When a Pandemic Accelerates Innovation: Testing and Assessment in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

By James Lee, Prometric

The onset of COVID-19 has had a seismic and persistent impact on the ways business is conducted. To meet the evolving needs and behaviors of customers, and to weather financial headwinds, businesses everywhere have been forced to adapt operations. For some companies, this also creates opportunities to accelerate innovation and address new realities of the market to emerge stronger in a forever-changed world.

When considering innovation, it is important not to limit it to a narrow definition. Innovation is more than software or technical products. It encapsulates developing and applying something new (i.e., products, services or processes) to create value. By doing so, innovation allows organizations to not only remain relevant, but to set the pace for what is possible in the future. Ultimately, there are three key areas where innovation can accelerate change during a pandemic: operational recovery, stakeholder communication and technical product development.

Applying Process Innovation in Operational Service Delivery

Since its inception, leaders in the assessment services industry have refined best practices for developing global networks of secure professional testing centers, candidate services centers of excellence and processes for successful program administration. However, some of these practices quickly became insufficient or obsolete in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restrictive stay-at-home orders necessitated the immediate closure of test centers, creating an unprecedented surge in candidate appointment cancellations. For example, Prometric’s candidate displacement rate immediately skyrocketed 3500% above our normal yearly rate in the first two months of the pandemic. The crisis also forced the immediate closure of global offices, including candidate contact centers, which limited the ability to provide crucial candidate services at a time of heightened need. 

This level of disruption has forced everyone to expand their thinking about exam administration services from primarily focusing on security to applying necessary health and safety practices. Standard processes require new, innovative best practices, such as altering candidate process flows to minimize person-to-person touchpoints, adding new requirements for protective equipment, and enhancing training, cleaning and auditing procedures to ensure compliance with regulations.  

Additionally, engaging outside experts to inspire new ways of thinking and enhance efforts and review operations models can aid in developing and introducing new policies, training procedures and candidate protocols.

As an example, Prometric engaged third-party experts, including leading infectious disease and epidemiology experts from Johns Hopkins University to visit test centers, evaluate our entire candidate journey and work with internal teams to develop and introduce new operational policies, training procedures and candidate protocols. These processes must be continuously optimized as new guidance, learnings and market feedback emerges.

Communication Innovations to Address Stakeholder Needs

In the ever-changing global pandemic environment, adopting new ways of communicating with stakeholders is critical. Traditional, established processes in most companies may not be capable of handling vital communications to various constituencies at the scale necessitated by pandemic conditions.

To address demand, repurposing current communication software or leveraging new tools can help handle mass email notifications for candidates, as well as offer detailed reporting data for test sponsors. Additionally, leveraging automated bot technologies can help effectively handle mass candidate inquiries for frequently asked questions.

To address test sponsor information requirements, organizations can repurpose webinar capabilities to provide a forum for periodic, executive-level Q&As and information sharing, create e-newsletters offering insight into operational status and organizational plans, and leverage social media as an engagement tool to answer questions and resolve test taker concerns. These solutions can help enhance stakeholder communication and confidence in a volatile environment where individuals are seeking clarity and certainty about testing options, and organizations and governmental bodies are striving to get qualified people into the workforce and re-energize their communities.

Technology and Product Innovation That Increase Program Access

The ability of test sponsors, working collaboratively with their test delivery partners, to provide timely, reliable access to their assessment programs is central to the assessment industry. For programs that rely on in-center computer testing as their primary administration modality, the pandemic has had significant, global impact on candidate access. In response, assessment companies need to evaluate current capabilities, review product roadmaps and shift capital investments to address the needs of the rapidly expanding market for secure remote assessment. Each market participant has to determine where best to accelerate innovation in order to satisfy their customers’ needs.

While the need for more delivery options for individuals and sponsoring organizations will develop, the choice of modality should not impact the quality, equity or reliability of the testing outcomes. There is a significant benefit for sponsoring organizations who can leverage the same advanced technologies developed for remotely-proctored assessments at in-center locations, and the data gathered from this larger candidate experience will contribute to the continued evolution of the assessment industry.

It is important to remain abreast of emerging technologies and trends impacting our industry to address candidate needs and changing behaviors. Today it is remote proctoring; tomorrow there will be new disruptors and advancements enabling anywhere, anytime testing.

Redefining Innovation and Preparing for the Future

As an interconnected society, individuals have been taking advantage of technological advancements to create personalized experiences in all aspects of their lives. This has been true in the assessment industry for some time now as well, and is why organizations must continue accelerating investments in an array of testing capabilities. The industry must meet individuals where they are.

This is only the beginning, and with the acceleration of technology and innovation expected in the months ahead, is your organization ready to adapt? As we continue to navigate our new normal, the decisions we make today will ultimately dictate the future. While this comes with some uncertainty, it also presents opportunities for the industry to further innovate. It is a tightrope to walk, but a necessary one, as it is clear there is no going back. This is an opportunity for reinvention for our industry and beyond.

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