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Building resiliency: Greater Phoenix companies and communities adapted quickly during the pandemic

A GPEC Ambassador event

COVID-19 altered the way businesses operate, but many in Greater Phoenix managed to adapt and even grow.

Recently, we hosted a virtual Ambassador event centered on building resiliency in these challenging times. Four local leaders shared how their organizations’ quickly adjusted operations and adapted in a way that allowed them to succeed in the midst of a pandemic.

“COVID-19 has really made those things [resiliency] be a necessity,” said David Higginson, chief operating officer at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “I’m so amazed at how people can adjust and adapt when they really have to.”

Additional panelists include:

Albert Ko, CEO, Early Warning Services

John Zanni, CEO, Acronis SCS

Patrick Banger, City Manager, Town of Gilbert

In addition to changing operations during the pandemic, these organizations have addressed diversity, equity and inclusion internally over recent months.

Here is a look at how leaders in FinTech, cyber, city management and healthcare showed resiliency in the face of unprecedented times.

How Phoenix Children’s Hospital implemented telehealth

Phoenix Children’s Hospital considered implementing Telehealth measures in the past, but it didn’t seem feasible for the patients with severe cases. The hospital focuses more on specialized care than primary care, so short phone calls didn’t seem logical.

In February, hospital leaders recognized change would be necessary. In March, it was clear many patients would not be able to come for an in-person visit in April.

Higginson was told he had days to put together a comprehensive Telehealth program that would be a first-class experience for his patients whose conditions did not require hospitalization.

“In 10 days, we had a system in place, fully integrated with our EMR [Electronic Medical Records], an app for our patients, and we were seeing about 60% of our patients – that’s nearly 1,000 appointments a day, with 600 doctors — via telehealth,” Higginson said. “That was all driven by our need to be resilient and be able to keep seeing our patients no matter what.”

In April, the majority of cases came via Telehealth calls. The hospital believes this program has a “great deal of staying power.”

The hospital also put together a rapid-response texting application allowing results to be sent within 30 minutes. Patients don’t have to wait days for labs or navigate phone trees to hear a response. Development for this product took two weeks and was ready in April.

Phoenix Children’s also found a way to allow loved ones to check in on patients while being restricted from visiting in-person.

“We rolled out a system that we had in our neonatal intensive care unit for premature babies,” Higginson said.

Over a six-week period, every bed in the hospital was equipped with a camera on the inpatient side that allows friends and family to interact with the patient from afar, night or day.

“We see hundreds of connections every day,’ Higginson said. “We think we’re the only hospital in the country doing this.”

Additionally, some employees gathered to discuss industry terms used that are no longer appropriate. The hospital began changing some verbiage.

“That level of thought and understanding from line-level employees and their determination that they were going to hold each other accountable … this is not about some corporate HR person saying, ‘You shouldn’t do this, or you shouldn’t do that.’” Higginson said. “This is people who work there every day recognizing the industry needed to be changed in a subtle but important way.”

Early warning services sees changes in banking habits

Early Warning Services, a Scottsdale-based fintech company owned by seven banks, helps financial institutions open accounts, mitigate fraud and enable payments. They’re best known for launching Zelle, which is projected to finish 2020 with more than a billion transactions and half a trillion dollars moved.

“Any time you deposit a check or open an account at a bank, there’s a very good chance that our technology is helping to identify you are who you say you are,” Ko said.

Data collected by Early Warning Services shows statistics that indicate how the world is changing in subtle ways.

Early in the pandemic, there was a 60% increase in people splitting grocery costs in a multitude of ways, including shopping for elderly to help them avoid public spaces. Utility costs are split 20% more often than in the past.

The company has seen a major change in banking and spending habits among U.S. residents.

Prior to the pandemic, about 80% of bank accounts in the country were opened by a person walking through the front door of a bank. That’s the opposite of how people in many other countries do it. But this pandemic has forced Americans to adapt.

Now, that 80/20 split has been inverted, and people have begun to open bank accounts without leaving their homes.

“It doesn’t take an expert to say it will probably never go back to the old way,” Ko said. “Securing your identity, securing who you say you are, funding that account becomes ever more important, and we play a very important role in all of that.”

Even payments have become electronic more often than in the past. People have turned away from cash in favor of credit and debit cards. Ko said 45% of people have changed banking habits, with cell phone usage becoming more predominant in payments.

“All of these things that institutions need to do … requires a better risk management system,” Ko said.

Perhaps most notably, charitable giving has increased by 150%. There were five times as many charitable requests in June than Early Warning Services processed in all of 2019, he said.

These came as protests for racial equality picked up around the country. Ko said donations were made not just to organizations that focused on racial equality, but others including food banks. Early Warning Services doubled their charitable matches and created a dialogue space through a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) council.

“We have seen so much good engagement and it’s actually brought our company together even though there was some dialogue and some debate even within that mirrors society. At the end of the day, that’s how we as leaders bring things together,” Ko said.

The 1,100-person company began working remotely at the beginning of March. That has not halted its progress.

“More than 10% of our workforce has been hired since COVID,” Ko said. “It’s pretty crazy, but in terms of business continuity and in terms of employee productivity, we actually have not seen a deterioration.”

Acronis SCS: Cybersecurity is more important than ever

Like personal protection, cybersecurity has become all the more important in 2020.

Zanni, CEO of Scottsdale-based edge data security and cyber protection company Acronis SCS, likened it to personal hygiene and keeping your own body healthy.

Zanni explained that a person goes through five phases to protect him or herself from sickness:

  1. Prevention: Vaccination and good hygiene
  2. Detection: Tests
  3. Response: Medicine
  4. Recovery: Surgery and other procedures
  5. Forensics: Research and pathogen study

Those same five categories are used for cybersecurity. There’s prevention in patch management and backup data protection, detection into finding threat and filtering URLs, response using malware blocks, recovery in quick restoration and finally forensics with incident investigations with backups for storage.

Programs like Zoom and WebEx were originally not intended to run without an IT administration monitoring the network, but with remote employees, they were forced to alter their own security.

“The massive move to the cloud and remote work by individuals, companies, agencies in the last six months has been unprecedented. In my 30-some years in the technology space, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Zanni said.

Yet there is a trend of people failing to take cybersecurity seriously, the Verizon Mobile Security Index 2020 shows.

“Thirty-six percent [of people] admitted they sacrificed mobile security to get the job done. How many times have you gone to Gmail or Hotmail or because your corporate email was down? That’s very bad and increases risks,” Zanni said. “There’s been a significant increase of sensitive data on personal devices.”

Acronis SCS has made a concerted effort to encourage more people to strengthen their network security, even when it’s an inconvenience.

“We all, I hope, have a lock on our door, on our house and take the trouble of pulling out the keys and unlocking our door,” he said. “Think about recycling. For me, today, if I took a can and threw it in the regular trash, I feel really, really uncomfortable … that took 20 years to train that into us, to recycle and make it a natural activity. We need to do this with cybersecurity.”

When it comes to DEI, one-way Acronis SCS has taken action is to promote diversity and equity by reviewing its hiring practices and intentionally recruiting employees from a wider range of backgrounds, Zanni said.

“You make sure that the candidates you go source are from a lot of different areas so that you can get the right blend of veterans, of women, of people of color, so that you still get to pick the best of the best, but you also end up with a very diverse organization,” he said.

Town of Gilbert had a pandemic plan

In July, the Town of Gilbert was recognized with the Sharman Stein Award for Storytelling Changemakers for its expanded public communication in the face of COVID-19 and protests over social injustice.

Last week, they were announced a winner of the Government Technology Magazine’s City Government Experience – COVID-19 Response award.

The Town posted video updates from the mayor, conducted public surveys, created a COVID-19 dashboard and promoted their 24/7 social media monitoring that, over the last six months, has had almost 23 million impressions and 1.4 million engagements.

“Nothing is more critical to effective governance than the trust of its residents,” Banger said. “If your residents and your community does not trust the intentions and the actions of the government, then you don’t have legitimacy.”

The municipality was able to provide quick response to the pandemic because they came in with a plan.

The Town had a small pandemic response team and emergency response center. Not everything went right, as this was the first real-life implementation of the plan, but those early ideas created a guideline for the response that was rolled out by the town.

“I give all my credit to our employees, I’ve never been more proud to be part this organization and work with people I do and serve with the elected officials I do. They made everything possible in a very challenging time,” Banger said.

As leadership realized the original optimism of reopening and returning to normal within 90 days was unrealistic, four different teams were put together to help those in need and be proactive with future plans.

  1. Business support
  2. Workforce safety, developing reopening plan
  3. Innovation and evolution of government
  4. Expense tracking and recovery

As these changes have taken place, the Town of Gilbert has continued its biannual engagement surveys to help leaders create a dialogue to make government offices as open as possible to employees.

“We have kicked off an organization-wide goal this year around diversity, equity and inclusion to really invest in the city further and understand at the individual level as much as possible, what are some things we need to do so as an organization so that our employee feel like this is the right place for them,” Banger said.

While coronavirus has impacted Gilbert like it has every other locality, the community managed to adapt and create a new normal during a period in which nothing is as it usually is.

“If there is a silver lining to this really terrible moment in time, we’re going through is the forced disruption and innovation approach that we had to take to things — not because we wanted to, but because we had to,” Banger said.

As a GPEC investor, people and businesses are joining private sector and civic leaders who are dedicated to creating long-term economic sustainability in the Greater Phoenix region. To learn more about becoming an investor and joining our Ambassador program, please visit our dedicated webpage or contact Nicole Buratovich, GPEC’s Senior Director of Investment Strategy & Engagement at