How tech firms are doing their bit in the battle against COVID-19

The Technology & Media industries have played a huge part in keeping the country going and in good spirits as we push our way through the challenges of lockdown whilst we await the very different new normal on the other side.

From enhancing the nation’s mental health with digital connectivity, free content, to helping millions of us adapt to working from home for an extended period of time. We can thank our technology industry for disrupting and improving past business models as we can continue to work, communicate, bank, learn, purchase and generally operate our businesses. Much of this would have been unthinkable as recently as the global financial crisis.

It’s heartening to see many tech and media businesses put their extensive powers of innovation and data tech skills at the service of the national effort to mitigate the effects or help develop a remedy for COVID-19.

Rainbird supports the NHS

Intelligent automation firm Rainbird has rapidly built an online interactive tool that provides tailored advice on appropriate self-isolation measures for NHS staff. ‘We responded to a call from the NHS and we built a solution that is able to tell members of staff and key workers, based on the rules around self-isolation, whether they should come to work.’

The tech giants weigh in

Facebook, has been working on generating heatmaps of the outbreak by surveying users. The survey, part of a coronavirus research project conducted by Carnegie Mellon University to analyse the spread of COVID-19, will support the efficient allocation of medical resources to areas of greatest need.

Healthtech on the front line

The UK’s highly skilled and funded healthtech sector has been front and centre of the business response to COVID-19. "Over the last month the UK’s healthtech sector has shown why it is a global leader, quickly using its expertise to develop practical solutions to help the government and the NHS with innovative products and services to respond to those in need." says Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital. ‘We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the start-ups and tech companies that have switched their entire focus to backing the national effort to tackle this health crisis.’

Innovation has been rapidly accelerated by necessity, and tiny start-ups and modestly resourced scale-ups are pitching in alongside public bodies and tech giants united by a common cause.

Oxford Nanopore Technologies has made its sequencing products available worldwide, to help with scientific understanding of the genetic epidemiology of the virus. AccuRx, which is already used by GPs to text patients, developed a video consultation product in a weekend that is already been widely used by surgeries for online appointments. Medopad is working with Imperial College and John Hopkins University on a remote patient monitoring platform for chronically ill patients and the vulnerable. Triscribe is shifting its analytics capabilities to track drug use and medicine stocks. Temporary staff platforms like Patchwork Health and OnCare have been made freely available to NHS Trust and care providers.

The mother of invention

The pandemic has also inspired a series of inventions, often inspired by medical professionals and scientists working in concert with technologists and industrial designers.

Concerned at a lack of ICU ventilators, Dr Rhys Thomas, from Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen, Wales, developed an easily constructed emergency ventilator that can support patients’ breathing and help clean viral particles from the ambient atmosphere. Alongside engineers CR Clark & Co, the simple machine can help keep patients out of intensive care. Patients can use it themselves, freeing up nurses to prioritise patients in greater need.

‘It shows that Wales, as a small nation, can get things done quickly as we face the biggest challenge of our generation,’ said Plaid Cyru leader Adam Price.

Riding out the virus and getting back to work

No one would regard COVID-19 as an opportunity, but restarting the economy will be key to getting the country back on its feet, and it is heartening to see signs of positive activity and recovery in any sector. Within tech and media, our experiences are likely to inform the next wave of disruption. Some subsectors will be propelled forward in a way not contemplated only a few weeks ago.  Industry-leading videoconferencing, fintech, edtech and ecommerce companies are identifying new opportunities and building appealing cases for lenders and investors, who have been quick to publicise their continued willingness to back good businesses.

My expectation is that the realisation, in all sectors, of how quickly workforces and their leaders can learn, adapt and innovate, will inspire a new generation of start-ups. Many will be guided by what did not go so well in their transition to home working in the knowledge that it is now here to stay.

There are significant opportunities for gaming, VR, e-sports and other virtual entertainment businesses, whose popularity is soaring.  Similarly, the owners of high-quality media assets will find this content in much stronger demand as live productions remain on hold, the inevitable COVID-19 fatigue replaces Brexit fatigue on the news channels, as time accumulates across age groups and households. Disney+ UK launched on 24 March with perfect timing; reaching more than 54million subscribers worldwide.

I would urge our great technology and media businesses to focus on their KPIs (in particular cash, work in progress and production spend), continue to make full use of government support, communicate regularly and insightfully with clients rather than becoming internally focussed, and reach out for help when needed.

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