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Successful contact tracing: Setting up, scaling and advancing operations

This September, back-to-school conversations have involved not just parents and children but also government officials and medical professionals who are grappling with how to control the spread of COVID-19.

According to two recent studies, the key to a safe school year may not be something new, but something most of the country has been hearing about for some time – contact tracing.

As schools deal with the challenges of bringing students back and businesses roll out their return-to-office policies, contact tracing will become even more relevant. With states looking to increase and improve their contact-tracing operations, it’s important to understand how successful contact tracing centers work.

Setting up shop

The first decision states must make when starting or expanding their contact tracing operations is how the program will be managed. All contact tracing centers are the result of some level of collaboration between the private and public sectors. Some governments are choosing to handle the contact tracing operations in-house, while others are turning to business process outsourcers. BPOs come with deep contact center knowledge, and while they may not be experts in contact tracing, they have the experience with contact center software and customer-experience best practices that lead to efficient contact tracing operations.

Those states wishing to maintain more hands-on control over the tracing process by keeping operations in-house can still leverage the private-sector’s experience and technology. In these collaborations, the states supply public health experience and regional awareness, and private companies bring the technology expertise to facilitate the call-center-like operations that enable contact tracing.

Baseline technology needs

The key technology requirement for a contact tracing center is efficient customer relationship management software. A CRM solution is typically used to record, report and analyze interactions between a company and its customers. For contact tracing it can gather and store patient data to make the program more effective.

Contact tracing centers should also implement a contact center as a service (CCaaS) platform to intelligently route contacts from all communication channels, connecting the tracers with the individuals they need to be in contact with. States can also take advantage of workforce optimization (WFO) software to help set up the tracing team for success via workforce planning, quality management and analytics capabilities.

Scaling operations

Staffing contact tracing centers is the first aspect of the operation that must be addressed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that states need 30 tracers for every 100,000 citizens. That tracer team will likely be made up of a hybrid force of health professionals, librarians and others who are skilled in sleuthing. But regardless of how a state or BPO chooses to staff the contact tracing center, it will need workforce management (WFM) software to forecast staffing needs and schedule the teams.

For most contact tracing centers, this means relying on the cloud. With the unpredictability of outbreaks, a cloud-based WFM platform gives contact tracing centers the flexibility to respond in real time to surges in COVID-19 cases through expandable and contractable software usage, as well as with dynamic intraday and weekly scheduling. As an added benefit, it can help simplify the management of a hybrid remote/on-site workforce. Since many contact tracing centers are working in a hybrid fashion, this flexibility is of chief importance.

Advancing tracer success

Contact tracing is challenging because personal information must be gathered from each interaction, often from people who are distressed, rushed for time or mistrustful of providing such information. Quality management software can help tracing agents more empathetically and efficiently collect the required information, as evaluating tracer-patient interactions shows where and which tracers need coaching. Automated quality management, infused with predictive analytics, provides scoring and insights for 100% of interactions, which expedites targeted training by more efficiently highlighting areas for improvement. Advanced WFM tools can, in turn, be used to automatically schedule such training for tracers and help accelerate their development.

Contact tracing is a sensitive issue. It relies on patient trust and tracers performing well in emotionally charged interactions. Quality management, analytics and WFM tools will drive better agent trainings, thereby creating more skilled agents, building a more engaging experience for patients and helping contact tracing gain a trustworthy reputation as whole.

Protecting data and maintaining public trust

At its core, contact tracing is about collecting data. As contact tracing operations are rolled out further, and more data is collected and stored, states and contact tracing centers must have reliable solutions to comply with data security standards.

When contact tracing centers use call recording or analytics software, they are interacting with personal identifiable information. And once a contact tracing center has a recording of an individual identifiable by name and a link to that person having COVID-19, the data becomes personal health information, and it must comply with HIPAA standards.

With many citizens already hesitant to share their data, it’s imperative that contact tracing centers be meticulous with their data protection. For example, recorded interactions between contact tracers and patients should be protected with automated protocols like end-to-end encryption, and software should come programmed with role-based permissions to protect patient information. A breach in data could result in a costly breach in public trust.

Most experts have been clear since the beginning – contact tracing is still the best defense we have against COVID-19. If contact tracing centers are going to be successful, they must be efficient, well-staffed, empathy-driven and conscientious of data

About the Author

Brad Snedeker is director, product marketing, with Calabrio.


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