In the midst of the widespread fear and uncertainty that the Coronavirus outbreak has caused, something amazing is happening.
Around the world, and across the public and private sectors, individuals and organisations are working together to design technology solutions to slow the spread, alleviate suffering and provide support to those in need.
In times of crisis, we need innovative thinking and we need brilliant minds. The sheer pace and scale of the outbreak is pushing teams to create solutions rapidly and under intense pressure. Services that would usually be designed over multiple months and years are being spun up in just days.
It’s inspiring, humbling and incredibly motivating to see how the tech sector has risen to the challenge.
Technology and digital companies thrive on responding to social challenges and solving complex problems. But it’s not just the work of big companies - individuals from across the globe and from a wide variety of backgrounds are emerging to contribute their skills wherever they can.
How the tech sector is responding to coronavirus
These are just a few of the many examples of innovation we’ve seen this week alone:
- In the UK, a coalition of grassroots tech initiatives has come together to coordinate the supply of available tech talent in response to the Coronavirus.
- A symptoms checker app has been designed by doctors and scientists from King’s College London, Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals and Zoe Global Limited, a health technology company.
Doctors & scientists at @KingsCollegeLon and @GSTTnhs hospitals have designed an app to help the public monitor their #coronavirus symptoms and the spread of the virus in real-time - with the #data contributing to their own vital research👇https://t.co/mMkRginv5o— Velocitii Digital (@wearevelocitii) March 26, 2020
- An open-source hardware project has produced a prototype ventilator using 3D-printed parts and readily available, inexpensive materials – in just seven days. The project was spun up on Facebook and attracted participation from over 300 engineers, medical professionals and researchers.
- Even Fintech is rising to the challenge.
We should even applaud the work of the big tech companies, some of whom have made premium products and features available to all in a bid to support better remote working and mental wellbeing during isolation.
Before the crisis, there was a growing lack of trust in ‘big tech’ firms, largely over data privacy concerns. Now, those same companies are being seen as essential services that allow people to communicate and work together, facilitate collaboration across borders, provide up-to-the-minute news, and disseminate information at speed.
This Tech Nation blog post said it best: “And so, there are some positives that come out of this horrendous situation. One of those is the wide realisation that technology is for purpose, as well as profit. It always has been.”
Inspiring examples of innovation from the public sector
The public sector may not grab the headlines in the same way, but equally brilliant things are happening behind the scenes in the UK Civil Service to protect the welfare of citizens:
- The Cabinet Office has launched a WhatsApp service to keep citizens informed of official Coronavirus advice and information.
We’ve launched a new Coronavirus Information service on WhatsApp.— Cabinet Office (@cabinetofficeuk) March 26, 2020
Get official advice and information about #coronavirus directly from the government. Get started by WhatsApping ‘hi’ to 07860 064422.
🏠 Stay at home
🏥 Protect the NHS
❤️ Save lives pic.twitter.com/gDVRqhtilw
- GOV.UK has developed and launched a service to allow people to register as extremely vulnerable, in order to help local authorities provide food and support to those in need.
- Hackney council created an online map of support services in just 36 hours – and made the code available for other councils to reuse.
- NHSx, the Health Service’s digital transformation arm, and Public have launched TechForce19, a £500,000 competition calling on all innovators who can support the elderly, vulnerable and self-isolating during COVID-19.
- Data collected via the NHS’s 111 telephone service is to be mixed with other sources to help predict where ventilators, hospital beds, and medical staff will be most in need.
This is just a brief glimpse of the many initiatives happening in the UK alone.
We want to give a shout out to the teams and individuals in the civil service who have been pulled away from their busy day jobs, and in some cases their families, to work tirelessly on creating new services.
It’s been amazing to see that innovation is something that doesn’t have to happen slowly, methodically and in silos – it can happen at great pace, flourish under enormous pressure, and be the work of many.
The level of collaboration that’s taking place on a local and global level is unprecedented, and hopefully something that will continue even after the Coronavirus is a distant memory.