COVID-19: Why behavior analytics can be a useful tool for employers

Behavior analytics on employees looks to uncover workers' true feelings and productivity while adjusting to remote work.

COVID-19: Why behavior analytics can be a useful tool for employers
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TechRepublic's Karen Roby talked with Brian Berns, CEO of Knoa, which provides on-premise and cloud-based user experience management software, about the benefits of behavior analytics during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

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Brian Berns: What we do is, we're a New York-based software company, and we work with the largest organizations in the world, actually, from GE to Unilever, to the big pharmaceuticals, distribution companies, literally around the world. What we offer is called behavioral analytics for enterprise applications. We understand how employees interact with these large systems. I'll give you an analogy: Online shopping. We all know that when we go onto a website, e-commerce, our behavior is tracked. Obviously, they know what we put in our cart and they make recommendations, but all the behavior is tracked, what pages are you on, how long you spent on the page, because they want to promote a transaction.

Now, let's look at the corporate side: You have these operational systems that literally run these companies: Shipping and billing and inventory and HR and accounting and finance, customer support. And what happened is overnight, you had what, 300 million people working from home? These people are responsible for the operational side of that business. So the question is, were these systems optimized for remote access? Do they work the same way at home as they do in the office? How would you know that? Well, just like the e-commerce vendors know what's going on on their websites, we give companies insight into the behavior of their employees with these systems. 

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If you think about it, if someone's sitting in front of a screen, six to eight hours a day, that's really their work environment. And they could be tracking a shipment or placing an order, whatever it might be. We have a window into what happened over the past several weeks. Initially employees were directed to work from home, and we have the graphs, we have the charts, we saw the behavior, and we saw some companies were prepared much better than others. We saw there was conductivity, everyone was working, more or less, at the same rate that they were before.

Other companies were not as prepared. And we saw--we have the charts--we saw significant decrease in the users interacting with the software and we saw the IT organization scramble, they got everyone connected. Fantastic. Now they're connected; what's the next question? Are they able to function efficiently, effectively? How do they know? And if you think about companies with tens of thousands of employees, this is a big concern because the companies need to function. We have one customer with a pharmacy--they have thousands of pharmacies. You think about overnight, they had to deal with ordering, they had to deal with inventory. The mix of products is different now. How do you deal with customer orders? Not only do they have to get their normal operational systems functioning, they had to adapt to the new reality. And how do you do that? That's what we do.

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I could tell you, for example, some very simple, basic things: I could say, when I was in the office, it took me 15 screens, 15 steps to ship a product, right? I had to check inventory, see if my customer had credit, look at the shipper, etc. And then you look and you say, "Wait, working from home, it took me twice as many screens and twice as much time. So what happened? Where was the bottleneck?" And multiply that times a thousand employees who were doing shipping or 20,000 employees on the operational side of the business. What we do is we have insight, I could tell you where the bottlenecks are in terms of the workflow and efficiencies.

Another example are error messages. What happened is IT is scrambling to connect the employees, the help desk people are helping IT. Who's manning the help desk? I have a problem, and I want to call someone. You've got 20,000, 30,000 employees. You're not going to get anyone on the phone, but employees are having a challenge. I could tell you where the errors are, if they're user errors or system errors, I could tell you which group is most highly impacted, by geography, by the functional area they're in, shipping or accounting, whatever it might be, by any sort of parameter metric that you like. And then you can triage, you could say, "Wow, this error's affecting 2,000 people, that's a priority."

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That's what we do, we have tremendous insight into the behavior that's affecting these companies, and this is not a short-term challenge, right? Because you don't have immediate feedback from your employees, and you may have a team call, people may be more or less open on these calls. It may not be the right environment for them to raise their hand and say, "Hey, I'm having a real problem here." Also on the human side, we can see if teams are struggling.

Karen Roby: People just had to pivot so quickly to this new way of living and working and just the toll, I think, that it takes emotionally, mentally, on employees, it can be pretty tough.

Brian Berns: Certainly if the employees are receiving a lot of errors, if the employees aren't working efficiently because the software is clunky, that impacts morale as well. Nowadays, we don't need any more frustration than we have in our lives. People have different work environments. You can be in an apartment with your children, trying to find some quiet place to work, or you can be in an apartment by yourself, and you have minimal interaction, that also has its associated challenges, and companies need to address employees' concerns. And so let's first identify the performance issues and then we can see if employees really are having challenges.

An interesting, sort of a complimentary service, would be surveys. Surveys are very popular now. You send out surveys to your employees and you try to get a sense of morale and you may send five pictures of people, and you say, "Which picture matches your mood today?" You could see the level of frustration or morale is decreasing. As a manager, what do you do? First, we want to find the root cause, you will look at the software they're using or other systems, they're having a challenge, well, that impacts morale. It could be a group or a team you say, "OK, there's something common to that team that's impacting morale." And then you can decide how to address that. It could be additional training, it could be more intense communication with their managers, it could be extracurricular, let's have remote yoga or HR can offer mental health services as well.

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This is a circular process because once you prescribe the solution of the list I just went through, then you look at the performance after the service you provide. Did it improve morale? Are people functioning more effectively? Because I think that, look, everyone's in a challenging environment. I think certainly people will feel more positive energy if they're able to be productive than if they're being frustrated. That's what we do. We give insight into efficiencies of the operation to improve efficiencies, like a user interface or workflow. We can identify errors to supplement the help desk and we can have a sense of adoption engagement of your employees. Are they engaged? If they're not, then let's see if we can address that through a variety of means.

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Karen Roby talks with Brian Berns, CEO of Knoa, which provides on-premise and cloud-based user experience management software, about the benefits of behavior analytics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image: Mackenzie Burke