CEO vision: A peek inside the business operations of International SOS

Image courtesy of International SOS

International SOS is the world’s largest medical and travel security services firm, which counts nearly two-thirds of the Fortune Global 500 companies as clients, and takes around 4 million assistance calls every year. Headquartered in Singapore, it has over 10,000 employees worldwide.

Juliana Gim is the Managing Director at International SOS Singapore, and has been with the company since 2013. In this interview, she explains how the organisation is weathering the COVID-19 storm while helping its clients globally, the rationale behind the launch of its blockchain-based ICC AOKpass app (a digital health passport), and how its business and IT operations have been affected by the pandemic.

What sort of collaboration and communication technology tools does International SOS use internally?

At International SOS, our teams use our own digital platform, New Case, to connect globally across 81 offices and 26 Assistance Centres, collaborate, and manage the 4.8 million calls we receive annually.

The platform allows each Assistance Centre to connect with each other instantly and assign critical tasks when managing their cases. In most scenarios, the cases we manage require the involvement of more than 1 Assistance Centre. For example, a Singaporean working in China for an organisation whose headquarters are in the United States will require timely support and coordination from 2 Assistance Centres. To keep our clients promptly updated, the Assistance Centre in China will be focused on assisting the Singaporean who is in need of support, while the Assistance Centre in the United States will be updating the organisation’s Authorised Personnel on the latest progress of the case.

During a medical evacuation, Assistance Centres at the origin and destination countries, and in some cases, transit countries are activated. The International SOS proprietary digital platform allows for seamless speedy collaboration across borders while protecting the privacy of the individual’s personal data in the system. All the Assistance Centres who are involved in the case management and medical evacuation will work concurrently with a common objective and clear roles and responsibilities to enable a successful mission.

When global health, environmental and security threats occur, our key offices use a web-based platform, International SOS Enterprise Health Security Centre, which gives our management an instant overview of the impact on our assets. With readily available communication tools and updated policies, procedures and templates, our site managers can effectively activate their business continuity plans and manage these crises expediently. They can also use the readily available reporting tools and resources to communicate to our affected employees and report the situation to the Executive Management Committee.

We also use the International SOS Tracker to support our employees when they are in a medical or security incident, or a higher-risk environment. The Tracker offers real-time employee tracking (on an opt-in basis), so that our Command Centre can send proactive alerts to all employees who might be affected by a catastrophic event.

These integrated communication tools enable easy access, transparency and collaboration across all teams and offices within our organisation. They have greatly helped to strengthen our workforce resilience as we are now faced with not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also other medical and security incidents that have introduced new layers of complexity in our crisis management plans. With these tools, we have seen positive results on how our domestic and mobile workforces have been able to collaborate, share information almost instantly across all devices, and improve how we work together.

How has the International SOS business model shifted or adapted to the COVID-19 era?

International SOS is in the business of workforce resilience – protecting our clients’ domestic and mobile employees from health and security threats, anywhere and anytime.

Workforce resilience has always been an important enabler of successful businesses, as we have observed in supporting our clients. What has shifted with the onset of COVID-19 is that businesses further recognise the critical need to accelerate their workforce resilience efforts.

We have found through supporting our clients that a holistic workforce resilience programme should focus on prevention, protection and support. Our medical and security experts are working with many governments and organisations across various industries on tailored workforce resilience programmes for their domestic employees, international assignees and travellers that address needs around returning to work/operations, return to travel, evacuation and repatriation, and implementing COVID-19 surveillance programmes to track and plan for potential resurgence of COVID-19.

Many of our clients’ employees are also seeking our support for outpatient and inpatient hospital appointments as such tasks have proven to be more challenging during these unprecedented times, especially in countries where the healthcare system is overwhelmed.

With continued uncertainty about how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect remote or hybrid working arrangements, we are supporting businesses with the management of mental health strategies, training programmes and a 24/7 remote access to confidential emotional counselling support, to ensure their employees can better adjust to the new normal.

Through this pandemic and beyond, most organisations have realised that they must always be prepared for major and routine health and security threats that can impact employees’ lives, and consequently their business operations. A balanced approach to such layered risks that takes into account the needs of employees and the business is crucial.

What are the types of tracking and communications tools that International SOS has developed and is using to help clients keep the travelling workforce safe and secure?

The way we travel going forward requires a lot more planning and risk management for our safety and well-being. Organisations realise the urgent need to thoroughly review and implement policies and procedures that can help ensure their travellers and international assignees adopt due diligence when assessing the risks associated with their travel destinations, be certain their travelling workforce is being taken care of in the event of an overseas medical or security incident, and be prepared to provide the much needed support when travellers are symptomatic upon their return.

To help our clients assess the potential risks of their planned trips, our medical and security experts developed a COVID-19 country score card, which includes medical risk factors like infection rates and assessment of the medical infrastructure, security risks like xenophobia and social unrest exacerbated by the local COVID-19 situation, as well as travel restrictions.

We provide our clients with the International SOS Assistance App to equip global business travellers, international assignees and even domestic travelling employees, with round-the-clock medical and security risk updates, alerts and advice for their locations. The mobile workforce can also use the Assistance App to call our medical and security team for advice and assistance, anytime and anywhere.

The Assistance App integrates with our Tracker tool, which was the first to launch in the market. Tracker offers real-time employee tracking, on-demand and insightful reports and multi-modal communication with our clients’ workforce. This allows our clients to plan and act immediately in the event of a crisis or to simply arm their people with information that will keep them healthy, safe and secure.

Should the unthinkable happen, we make it as easy as possible for our clients and their employees to reach out to International SOS through our ‘patient first’ philosophy. We handle all the aspects surrounding hospitalisations or evacuations, not only in terms of medical and security support, but also all the necessary logistics and communications assistance.

Tracker prepares employees before their journey too as it sends out a pre-travel email with destination-specific health and safety advice, cultural tips, vaccination requirements and other helpful information. If there is a change to the health or security advice, travellers are alerted immediately with an automated email.

These monitoring and communication tools ensure that our clients and their employees stay informed and supported, while being compliant with the strict Data Protection and Information Security policies.

International SOS has also been very active in working with partners to develop advanced digital technology to ease travel. One recent collaboration is with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), where we launched the ICC AOKpass mobile app that allows users to instantly verify their COVID-19 compliance status, 24/7 anywhere in the world.

What are the sort of telehealth and teleconsultation services used by International SOS?

Through our 26 Assistance Centres globally, we provide 24/7 access to our clients’ managers and employees to call us for tactical advice for any health and security concerns, especially if they are unfamiliar with the local medical infrastructure, security environment and language. Our medical teams in the Assistance Centres will assess the caller’s medical condition and arrange for TeleConsultation where appropriate, where a local licensed doctor will further evaluate the caller through video, issue the necessary medical prescription and arrange for the medication to be delivered to their doorstep.

By connecting directly with one of our medical professionals and security experts via phone or video, our remote assistance service offers more convenience and saves time and costs for both employees and employers. With the spread of COVID-19 in some locations, our service also helps to minimise risks of unnecessary exposure to COVID-19.

Since the pandemic, we have experienced a more than four-fold increase in our TeleConsultation case volumes. Many more businesses saw the need to support their domestic workforces and international assignees who have stayed in their assigned location.

Recognising the impact of the pandemic on mental health, it is crucial for organisations to pay attention not just to employees’ physical health and safety, but also their emotional and mental wellbeing. Through our partners, we offer emotional counselling service in over 60 languages to our clients’ domestic and mobile employees.

Complementing our remote assistance service, we also have “boots on the ground” in over 90 countries, including some of the most remote and challenging locations, to ensure our clients are always supported.

Please provide more details about the Digital Health Passports in which International SOS and the International Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to launch the ICC AOKpass?

As we worked with clients to plan for a return to business travel, it became apparent that the world lacks a common technical standard for Digital Health Passports. This technology would help ensure all medical and regulatory policies were adopted, while also making provisions for health data privacy.

To address this, we partnered with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to launch a mobile app called ICC AOKpass to help employees and businesses have a substantially safer, more efficient and controlled path to return to work. The app verifies users of their COVID-19 compliance status and other work-related vaccinations, while using blockchain technology to secure and verify users’ health information anytime, anywhere.

Leveraging International SOS’ trusted global network of over 90,000 accredited health providers and taking into consideration the medical and regulatory policies in each country, the ICC AOKpass thus functions as a standardised and adaptable Digital Health Passport. Our clients using the ICC AOKpass will have the confidence that COVID-19 testing and other work-related vaccinations that have been administered to their employees are from accredited providers, while their employees can travel across borders and to company operational sites more easily.

Earlier in July, we successfully completed a pilot test of the mobile app with a Singapore company Energy Drilling Management. The company needed a 10 strong crew to travel aboard an oil rig vessel to conduct drilling services for their client, PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP), in Thailand. All 10 personnel were screened with a PCR swab test and the results were verified by a doctor. Their medical results were saved on the crew’s individual AOKpass app and because they were from an accredited source and authenticated via the app, this gave the authorities assurance and facilitated a smooth entry to Songkhla Port Authority when they arrived in Thailand.

We were encouraged by the successful pilot of the app with Energy Drilling, as it provides an exciting look at how travel can resume against the backdrop of COVID-19. With our aim of implementing a trusted and standardised global system to facilitate a safe, secure and fast return to work across many industries, we truly believe that the widespread adoption of this app can achieve that.