Despite return-to-office safety, 49% of businesses have no plans to deploy digital contact tracing

A new worldwide study from Inpixon also found that 41% of respondents implemented safety solutions before December 2020.

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Image: iStock/kanyakits

With the distribution of the coronavirus vaccination, businesses around the globe and across different industries are prepping for a return to the on-site office, after many months of employees working from home. However, some companies are more prepared than others, according to a new study by Inpixon, "The State of Indoor Intelligence." Unsurprisingly, the report stated: "An organization's adaptability is a key determining factor to its success."

Participants in the survey were companies across North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific within technology, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, finance, education, healthcare, government, and other industries. Twenty-seven percent of the companies were 10,000 employees or more, and 27% were companies the size of 1 to 150 people.

"The Inpixon study asked about plans for deployment of digital contact tracing, meaning technology-facilitated tracing," said Nadir Ali, CEO of Inpixon. "The research did not inquire about traditional, interview-based contact tracing. Thus, the 49% of respondents stating they had no plans to deploy digital contact tracing may be planning traditional contact tracing."

Ali continued, "With digital contact tracing, if a staff member reports an infection, location technologies can then be used to help determine with whom that person was in contact, in order to do possible exposure notification, and also to identify the areas and assets that may need to be deep cleaned. There may be no need to shut down entire wings or buildings if there is evidence that the infected individual never ventured to some parts of the building."

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For COVID-19 responses for those returning to the office, organizational pandemic response teams at companies were primarily split between operations: Human resources and executive management teams. The survey found that businesses that want to address indoor tech needs are anxious to address multiple safety concerns at once, rather than incorporating multiple forms of tech. The report noted "There's also a preference for human resources (HRIS) systems, and industry-specific tech integrations (critical industry-specific companies included worker safety software for international compliance and low code productivity apps like MS Power and GoCanvas)."

"While traditional, interview-based contact tracing will uncover part of the history of paths taken, rooms visited, and people met with, digital tools can supplement where memories may fail," Ali said. "Digital contact tracing may mitigate some of the inherent challenges with traditional interview-based contact tracing--chiefly human errors or omissions which arise from a heavy reliance on personal memory."

Physical distancing is the primary focus of organizational safety. Only 26% of companies have incorporated some level of digital indoor mapping within parts of the business' facilities, and 19% said they have not. Digital indoor mapping is a popular deployment, as 16% of respondents have it throughout the entire office building and 12.5% in all buildings enterprise-wide.

Some of the basic, now-canon tenets of coronavirus prevention have already been deployed. The survey found that 46% have deployed physical distancing monitoring, and 37% plan to; 31% have deployed indoor digital contact tracing, and 26% plan to; 25% have deployed indoor traffic flow analytics, and 29% plan to; 13% have deployed intelligent indoor wayfinding, and 20% plan to; 27% have deployed HVAC automation, and 19% plan to; 22% have deployed automated hygiene alerts, and 20% plan to, and 23% have not deployed any safety measures, and 38% said they have no plans to deploy any.

The prospect of how proactive businesses are, or will be, aren't good. Businesses with no plans to deploy in the following areas (no plans were the highest percentage of the following choices--deployed prior to 2020, deployed in 2020, in process of deployment, plans to deploy in 2021): 41% indoor navigation and wayfinding, 33% in asset tracking, 43% wireless device detection, 49% digital contact tracing, 46% location-aware employee application, 29% business intelligence, 41% population flow analytics within buildings, 46% outdoor-indoor navigation, 47% geofencing, 44% location sharing through location-aware application, 42% proximity messaging, 69% smart parking, 35% building energy efficiency.

Businesses look for geographic information systems (GIS, a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data) integrations with larger company platforms: Google and Microsoft in particular with 68% and 56%, respectively. Yet, the largest percentage of those polled, 29% said GIS tech is not important, with only 16% saying it's "critical" and 16% saying it's "very important."

Indoor intelligence

Inpixon's survey reported that businesses need to build resiliency through actionable insights. The report focuses on "indoor intelligence," which is key to transforming the ways people interact with the "built environment." It is "created by leveraging algorithms and machine learning to convert raw data into actionable insights. It can be helpful to consider it as the convergence of several key elements: Advanced indoor maps; precise indoor positioning; indoor analytics; and building and data security.

At the base of indoor intelligence are location data collection, contextualization, and analysis. Seventy-four percent of respondents are using indoor intelligence in their organizations, but only 38% believe their employees are aware of indoor tech and its benefits.

The enterprise is neither very anxious or opposed to indoor intelligence. Asked if the pandemic accelerated timelines for indoor intelligence solutions (IIS) tech initiatives, 23% said they strongly agree, 25% said they somewhat agree, 33% were neutral, 11% disagreed and 6% strongly disagreed.

The importance of where IIS should be: 34% said cloud-based, 30% said hybrid, 19% said no preference, and 17% said on premises. A resounding 81% believe IIS are important to remain competitive in their industries. IIS are being used: 42% in customer-facing solutions; 36% employee-focused solutions; 49% organizational operations improvement, and 27% don't use them. The most common reasons for hesitation is due to pricing (51%), privacy (47%), and lack of understanding (41%).

Inpixon predictions

  • The ability to pivot with indoor technologies in guaranteeing safety of customers and employees is critical for businesses looking to rapidly open in Q3/Q4 2021.
  • If organizations decide to delay and continue to be short-sighted in deploying tech to make indoor spaces safer, they won't be able to focus on leadership and strategy and are going to be stuck with technical debt and employee attrition.
  • COVID-19 will not be ignored or put in a corner--leaders and company operations departments need to fully focus on raising awareness and educating their employees on the benefits of the prevention and safety solutions.
  • Inpixon predicts that "detrimental delays and roadblocks that put safety initiatives at great risk" will occur because of miscommunications and misunderstandings, notably around privacy concerns. 

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...