Collaboration is powering essential innovation – and this approach will continue after coronavirus has disappeared
April 8 marked the 100th day since China flagged the contagion of COVID-19 to the World Health Organization (WHO). In that century of 24-hour periods so much has happened that will mould the future of the world. It’s a paradox: people may be masked and locked-down, but minds have been liberated and solutions to solve age-old challenges brought into sharp focus by the coronavirus pandemic are being expedited.
“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” This quotation may be erroneously attributed to Vladimir Lenin – it is more likely from another influential Russian, Karl Marx – but it is hugely apposite in mid-2020. While Marx’s remark was about revolution, his words are relevant here because we are going through a seismic evolution for humanity.
NEW LEVELS OF INDUSTRY COLLABORATION
And most encouragingly, people are realising to speed up innovation, silos must be broken down and the need to work together, to collaborate, whether old friends or foes, is critical today. Spurred by the COVID-19 fallout, organisations have fast-tracked projects around innovative technologies such as blockchain, according to Charlotte Dunlap, Principal Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company. “The industry can no longer afford to wait several years for new market segments such as blockchain to take off,” she says.
As an example, Oracle, IBM and others recently launched a potentially mega-blockchain initiative to integrate COVID-19 data from WHO and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Moreover, Ms Dunlap suggests with the forthcoming enabling technologies, reducing both complexity and the need for technical expertise to usher in a broader set of stakeholders, “citizen solver” could become common parlance in the tech world.
“Most importantly at this critical juncture of a global pandemic, blockchain technology can provide researchers with a strong and reliable data platform in the form of a shared ledger, establishing an autonomous and decentralised peer-to-peer network,” she continues.
“The effects of unprecedented cooperation among technology rivals coming together to solve a global crisis will continue to linger long after the coronavirus is under control. Enterprises should become accustomed to new levels of industry collaboration. This expectation will be based on a critical need for industry giants to rally together to focus attention in 2021 and beyond on helping to get the economy back on track and ensuring customers are successful.”
HACKING TO SAVE THE WORLD
The tech community is not solely focused on blockchain, though. Far from it. The Global Hack, held in mid-April and led by Estonia, captured the zeitgeist. The small former Soviet republic, with a population of 1.3 million, located to the north of Latvia and across the Baltic Sea from Finland, is arguably the most advanced digital society in the world. And, by facilitating the world’s biggest hackathon in history, it again proved progressive.
“Over 15,000 bright, talented and highly skilled professionals – designers, marketers, programmers, scientists, consultants, business founders and investors – from all over the world participated,” starts Ott Vatter, Managing Director of Estonia’s e-Residency programme. “Many of the participating teams were already working on innovative solutions and saw The Global Hack as an opportunity to tailor their project to the current circumstances.
“The hackathon also gave them a chance to raise their business profile, get valuable feedback and produce a working prototype. There were also hundreds of mentors, many high-profile supporters and a very skilled team of organisers.”
Mr Vatter praised the overall winner, SunCrafter, a sustainable and autonomous disinfection application using UV lamps with upcycled solar generators. And he called out PAVAN, a company making low-cost, portable ventilators based on air-turbine for mass casualty cases, which are far lower cost than ventilators widely on the market today.
The speed that The Global Hack came together was impressive, and again a sign that people are willing to change behaviours and cut red tape and forgo traditional methods to push workable solutions to the finish line quicker.
“It was organised in just a couple of weeks and brought about an incredible flood of innovative approaches, many of which would be applicable in healthcare and have a strong focus on sustainability and community support,” continues Mr Vatter, who stresses the need for solutions. “This showed that we’re really onto something here: at times of crisis, it is possible to unite people across different continents and work together over different time zones. Many business founders volunteered to support the initiative just to share their knowledge with the participants.
“We see an unparalleled global unravelling taking place across the world, and it is very hard to see. Despite the lockdowns, thousands of people are unfortunately being diagnosed with coronavirus every day and many are sadly losing their lives. This is a tragedy for their families and communities in many parts of the world. Alongside this, the world’s economy is breaking down – the United Kingdom’s economy is forecast to be down 15 per cent in Q2 2020, and unemployment is set to almost double.”
Mr Vatter adds: “With The Global Hack, we hope that solutions can be developed to bring about a can-do approach, social responsibility and highlight the possible solutions that can help global healthcare systems and infrastructures cope with the pandemic and its aftermath, while finding ways to slow down its spread.
“We hope that individuals and teams that took part in the hackathon can help find ways to set up a borderless crisis response, unite people, help communities and healthcare organisations, and use sustainable energy solutions and waste management to reduce the impact and cost of production to the environment and individuals. Essentially, we want to find the next Skypes, Googles and Amazons of the world.
“When people look back on the COVID-19 pandemic in generations to come, I believe it will be remembered as a year when digital innovation and technology showed its true value.”