Over these past few months, we’ve witnessed some incredibly inspiring ways in which businesses are coming together to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the middle of a global health crisis with problems that include a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment, overloaded healthcare systems, and no vaccine on the near horizon, it may not seem that people who work in the enterprise technology industry could have a direct impact.
Yet as three Workday employees have demonstrated, they can. On #GivingTuesdayNow, a new global day of generosity to help spur additional relief efforts for COVID-19, we want to share stories of how these Workmates have pushed the limits of what technology and data can do to help fight COVID-19 in their local communities.
Vojta Rocek serves as director, software development engineering at Workday and is based in Prague. His speciality is augmented analytics for business—he joined Workday in 2018 following our acquisition of Stories.bi, which he co-founded and served as chief operating officer prior to the acquisition.
Rocek said in mid-March, he had a moment where he was imagining himself years from now sitting in a pub, reflecting back on when the coronavirus pandemic swept the world. Rocek didn’t want to look back and wish he’d done more to help fight COVID-19.
At the same time, Rocek saw problems that needed solving—including a shortage of lung ventilators, bottlenecked emergency lines due to high call volumes, and healthcare and governmental systems that were struggling to keep up.
“I started talking to my friends from the data community about this feeling, and realized we were in a position to do good,” he said. “In fact, people with experience in technology should be more involved in solving global problems. As an industry, we know how to adapt very quickly, faster than other types of businesses.”
With this in mind, Rocek helped organize a hackathon collective in mid-March called COVID19cz with one mission: to better leverage technology in the fight against COVID-19. Within hours of getting the collective up and running, more than 700 members of the tech community in the Czech Republic had joined.
Today, COVID19cz is a group of more than 2,000 volunteers from the country’s tech community, with projects including everything from creating a large-scale call center hotline for emergency calls, digitizing appointment scheduling for hospitals, to a database mapping that shows where medical equipment shortages are most critical.
Rocek was especially interested in helping solve the ventilator shortage in the Czech Republic. He assembled a hackathon team to do just that, and within 12 hours crowd-funded $500,000 to help finance the effort.
More organizations and people came forward to back the effort, including Czech educational and governmental institutions, engineers, doctors, and scientists, to form an organization called CoroVent. Together, they developed a ventilator for treating critical COVID-19 patients that was designed for fast production using commercially available or easily manufactured components. Their goal is to supply hospitals with hundreds of certified ventilators. As of April 22, CoroVent said it was working to achieve final approval from European government authorities to be able to mass produce and ship the ventilators.
As part of the COVID19cz hackathon group, Filip Dousek, senior director, software development engineering at Workday, who co-founded Stories.bi with Rocek and served as its CEO, took part in a project called Smart Quarantine. The project’s result is a command center helping public health authorities, which uses mobile application data as one of its key data sources. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can decide to share their location data with the public health organizations to determine who came in close contact with that person within five days prior to the positive test, to help isolate those at risk of passing on the infection.
Dousek said he joined the hackathon as a way to deal with fears and hopelessness, and transform those strong emotions into something productive. “I couldn’t just sit and wait. I was concerned about our ability to respond quickly, but that’s where tech comes in.”
“I think many volunteers have found that helping others is psychologically healthier than frustration.”Filip Dousek Senior Director, Software Development Engineering Workday
Dousek was right. The existing data intake in the Czech Republic was being accomplished with pen and paper, and with the volume of cases, he knew this was not scalable. Today, the Smart Quarantine project has transformed into an opt-in, GDPR-compliant solution using mobile, telephone company, and banking data.
“I am learning that helping others is one of the best ways to take care of oneself,” Dousek said. “I think many volunteers have found that helping others is psychologically healthier than frustration.”
In the same spirit of using technology as a force for good, Bryan Johnson, a senior machine learning engineer at Workday who is based in Boulder, Colorado, identified the need for tech to help aid the COVID-19 fight in his state.
As research was released that showed recovered COVID-19 patients have antibodies against the virus in their blood plasma, Johnson was connected to a local doctor who had an urgent ask for help. The doctor was charged with building a consortium to develop a timely, coordinated, multi-center network to collect, process, and deliver COVID-19 convalescent plasma to patients with a life-threatening case of the disease. But he needed tech help to build a website by the end of the week.
“I wanted to help out in some way in the fight against COVID-19, but I wasn’t sure how I could get involved,” Johnson said. “When I was asked to build a site for the consortium, I knew it was the opportunity I had been waiting for.”
Within a day, Johnson launched the Colorado COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Consortium site. This platform serves as a one-stop informational hub for anyone in Colorado who may want to help donate life-saving plasma to those seriously ill with COVID-19. For Johnson, it wasn’t just a way to give back, but an opportunity to learn new skills too. And as of Friday, April 24, the consortium had collected 320 units of plasma from more than 150 donors. All collected plasma has been distributed.
On this new global day of generosity in response to COVID-19, we’d like to challenge our industry to do something that it’s proven to do well: think outside the box to solve real-world problems. Here are some things to consider:
Volunteers can come from all industries and backgrounds. Even amid a global health crisis, tech still plays a key role. “Encourage all employees at your organization to think of ways the skills they use in their day job could be utilized for good, whether it’s software development or marketing,” recommends Carrie Varoquiers, our vice president of global impact & employee life, and president of the Workday Foundation.
It’s important to focus on real-world problems. As these three Workday employees demonstrate, nothing is too big to tackle, especially when you’re able to do it with a team. By applying an innovative lens to how we’re solving global social, economic, and health problems, we can work together to support a better future.
Collaboration is key. “Teamwork is paramount to everything we do, and it’s proven to be true in a volunteer setting as well,” says Varoquiers. Consider recruiting your teammates, family members, and loved ones to help with a project. After all, more brains are better than one.
We’re excited to see how we can work together to continue to use technology as a force for good, and help create a better future for all.