Tim Howarth CEO of fintech advisory firm Fimatix UK ltd discusses the role of technology in risk management during the pandemic.
In the early stages of the pandemic, as the scale of the challenge facing the world was becoming clear, a range of hypothetical technology solutions were promoted to solve or at least support rapid resolution of the crisis. Ten months on, how many of these hypotheses have borne out and where has technology made a potentially lasting impact?
A trawl back though the newspapers in February and March delivers a host of clever ideas and propositions, but for simplicity lets group them into four silos.
Big Data and Artificial Intelligence
Big data and AI would help us ‘predict’ the spread of the virus (By monitoring social media feeds for example) and allow responsive governments to get ahead of the curve, or at least flatten the curve to manage health care capacity.
Tools would be deployed to support front line medical staff and clinical researchers. Robots would relieve frontline staff from necessary but high-risk activities like early diagnostics, cleaning equipment and temperature monitoring.
Drones would perform a number of roles from crowd surveillance, mask compliance or area disinfecting.
Mobile health tech
A range of solutions covering video medical appointments, online prescriptions, track and trace, wearables and e-diagnostics and digital passports would change the way we interact with medical services.
In reality, where has technology succeeded and where has it made limited impact?
The most obvious impact, evidenced by booming share prices, has been the adoption of mobile collaboration tools to facilitate home working, lockdown business continuity and out of the office business interactions – from ‘Zoom’ meetings, to online conferences and seminars. Of course, this isn’t relevant to every industry and every situation, but the long commute and 5 days in the office is no longer a core expectation in the services sector. In fact many employees will reluctantly head back to the office if recent surveys are right (“IN magazine” in the US said 25% of organisations expect 75% of their workforce to work from home 3+ days/week post-COVID. Twenty-two% are still undecided).
Mobile health apps and e-health tools have seen a massive take up: in the UK 19 million people downloaded the NHS Covid 19 app. Community medical practitioners have continued to offer services to their patients whilst reducing the significant risk of face to face contagion through adoption of electronic prescriptions, 24/7 online advice and implementing virtual appointments.
It is also true that big data and AI supported the advances in medical research that has led to the development of viable vaccines, although the use of data by governments to support large scale actions, such as national lockdowns, has come under scrutiny (for example, the charts used to support the second UK lockdown were subsequently amended).
Fimatix’s: “Shield” technology
The largest hype of unmet expectation has been around Government led track and trace solutions. It was clear to us at an early stage that mobile phone-based solutions would struggle to deliver consistent results – there are several technical challenges around phones and Bluetooth technologies.
Ultimately, phones just weren’t designed for practical track and trace solutions, so Fimatix fabricated a bespoke product that was. Fimatix felt that local level track and trace would be far more effective than blanket schemes, as communities are far better at self-administering solutions. What we believed health authorities needed for effective tracing is accurate, consistent data. What companies need is effortless solutions with minimal administration and fuss that provide reassurance in situations where they feel most at risk. What employers need is cost effective, data compliant solutions that minimise disruption and reduce administrative burdens.
Our “Shield” technology delivers these benefits using smart wearable technology that uses Bluetooth in a consistent way to provide highly accurate tracing capability in any work setting. Following WHO guidance “Shield” uses a risk-based assessment of potential exposure if outbreaks occur, giving decision makers rich data to underpin decisions on testing, isolating and business continuity.
“Shield” focusses on the problem of knowing who was at risk through being close to others rather than tracking people in physical space, reducing the concerns of intrusive location monitoring and data usage. Deployed in schools and workplaces, Fimatix’s clients have provided Health Response Teams with rich contact data that prevented more significant operational disruption and offered real benefits through reduced testing costs, reduction in productivity or the cost of replacing quarantined staff.
The wearable devices are always operational, so are constantly farming data from the wearables around them. The devices store this information until it is uploaded through the Shield App into central servers - the upload can happen through personal phones, tablets or beacons placed in a central area like a restroom, changing facility or reception area. Administrators can access dashboards through the App or pc web interface to see data across the whole workforce, individual departments or locations. If an employee becomes symptomatic, an administrator can create a report that freezes all the relevant trace data over the last two weeks which can be view through the app or downloaded onto a spreadsheet and shared with the event management team. All data held outside of the business’ own interface is anonymous and held securely in cloud servers.
Fimatix’s view is that we will see an acceleration of the pace of change and it is incredible to think how ingenuity and innovation has enabled pandemic led transformation. It has brought forward long predicted trends, such as home working and interactions in a virtual environment. We’ve seen adaptive organisations quickly refocus in ways that been impossible to implement in the past. The rapid development of population level communications and medical advances including vaccines has been truly remarkable and a testament to those involved and wearable technologies will offer better long term solutions to other risk management issues like health and safety, employee engagement and potential future outbreaks.
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