Stories from the Frontline: Inside the Tech Powering Government’s Pandemic Response

Mark Forman

Mark Forman, SAIC

On July 23, Amazon Web Services hosted a webcast titled “Stories from the Frontline: Inside the Technology Powering Government’s Pandemic Response” to explore ongoing COVID-19-related transformations within the tech industry. 

The discussion included Energy Department’s Undersecretary for Science Paul Dabbar, Perspecta Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff Barry Barlow, Science Applications International Corp. Vice President Mark Forman and Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President of Digital Transformation Dan Tucker. David Levy, vice president of AWS, served as moderator. 

To begin, Levy and Dabbar talked about a COVID-19 consortium founded by IBM, the White House Office of Science and Technology and the Energy Department. The goal of the group, as explained by Dabbar, is to act as a central clearinghouse for research proposals and harness the full capacity of the private, public and education sectors. Today, the consortium includes 42 partners around the globe.

“This particular one is a fare wider group of participation than any normal collaboration, not only do we have our fellow science agencies like NASA and NSF that we work with in high-performance computing on a regular basis, but we are bringing together a very long list of universities all at the same time,” said Dabbar, who co-chairs the group.

The consortium is working to bring together supercomputing technology and protein imaging to scan for preexisting drugs and drug molecules, which may be able to combat COVID-19. Moreover, the consortium aims to use patient genomic and environmental data to determine which treatments are most potent for specific individuals and thereby increase the popularity of precision medicine. 

In the second half of the event, Barlow, Forman and Tucker discussed emerging technologies intended to fight COVID-19, the government’s role in tech during the pandemic and necessary transitions made by their own companies.  

In addressing technological advances, Forman noted the use of cloud and data analytics to accelerate the race for a vaccine. He also discussed the importance of revamping the supply chain to accommodate market volatility. Barlow expressed the significance of transitioning from traditional infrastructure to secure online workspaces. Lastly, Tucker added the necessity of human-centered platform design to ensure accessibility. 

Next, the group discussed the government’s role in technological innovation. Among other suggestions, they advocated for the production of interoperative data guidelines, early investment in data resources companies, increased transparency and enhanced agility. 

Lastly, Levy asked the participants to share changes their own companies have made to continue operations during the pandemic. Tucker referenced the establishment of an internal platform that uses open-source data to forecast infection rates to inform employee and client safety protocol. Barlow discussed $1,000,000 of employee-donated leave designated for those individuals unable to work during this difficult time. He went on to explain Perspecta’s role in transitioning the Military Health Organization’s call center to a cloud-based service so employees could work from home and still provide the health info needed by the military community.

To watch a video recording of this meeting, click here

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