ServiceNow is seeing strong demand for a lineup of free apps the company began offering last week that can help its customers – and any other government agency or company – manage emergency response workflows in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, a senior ServiceNow official said this week.

The four apps – available here for free through Sept. 30 – include: an emergency response operations app created by the State of Washington; an emergency outreach app to help companies connect with employees; an emergency self-report app through which employees can notify their companies if they are self-quarantined; and an emergency exposure app that helps employers identify other people who may have been exposed to an infected colleague.

“In this battle to flatten the COVID?19 curve, none of us is as smart as all of us,” said Bill McDermott, CEO of ServiceNow, when the free apps were announced last week. “These ServiceNow applications will enable emergency outreach, self?reporting and exposure management, which are precisely what organizations need to do right now to help people get through this crisis,” he said.

“ServiceNow is here to help customers whether on good days or bad days, whether it is a natural disaster or public health outbreak,” Jonathan Alboum, ServiceNow’s Principal Digital Strategist for the Federal Government, told MeriTalk this week.

Here’s an edited version of our conversation with Alboum, who served as CIO at the Agriculture Department and Associate CIO at the General Services Administration before landing his current gig.

MeriTalk: What’s driving ServiceNow’s decision to make the emergency response apps available to whoever can use them?

Alboum: We enable systems across organizations to work better together. And we know that unstructured collaboration that helps work happen in a normal setting is going to be much more complicated in an environment where we’re teleworking. For our nation to overcome the current crisis, government agencies that have direct impact need tools to be able to work very effectively and very quickly. So we put our platform capabilities to work and established these applications for agencies to use.

MeriTalk: Tell us more about the Washington State app…

Alboum: The State of Washington worked with our team to automate their Incident Management System. It’s all workflow driven, but very paper-based, and recognizing that COVID-19 was going to be impacting in that area, we began working with them a little bit ahead of that curve to automate these workloads. They’ve had success, and they wanted to share this application with the world. That was the first of the four applications to launch at the same time for emergency operations. It’s a really critical tool that agencies can use whether it’s this outbreak or some future emergency.

MeriTalk: Do I have to be a ServiceNow customer to get these?

Alboum: You don’t have to be a ServiceNow customer to be able to access these applications, these are available to customers and non-customers alike.

For the Federal government sphere, we operate a FedRAMP High, Impact Level 4 cloud. All of those applications can be downloaded into that environment. They’re also available for our customers that host their own ServiceNow instances on premise. And new customers are able to go to our website and find a link to how to establish an environment to download applications.

MeriTalk: Time is a crucial element in the current crisis, can the apps be used pretty quickly?

Alboum: Yes, we are talking about just a few days.

MeriTalk: What are you seeing in terms of demand for people coming in and doing just that?

Alboum: I don’t have exact numbers but I know that the demand is high. These are very popular inside and outside of government – the concept that we are automating emergency outreach for employers to connect with employees and vice versa through email or mobile devices, is quite useful.

That’s something people need in order to get their employees informed about current situations, the idea of being able to self-report if somebody has to go into quarantine, or if someone is able to come out of quarantine so they could resume working again. That’s an important concept for which a lot of organizations right now may have a very manual approach.

Another challenge is with virus exposure, where someone may test positive and have been in a government building. If you want to know where they were in that building or who might have been around them, the application we released connects with Office 365 meeting data and employee job location to help understand who might that person have come in contact with. As a result, those individuals can be notified so they can take appropriate actions. There is a lot of personal responsibility involved in this pandemic, and we’re helping with that. Those concepts are attractive to many organizations – both government and non-government – so we are seeing a lot of interest.

MeriTalk: Are there any other things in the pipeline that might provide similar help?

Alboum: Another thing I think is really interesting is we have established a suggestions portal for our customers to share ideas for workflows that they see opportunities around. That portal is attracting some pretty interesting ideas like employee shift management in order to achieve physical distancing. Another is pushing out information about locations that may be quarantined or closed, thus impacting facilities capabilities. Others involve dispatching cleaning and disinfecting services, tracking supplies, things like that.

On the workforce front, a lot of organizations have pivoted quickly to telework during the pandemic, and that involves a lot of practical issues like the use of loaner equipment for employees to take home. You could easily lose track of equipment that way, and in that situation you need to be able to track your assets.

I want to be very clear that we did not create apps around these, but these are ideas that are coming in from our customers and partners and we are sharing these around. These are ideas that people see as being very relevant to the current situation and I know our community is talking about them. I can’t tell you what’s going to come out of that exactly. At the present time we don’t have any immediate plans to build any of these, but our customers have the ability to create them, which demonstrates the great power of the ServiceNow platform.

MeriTalk: Is that portal public-facing, can anyone go in and take a look?

Alboum: Customers and partners can submit their suggestions here, but in order to contribute, the portal requires individuals to be registered as community users.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.