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Contact tracing: How communications technology keeps offices safe

Ring Central Blog

Written by Dwight Moore

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As businesses, schools, and other organizations start to re-open and people return to their offices and campuses, IT leaders must prepare for a worst-case scenario. 

For many, that means introducing contact tracing technology to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the event of an outbreak.

The need for contact tracing

While vaccines may become available early next year, no one knows how effective they will be, according to Dr. Michael Mina, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard University. As a result, organizations must prepare for COVID-19 infections to continue to spread in 2021 and possibly into 2022.

The upshot: organizations must have a plan in place to keep people safe as they reopen, but they must also develop a Plan B in case things go awry and people get infected by the virus—and that includes shutting down again and deploying a contact tracing system.

“As we learn more about this infection, we recognize how important age-old tools of the trade—things like tracking down who’s infectious and who they may have infected—and controlling the virus through those means can be very effective,” Mina said.   

How to implement contact tracing

Contact tracing historically has been the domain of public health departments, but because they’re currently stretched thin, businesses and universities have begun taking matters into their own hands. In fact, 82% of participants in a recent webinar have implemented contact tracing, and the other 18% plan to do so.  

Universities, for example, have deployed contact tracing mobile apps that use GPS and Bluetooth technology to track students and staff. Health and location data is anonymized until someone receives a positive COVID-19 test result. 

In the case of a positive result, school officials can de-anonymize the data and notify those who came in close contact and have them undergo quarantine protocols.

Some restaurants are taking action, too. If a customer or worker tests positive for COVID-19, the restaurant has a list of phone numbers to call people who may have been exposed to the virus.

Mina strongly recommends that organizations quickly notify their local health department of infections so they can get involved with contact tracing. “That would be a tremendous boon to controlling it quickly,” he said.

RingCentral’s solutions for contact tracing

Most organizations today rely on manual processes when more automation is needed to make the contact-tracing process more efficient.

RingCentral offers two cloud-based solutions that allow IT departments to deploy fast and efficient contact tracing. RingCentral’s contact center and unified communications technology not only automates manual contact tracing tasks but also quickly scales to meet massive contact tracing requirements.

One critical feature of RingCentral’s solutions is a dialer that manages a list of contacts and automatically calls or sends SMS messages. When a person picks up a phone call, the system can immediately hand the call off to a contact tracer for a live conversation. The result is a huge increase in productivity.

“When a human is making calls, he’s spending 75% of the time dialing, listening to the dial tone and the ringing, whereas with a dialer, the computer system dials for you. They’re now spending 75% of their time talking to people, so it’s a huge difference,” said Max Ball, Director of Product Marketing at RingCentral.

The unified communications app gives contact tracers the flexibility to work from home, the office, or on the road. They can start a call on a mobile phone and seamlessly switch to an office phone. Another benefit is the ability to seamlessly escalate a phone call to a video conference if a more personal touch is necessary.

“These are tools that make communications faster, more efficient, and more intelligent,” Ball said.

For more information on contact tracing best practices and RingCentral’s solutions, visit ringcentral.com/contact-tracing.

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