As the COVID-19 crisis continues, the search for treatment and a vaccine requires all available resources. While researchers and health care professionals pursue the virus and treat the sick, we all play a role in slowing the spread by working, learning, and even seeking routine medical care from home. By empowering distance learning, enabling secure remote work, and deploying innovative medical and research tools, the tech industry is uniquely positioned to support and lead these crucial components of the response. Below we take a closer look at the many ways the tech industry, namely ITI member companies, is mobilizing the culture of innovation to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19.
The transition to distance learning presents new challenges and opportunities for students, parents, educators, and administrators alike. Tech companies have stepped up to the plate by providing resources – whether hardware, software, services, technical support, lesson plans, or venues for collaboration – to support the move to virtual classroom environments.
While students may not be convening in the same physical location, access to free conferencing services, communication and collaboration platforms can help making team-based learning a reality regardless of where students may sit. These resources also enable educators to convene virtual office hours and other opportunities for the ad-hoc conversations that often provide breakthroughs for students learning new material. However, appreciating that some students may not have access to the physical resources they use in the classroom, one company is donating tablets and other technology items to ensure that students stay connected with their peers and don’t fall behind in their studies. Another company has expanded licensing agreements so that educators can request free “at home” access for applications already integrated into their coursework. This offer helps to maintain classroom continuity for projects and plans that began prior to remote learning.
As teachers connect with their students through different mediums and formats, some lesson plans may require reworking to better fit the virtual classroom environment. The tech industry responded by organizing free professional learning programs designed to help teachers develop digital literacy skills and hosting online communities for professionals to exchange best practices for remote learning. One such effort provides K-12 lesson plans in core subjects that enable teachers to mix and match activities according to their classroom objectives. Professionals working in higher education can also benefit from free repositories of virtual lesson plans that feature curriculum-relevant content and critical technology skills. Whether through massive open online courses or virtualized labs, professors can apply these resources to encourage students to engage in exploration and discovery with their counterparts. And realizing that many parents and guardians have assumed the role of educator as students stay at home, several companies have created tools and resources to help parents keep their children engaged.
Of course, much of what’s been described here would not be possible without the IT administrators who are working tirelessly to identify solutions, procure devices, and implement tools to meet the needs of their unique learning communities. Recognizing these efforts, several companies developed remote programming geared to helping these IT administrators execute a seamless transition.
Enabling Businesses & Employers
The technology industry has a long history of developing products and services that move the workplace forward. Now that many employees have started working from home, tech companies are there to help offices stay connected, productive, and secure. The support doesn’t stop with distributing hardware or software to facilitate the transition to remote environments; many companies are providing free on-demand or regularly scheduled training webinars to ensure remote teams can make the most of their tools.
One challenge of work-from-home arrangements is ensuring employers maintain high cybersecurity standards with employees working in unfamiliar environments. The broad array of cloud computing tools provides employers with options to encourage collaboration and productivity through secure and scalable means. From one company, nonprofit organizations that are engaged in the COVID-19 response can access cloud-based collaboration tools for free for a three-month period, and another is offering free on-demand digital courses – available at any time or place -- that help employers and employees learn new cloud skills and services. In addition, one company has expanded all current subscriptions to include free video-conferencing and other advanced capabilities. There are also several options for enhancing cybersecurity capabilities, whether through employee training, free security tools, or consulting.
Individuals and organizations can work from platforms to benefit from streamlined operations designed by others or to shape customized solutions of their own. After a state Department of Health successfully developed an application to mobilize its emergency response and meet federal reimbursement requirements, the platform coordinated with the department to make the application available to all government entities for free. This application helps organizations and public agencies to allocate and deploy resources in real time, minimizing guesswork and errors in operations management. In another instance, the company built several open-sourced mobile applications to help facilitate employer communications with employees who are entering quarantine, returning to work, or have been exposed to the virus. By using the applications to share information and implement workflows, both employers and employees benefit from clear lines of communication during this period of uncertainty.
Strengthening Governments & Community Partners
The tech industry has come together to activate a whole-of-government approach supporting the businesses and community partners that comprise the backbone of our society. While some companies are scaling up their existing capabilities, other companies are applying their innovative energies to address new challenges in today’s environment.
Small businesses play an integral role in driving the U.S. technology industry economy, but it’s no secret that businesses small and large are struggling in this environment. To that end, several fintech companies sought approval to distribute small business loans as non-bank institutions through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a fund designed to keep Americans on the payroll of small businesses across the United States. Many small business owners already integrate fintech into their day-to-day operations. However, these nontraditional lenders integrated AI and automation to streamline the application and verification processes so that impacted small business owners can determine their eligibility, complete the application, receive an outcome, and begin disbursement to employees within days. The overwhelming demand for PPP loans underscores how important the rapid deployment of capital is to helping small businesses stay afloat during this time, and the tech industry is ready to connect even more qualified businesses with much-needed liquidity once Congress replenishes the fund.
Cloud technologies and open data sets enable the best and brightest minds to share their findings and collaborate with counterparts across the globe. Several companies are partnering with the White House Office of Science and Technology National Institutes of Health, Georgetown University, and non-profit organizations to build and maintain the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), the largest machine-readable dataset of scholarly literature about COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, and the Coronavirus group. By sharing the information in this format, researchers stay up to date with the latest findings and apply AI and data mining techniques to identify new leads in the effort to stymie the virus. Another cloud computing company is collaborating with a nonprofit dedicated to recruiting, training, and deploying volunteer health workers to respond to the crisis by offering an online training platform and facilitating the streaming of volunteer training videos.
With the help of a supercomputer, an industry leader is coordinating with the U.S. Department of Energy to digitally stimulate the virus growth and execute computations that help to isolate drug compounds that could lead to new treatments. What would take a normal computer several months can be accomplished by a supercomputer in 1 to 2 days, enabling researchers to explore simulations of more than 8,000 compounds so far.
In another example of industry encouraging collaboration, the Therapeutic Learning System allows doctors to share daily updates about patients who are receiving COVID-19 drug therapies and vaccines. Healthcare professionals can access crowdsourced information about how patients respond in real-time clinical trials and subsequently devise and amend treatment plans with regard to timing, dosages, and other aspects that may impact effectiveness. Not only is the system available to every doctor in the United States, but it was developed with institutions like the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These government institutions can evaluate the patient and treatment data in aggregate to better isolate trends and pivot to promising recommendations.
With the proliferation of temporary COVID-19 testing facilities, one company recognized that healthcare professionals in these locations needed a secure way to communicate with their home organizations and the public. The company’s answer was delivering free secure wireless kits, complete with one year of remote troubleshooting, to qualifying health organizations operating temporary COVID-19 testing facilities. These kits ensure that healthcare professionals have access to secure and reliable wireless networks while they are working in the field. In a separate effort to support healthcare professionals, another company expanded its manufacturing capacity to produce millions more N95 masks for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These masks will be distributed to different facilities in need.
In the midst of the crisis, the tech industry has jumped into action to meet the health and economic challenges stemming from COVID-19. We may not be able to predict what the future brings, but the tech industry will continue to support and lead the response now and in the months and years ahead.