Published: March 31, 2020


Ensuring that organizations worldwide can quickly enable durable digital capabilities for their workforces, partners and customers has become more important than ever amid the current coronavirus pandemic. Modern digital platforms, tools, and devices that leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), distributed ledger technology (DLT) and Internet of Things (IoT), among others, can all be marshalled to improve the overall digital experience within and beyond organizations, as physical distancing becomes a global phenomenon.

The 451 Take

The importance of having real-time information that we can trust, feeling safe about the goods we purchase, and getting what we need as easily as possible without wasting time and resources has been highlighted by COVID-19. Removing long-standing inefficiencies, automating and democratizing trust, and creating new business models are just some of the opportunities that emerging technologies can enable to help us respond to this crisis. There are many emerging technology areas that can assist us in managing the adversities of this pandemic more effectively, and there are skilled IT professionals working remotely but collaboratively that may be able to help individuals and organizations address specific pain points. Technology vendors and service providers have an opportunity to support customers and partners with maintaining business continuity, as well as a social responsibility to help us all find our way through this and prepare for the new normal.


Trusting Data and Reducing Product Fraud

Having access to trusted data when we need it is essential – and not only in times of crisis. Today's healthcare system, in particular, suffers from the problem of siloed, centralized and often conflicting data. Electronic health records (EHRs) have done little to improve the fragmented nature of the healthcare system's data, given that each stakeholder keeps its own records and there's little exchange between them. As with other health data, sharing clinical trial and genomic data in one place that researchers can access and analyze could ultimately help speed up personalized treatments and improve population health worldwide.

Key benefits of DLT include that consumers of information have a common view of the same data, know its provenance, and know that it has not been altered or manipulated. Atlanta-based blockchain specialist startup Acoer is leveraging Hedera Hashgraph's ledger for its newly launched coronavirus tracker and visualization tool. This application collates data from different vetted sources and combines it into a single and continuously updated source of truth. In addition to having vetted data in one place, AI can help with identifying patterns and predicting what may happen next. Google's Kaggle has launched datasets to predict the factors that impact the transmission rate of COVID-19.

Beyond the problem of conflicting, fake or unavailable data, being able to trace where specific products (e.g., medical supplies) are and where they came from, to make sure they are genuine, is also critical. Drug traceability is an area where blockchain technology can be used to address the problem of counterfeiting by making counterfeit drugs harder to 'sneak' into the system and facilitating medicine recalls. This is also applicable to other medical supplies, such as gloves, gowns and bandages, that may go missing or may not be authentic. SAP's Information Collaboration Hub for Life Science, which leverages blockchain technology, is an offering that has been purpose-built to protect against counterfeit and fraud, and to comply with regulations, among other things. EY, in particular, has put its EY OpsChain platform into action to address traceability use cases across the food and beverage and healthcare industries, among others. One example is a project around tracing animal vaccines.

A number of technology companies have come up with blockchain-based offerings for tracking the spread of the coronavirus, donations, drugs and medical supplies. In China, mobile and online payment platform Alipay, together with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, has launched a blockchain-based platform for recording and tracking epidemic prevention materials, such as gloves, masks and other protective equipment.

The Role of Professional Services

From the data gathered in 451 Research's Voice of the Enterprise: Digital Pulse, Coronavirus Flash Survey March 2020, we can see that spend is now increasing in areas such as IT resources and assets, information security, and logistics.

Organizations are scrambling to switch to remote working practices, which is why spending is currently increasing on IT resources and assets, but the speed at which the transition is happening has the potential to create cybersecurity challenges. For example, enterprises that monitor or restrict certain activity – such as highly privileged activities like account creation, deletion and security setting modifications – to on-premises systems are being forced to adapt procedures and enable remote administration. This new remote traffic changes the network baseline, which requires tuning of advanced security analytics platforms that monitor remote traffic. As new baselines are established, these analytics will need regular monitoring and adjustment to spot anomalous, possibly malicious network traffic.

The surge of remote work increases the load on IT support teams, with teleworking users repeatedly contacting helpdesks, creating pressure to skip authentication or authorization steps in order to deal with the increase in call volumes. Furthermore, physical-presence requirements for IT services are no longer feasible; services such as laptop upgrades, certificate issuances or hardware repairs must be deferred. All of these problems can be mitigated by working with professional service providers to augment overstretched internal IT teams.

We, as consumers, are becoming very aware that traditional supply chain structures are optimized for cost, and are not equipped to effectively cope with an increasing number of unplanned disruptions. Both the food and beverage and medical supply sectors urgently need help to boost the resilience of their supply chains. Moving forward, there are professional services firms with domain expertise – familiar with new SaaS products such as Descartes, Cerasis, Ascend, BluJay, Eyefreight and E2Open in the transport management area – that are worth engaging with. Multi-stakeholder environments such as supply chains could become more efficient, resilient and transparent by adopting emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain. Blockchain can essentially provide the needed trust by verifying the identity of things and individuals connected to a network and establishing an immutable record of the provenance information all the way back to the source, without the need for intermediaries that add inefficiencies to the process. Smart contracts play a critical role in formalizing and automating the relationship between individuals, machines or organizations – for example, by ensuring payment of funds upon certain triggering events or imposing financial penalties if certain conditions are not met. AI allows for identification of local trends to reroute goods to the right place based on real-time trend analysis. Being able to process multiple streams of data, with machine learning support, helps deliver more dynamic and timely responses.

Ultimately, we all need the development of a vaccine as quickly and safely as possible. Digital twins offer a data-based approach to a more effective biopharma process control. A digital twin approach combines advanced data analytics and equipment simulation with system models that draw insight from real-time data and historical information. This enables pharmaceutical organizations to simulate a process variation and understand the resulting affects without having to spend months or years in scale production or testing. For example, Atos is a service provider that has already worked with a client in this way to speed up vaccine development. In the current situation, there is scope to use this approach to speed up vaccine development for COVID-19.

Not Forgetting about Social Responsibility 

Social responsibility is a duty that not only falls on individuals and governments, but also on businesses – in this case IT vendors, service providers and other stakeholders. We all have a responsibility to help customers, partners and suppliers maintain business continuity, so we can navigate our way through this crisis and prepare for the new normal.

Many public sector organizations are deploying more virtual agents preconfigured with COVID-19 advice to free up call-center capacity. Medical researchers in many different parts of the world are racing to develop 3-D-printed ventilator parts and masks to plug equipment shortages. Technology startups that have spare software and scanning parts, as well as resin 3-D printers and models, are being asked to come forward. In the UK, this type of initiative is being led by the University of East Anglia, as car manufacturing plants stand by to quickly scale prototyping efforts. The UK government has ordered 10,000 ventilators, to be produced and delivered by Dyson in a matter of weeks. The company's founder said it would pay for a further 5,000, of which 4,000 will be donated to other countries.

Crowdsourcing provider Wipro Topcoder is seeing a rise in demand for its Talent as a Service offering that helps pull resources into an organization's own tools, rapidly creating dedicated remote teams via a VPN. The skills are available globally via platforms such as Topcoder to quickly develop coding solutions to medical problems, and the platform has been successfully used in this way by pharmaceutical giants.

EY has created a microsite that provides insight and recommendations for achieving business continuity and navigating the current disruption. The EY Italy Foundation, in particular, is running a fundraiser – using blockchain technology – through April 3 to support hospitals in Milan and Rome fighting the coronavirus.

451 Research has also put all its COVID-19-related reports outside its paywall to help organizations plan a way through this unfolding challenge – don't hesitate to check them out!

Csilla Zsigri
Senior Analyst - Blockchain & Distributed Databases

Csilla is a senior analyst for 451 Research’s Data, AI & Analytics channel. She currently focuses on decoding the blockchain market to help replace confusion and complexity with an examination of the technology, the competitive landscape and available solutions that are driving the market, as well as real-world use cases and deployments.

Katy Ring
Research Director, IT Services

Dr. Katy Ring is a Research Director for IT Services at 451 Research. In this role, she covers consultancies, system integrators and outsourcing companies applying advanced technologies to deliver digital transformation services.

Rachel Dunning
Research Associate

Rachel Dunning is a Research Associate at 451 Research. Prior to joining 451 Research, she graduated from Fitchburg State University Magna Cum Laude with a BS in Cognitive Psychology and Economics. While attending school, she gained exposure to research methodology and data analytics through her involvement in several academic research projects. She is conversationally fluent in German.

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