One of the many ramifications of COVID-19 is how the virus has altered the way that people interact with fundamental institutions like government and education entities. These two sectors have been at the center of a lot of debate over the past few months. Citizens are obviously curious about how their local, state, and federal governments are tracking and containing COVID-19. At the same time, few issues have generated as much recent attention as the decision to reopen schools or not.

Throughout the pandemic, Qualtrics has been working with both government and education entities. The experience management software company provides a powerful asset, keeping track of vital information and providing valuable feedback on how these institutions are functioning. ASUG sat down with Dr. Chelsie Bright, the global industry leader for government at Qualtrics, and Omar Garriott, the global industry leader for education at Qualtrics. The two talked about Qualtrics’ recent efforts over the past year to develop solutions for these two sectors as they navigate COVID-19.

ASUG: Who are your customers in the education and government sectors?

Omar: The origin story of Qualtrics is rooted in education. We provided a world-class research tool for many students and academics, and as they began graduating and starting their professional careers, they took Qualtrics with them. And now, though our roots are in research, we’ve grown into an entire system of action where education institutions around the world can leverage Qualtrics to not only do research, but to also better understand the experiences of students, faculty, and staff. Institutions leveraging Qualtrics include 99 of the top business schools, a variety of K-12 education organizations, and about half of the top 100 largest school districts.

Chelsie: My Qualtrics story is very similar to the company’s origin story. I was first introduced to Qualtrics as a graduate student. I did a lot of my dissertation research on the platform and then used it in the classroom as a professor. A number of my students use the platform as well. When I went over into government, I was looking for tools to better collect data and went back to using Qualtrics. So, I was on the customer side before I joined the Qualtrics team. We’ve seen that kind of transition across the board. Qualtrics now has around 350 state and local government customers in the U.S. We work with all the cabinet-level federal agencies, which totals about 90 agencies. Qualtrics has been fortunate to partner closely with a number of those entities to drive innovation forward and help governments think about how to use feedback data from constituents and key stakeholders to drive the mission and purpose of government services across state, local, and federal agencies.

ASUG: In what ways are your customers leveraging this solution and how has it changed their operations?

Chelsie: COVID-19 has highlighted how critical experiences are. On the government side of things, most agencies are trying to figure out how they do a very rapid shift from a lot of in-person and paper-based services to digital services. We’ve been partnering with them not only to help them understand the core experience of engaging with a government service but also how it relates to the constituents’ relationship with governments. Those experiences build your trust (or lack thereof) in government institutions. When you engage with the government and the experience goes poorly, that then colors your perception of that agency and impacts the level of trust that you had. We’ve seen that highlighted throughout the pandemic.

Qualtrics has been partnering with several agencies on COVID-19 solutions that help communities navigate the pandemic and safely administer a vaccine. Monitoring this experience, understanding the pain points and unique needs of different communities, and looking at those groups across different demographic factors and characteristics become important when looking to safely administer the vaccine.

Omar: Education is one area that has been hit with so much uncertainty that it’s hard to keep up. I’m proud of how Qualtrics was able to identify where education institutions across K-12 were feeling the pain and quickly adapt our technology to be a part of the COVID-19 solution. And what has resonated most with customers is how our technology can be leveraged as a system of action to help them quickly adjust to ever-changing situations.

Right now, schools don’t have the luxury to ruminate on a problem. They have to act quickly to keep people safe. And Qualtrics has been able to provide solutions that solve their pain points much quicker than many other companies (and maybe even any solutions they might already have in place).

ASUG: Can you point to a specific instance where Qualtrics has provided a better customer experience during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Omar: There are a variety of examples. In higher education, one of our first and most innovative customers was the University of Miami. The university was at the epicenter of the crisis. It had to get its student-athletes and faculty back on campus. It turned to Qualtrics, and we were able to build a symptom-checking and contact-tracing tool for staff and students. This met the university’s unique needs, like integrations with specific systems. At the same time, we were asking ourselves, how can we build a broader solution that can help other schools keep their communities safe? That’s exactly what we piloted with the University of Miami. Now we have many schools on board, including the University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, Iowa State, California Polytechnic State University, and Southern Methodist University.

In K-12, I would cite examples from Fort Worth Independent School District (ISD) in Texas and Vancouver Public Schools in Washington. In Fort Worth and Vancouver, we found that parents wanted to give feedback on what their children’s educational experience look like. Whatever the situation was—reopening schools or staying virtual—the school districts were constantly reaching out to their employees and their students’ families to gauge how the process was going. That just leads to better decisions.

Chelsie: On the government side, Qualtrics has partnered with several state and local entities to help them with this process. We’ve been focused on how we can help automate the traditional, manual process. We are always thinking about that end user, meaning the person who tests positive or their families. How do we make it as easy as possible for them to engage with government agencies and opt into providing information so they feel like their data is protected? Then on the backend, we were automating a lot of those workflows so that we’re leveraging technology to do the heavy lifting, and we don’t have to use nearly as many frontline responders.

Case in point, we’ve done some work with the state of Arizona. When we first started working with the state, its response rate to contact tracing was about 10%. Within two weeks of launching Qualtrics, that number jumped to 45%, which is huge in terms of the number of people that were immediately reaching out. The state was keeping its communities safer and saving a lot of money by using technology instead of people making phone calls. Because the state decreased that response time, it was able to slow down the pandemic.

Qualtrics also has some cool projects in Los Angeles County, where the Qualtrics system was being used to send daily text messages to a representative population. The county has over 20,000 people who are participating and has seen response rates for that project upwards of 70%. It was using those responses to understand the marginalized needs of the community and how COVID-19 has been impacting them. We’ve also partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau and have national studies that are going out. The U.S. Census Bureau is using all of that feedback to better understand the economic and mental health impacts of the virus and then sharing that data with other federal agencies.

ASUG: Omar, what are the specific actions that Qualtrics provides customers in the education industry?

Omar: For schools, the number one job is safety. We have hundreds of institutions and systems using Qualtrics across K-12 and higher education. They are large and small, public, and private institutions who are using us to guide their reopening efforts and figure out what the sentiment is on reopening. They need to figure out how this experience is going to look. Qualtrics is helping them identify hotspots and problems before they become widespread issues. As you can imagine, this is hard on college campuses. There are still cases proliferating because COVID-19 is so communicable. It’s really hard to keep people properly isolated.

Job number two for schools is to restore public trust. Schools need to be more transparent by asking how the experience is going and then showing how they are acting on that feedback. A couple of months ago, we launched the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard. This is the national dashboard tracking case proliferation and the mitigation strategies that are happening. We have hundreds of millions of students that are impacted by the schools already participating. We just got off a webinar with several superintendents from around the country about the next phase of this project, which is going to allow districts to contextualize their information. They’re going to be able to see how they are doing compared to other districts. They have access to a lot of filters that will help them make better decisions about reopening or staying closed.

ASUG: Chelsie, what are the innovations Qualtrics is working on to address the challenges being experienced within the government sector?

Chelsie: Similar to what Omar was talking about, we’re very focused on helping governments get into the recovery phase of this pandemic. We are thinking a lot about the vaccine and some of the challenges that are going to be posed by that. The key thing that we’re seeing arise is that communities want to be able to reopen safely. They know that without achieving some sort of herd immunity, it’s going to be hard to reopen.

Then there’s a lack of trust, overall, in the vaccine right now. Qualtrics conducted a national study on this and found that 40% of American adults are saying they are unsure if they will take the vaccine or aren’t planning on taking it. The biggest concerns driving that mentality are the vaccine’s effectiveness, any adverse effects, and both state and local governments’ abilities to safely administer the vaccine.

Qualtrics can help those local entities be responsive to the needs of their community, to understand those needs, and then be able to administer the vaccine in a way that makes people feel safe and builds confidence for the next phases. Qualtrics is thinking about those in many different areas. One is administering the vaccine and helping governments do it effectively. This involves streamlining the process, allowing people to go online, schedule their appointments, and leveraging tools like QR codes. Throughout that entire process, we are helping our customers ask for feedback so they can quickly adjust if a poor experience is being delivered. We are also trying to keep it as simple as possible for the end users. We know that if we make things easier, people are more likely to engage with the process. Finally, Qualtrics is trying to make the solution as user-friendly and citizen-focused as possible. Rather than optimizing for compliance-based programs, we are encouraging governments to think about this from the citizen perspective.

ASUG: What are some of the common problems that are facing both the government and the education industries? How is Qualtrics working with those industries to try to fix those shared problems?

Chelsie: We’ve touched on this, but trusting in institutions is so vital. It’s important to connect the user experience to trust and understand that the interactions people have with institutions do impact their confidence in those institutions. If we’re not monitoring and understanding what those experiences are in the moments when they happen, it’s going to be hard to address those needs. Often, institutions take a point-in-time view where they conduct these big studies, six months later they produce a report, and then they try to use that to meet residents’ needs. The world is moving so fast now. I think COVID-19 has shown institutions that they need to be more agile and responsive. Qualtrics has been focused on helping government entities get feedback from their stakeholders, understand their needs, and then be able to take action on that data in a responsive fashion.

Omar: That’s true, Chelsie. These are two sectors that are often used for deep analysis. I had the school district superintendent of a large school system tell me they need to get out of the motions of yearly impact studies and conduct more frequent touches. That’s how the rest of the world works and how consumers are oriented. One big problem that COVID-19 is causing is enrollment losses. We’re seeing budget cuts in K-12 and higher education. We know this is disproportionately affecting low-income students and students with disabilities. That’s where that trust we’ve been talking about comes in: families need to trust that these institutions are going to keep their kids safe.

ASUG: Is Qualtrics using the feedback of these customers to improve the software? If so, how?

Omar: We are. Going back to what I was discussing earlier, we initially built these solutions in cooperation with higher education institutions. The solutions were built to meet not only their unique needs, but also their shared needs across the sector. I think in both government and education, we’ve been keeping our ears close to the ground for how those needs are evolving. The great thing about experience management is if you understand that concept, then you can run with it and accomplish your goals. Qualtrics is providing the base set of tools. People need to modify them for their specific situations. If there are some technical questions that we need to help them with, then we have lots of lines of communication to assist our customers.

Chelsie: Just to reiterate, it’s really because of that close partnership that we’ve had with so many of these institutions that we’ve even been able to build these solutions out. It’s thanks to a lot of those frontline workers and government agencies that have been at the tip of the spear dealing with this pandemic and the feedback that they’ve given us as to what their needs are. It’s been a big journey for us, and Qualtrics is thankful to all of them for their continued support and collaboration on this work.

Omar: They are the real innovators.

Want to see how the public sector and government entities are further utilizing Qualtrics and SAP products? Register for the ASUG Public Sector and Government Influence Council launch on Jan. 29, 12:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. CT. If you are an ASUG volunteer, don’t miss the 2021 ASUG Volunteer Meeting to network with peers and hear what ASUG has in store for 2021. Register to attend the event on Jan. 22, 11:30 a.m. ET/10:30 a.m. CT.

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