the organizations that we run as visitors.

Thack Brown: Something that we see coming through with survey data that we're getting from employees and employers in the market is that there is a desire for a lot of folks to return to the office. We are finding that no matter where people stand in terms of their opinions on vaccinations, they’re all saying, "we'd like to get back to the office at some level and we want to make sure that we're safe when we do it.”

There’s a lot of employers enacting new policies regarding how to come back to the office – whether it’s requiring vaccinations, negative COVID tests or both, that’s HIPAA-related information. You're dealing with health information. There's a security standard that's associated with that. You also can be financially liable if you're unable to demonstrate that to authorities.

There are serious HIPAA security requirements around all this. It makes this process very complicated for employers to manage that flow of information. That is what the Qualtrics Vaccine Manager is all about: managing security, audit-ability, and the flexibility of holding that data. And this all needs to be done quickly and reliably.

Qualtrics has a proven solution that has been used already by private industry, as well as going back more than a year, consistently with state and local authorities doing something very, very similar. There aren't many solutions like that available in the marketplace today. We can be in a position to help our customers react quickly to this and create that fully legally compliant, and proven safe for the employee environment, so folks can get back into the office the way they went to.

ASUG: How did this solution come about?

Sydney Heimbrock: The origin story is our work with state and local governments primarily at first, because they were really on the front lines of the pandemic response overall. We worked very closely with our government partners to put in place what we at the time called contact tracing solutions. This was about making sure that governments had the information they needed right away to track down people that may have been exposed and encourage them to get tested so that we could manage the disease spread.

One of the great things about Qualtrics, of course, that we're well known for is our flexibility. As the pandemic continued to evolve and as the government response to the pandemic continued to evolve, we were able, in lockstep with our government partners, to evolve as well.

This then evolved into a vaccination navigator, which was very successful in helping governments at all levels link individual community members, citizens, and residents to available vaccines. We were helping governments turn shots into actual protection from the disease. Things continued to evolve. And now, we are discussing safe workplace initiatives that are designed to help the country accelerate its recovery from the adverse impact of the pandemic on the economy and people's livelihoods. We're helping organizations bring people back to work safely, while being mindful of, again, the kinds of experiences that they're having in this process.

We have survey data to show that up to a quarter of people said that if they were required to get vaccinated to be permitted into the traditional office workplace, that they would look for another job. 25%. That's a huge risk that employers are staring in the face, and now it’s very important to pay attention to the different reactions people are going to have, the attitudes that they have coming into this requirement, and make sure that as they come back into in-person, team environments, they're not carrying bad taste in their mouth as they reengage with their workplace.

ASUG: What sort of customers are you seeing using this solution?

Sydney Heimbrock: It's really across the board. Of course, the academic institutions, whether it's K-12 or higher education, they've been all over this for quite some time now, because they need students to come back on campus and to do so safely. We have been very much helping them with that challenge. The University of Miami is a great story about a university that never had to send students home. With our help, they were able to immediately put in place the kind of contact tracing solutions that academic—especially higher education which is residential in most cases—they needed that very, very quickly. We were able to help them manage throughout the entire pandemic. Their students certainly have not had to deal with some of the complications of other students at other schools.

Thack Brown: This started out very heavily in the public sector. We also started to see this in several industries. In high tech, we're very used to the fact that everybody went to remote work. Well, if you're a meat packager, you don't have that option. There are a lot of critical jobs out there where folks never had the option of work from home. We have also seen interest in the solution within the private sector and have had some adoption in the private sector. With recent moves by the White House and other local governments, we’ve seen an explosion of interest.

Now, you have a federal standard, again, HIPAA requirements and all sorts of other audit-related requirements that demand a different level of a robust solution. As a result of that demand, we've seen a real increase in the private sector. We're getting, I'm just bombarded daily at the moment now with increasing requests. I would say that one of the real advantages to this solution is that because it's proven because it's not something we're trying to create, but it's something that we have already in place, we're able to get through demonstrations and contracting in as little as five days with customers to be able to move fast, demonstrate what we're doing. Then in a matter of weeks, we can have the system stood up and functioning for them.

ASUG: At this particular moment, especially in North America, where we are with COVID-19, why is a solution like this just so important?

Thack Brown: This has become a really hot button issue. But if you take a step back, us as employers, what are we really trying to do? We're trying to create a safe environment for our employees. We're trying to take care of our customers. We're trying to move our businesses forward. There are diverse opinions on getting vaccinated. We're trying to create a flexible environment for folks. Companies are trying to create a flexible, safe environment for people, so they can get back to collaborating in person, taking care of their customers, and moving life forward. That's what it's all about. That's why we have this solution now. This is not about a political agenda, this is about how do we, within the guidelines that are being set right now by the federal and local governments and even private companies, respond to the needs of our employees and the desires of our customers? That's what's unique about this solution, is it allows everyone to fit all of those pillars together in one straightforward, proven solution.

Sydney Heimbrock: I would just emphasize what Thack is mentioning with the flexibility again. One of the other things that we're finding is in government, this approach to using a survey-based tool linked to specific workflows, that it is having application in other areas outside of COVID-19. LA county is a nice example where the Department of Health used us to track what was happening with the disease. We became their predictive engine for being able to identify hotspots as they emerged in the communities before the testing data was getting to them. And so they were able to preposition resources to where people were reporting symptoms or reporting that family members or friends had symptoms. They were then able to get ahead of that and of course, that now also has application to other public health issues.

I think this is an important moment in the evolution of our workplaces and work norms, as we become a hybrid blended digital-analog environment. This kind of engagement with employees around different things that happen, unexpected and expected, is now the new normal requirement for organizations. This is just another moment where we're seeing that the future of work is today. This kind of solution has obvious application to other kinds of emergency situations. It's great to be helping organizations navigate these complex crisis challenges with powerful tools like this.