"One of the most important things about COVID-19 is that you have to be able to react to an outbreak quickly so that you can contain it and keep other people from being infected."
Dr William Bain, ScaleOut Software CEO
The business world has a big problem to solve. To operate effectively, many companies need to have employees based on site, yet they are rightly concerned that their company could fall victim to a COVID-19 outbreak. They need to ensure that they are doing everything they can to keep their employees safe from a COVID-19 outbreak and they also need to be able to react immediately should an outbreak occur.
In an attempt to solve this problem, ScaleOut Software have developed a new contact tracing demonstration application designed specifically to help companies minimize the chances of them being at the centre of an outbreak. This solution combines the ScaleOut Digital Twin Streaming Service™ with a mobile application that enables businesses to track thousands of employee interactions and generates immediate notifications should a possible exposure to COVID-19 occur.
Founded in 2003, ScaleOut Software specialize in real-time digital twin and streaming analytics technologies. To discover more about their new contact tracing solution, we spoke to their CEO Dr William Bain.
“We looked at the contact tracing challenge to see if real-time digital twins could help. We realized that there might be a good fit for doing contact tracing within companies because they have more restricted populations with well-known relationships. If you can keep track of the interactions within a company then, should one person test positive, you can immediately map that to all of the people that they have been interacting with across the company and across multiple locations and then notify the affected people within a few seconds” explains Dr Bain.
For businesses, the difference between controlling a small number of infections and becoming the victim of a full scale COVID-19 outbreak comes down to two factors: firstly, their ability to identify exactly who is infected and who they been interacting with; and secondly, their ability to react quickly to the information. ScaleOut’s application gives companies direct control over those two factors. However, whilst traditional contact tracing applications involve attempting to establish interactions once an outbreak has already occurred, the ingenious element of Scaleout’s solution is that it provides companies with the ability to understand their employees’ interactions ‘prior’ to an outbreak.
“One of the most important things about COVID is that you have to be able to react to an outbreak quickly so that you can contain it and keep other people from being infected. Wherever you have people in a known population, with known sets of interactions you have the opportunity to build the web of connections ‘prior’ to the exposure instead of trying to track it down ‘after’. That’s the key difference in this approach - you pre-build the connection network so that, should there be an outbreak, you can do something about it within a few seconds.” explains Dr Bain.
Ever since March, governments around the world have attempted to launch their own contact tracing applicants, but due to a myriad of technical and data-privacy related issues, results have, at best, been mixed. Perhaps this is unsurprising as the obvious major flaw exists outside of those applications - their reliance on the public to utilize them correctly.
“Companies like Google and Apple have developed mobile apps for doing proximity-based contact tracing. There are challenges with that because of privacy and security but also because, largely, people tend not to co-operate. In a company, employees have the expectation that their formal interactions with other employees can be made known to the company at large – that’s something that doesn’t need to be kept private. You can have employees do this as part of corporate policy – it’s a lot harder to have the public do it” explains Dr Bain.
ScaleOut’s contact tracing application utilizes a technology called “real-time digital twins” which enables thousands of data sources to be tracked simultaneously. But what exactly is a digital twin and why could it be game-changing technology in the fight against COVID-19? A digital twin is a digital model of a physical entity (living or non-living). For example, that could be a person, process, place, system or a device. A digital connection can be created with that entity, and data can then be streamed about that entity in real-time using sensors or, in this example, a mobile application which creates a real-time digital twin for each employee to track their contacts within the organization.
“When an employee uses the app to notify the company that they have symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19, it uses the digital twin to go through the contact list and sends messages to all the other digital twins and informs other employees that they may have been exposed. It also sends messages out to secondary and tertiary contacts telling them how many degrees of separation they are away from the person who has tested positive. It can do all of that for a company with several thousand employees in just a few seconds. That gives a company a real leg-up on allowing people to come back to work, knowing that, if a problem occurs, it can be contained very quickly so people can feel more at ease that they’re not at risk.” explains Dr Bain.
Another powerful element of ScaleOut’s application is its ability to provide managers with real time information that allows them to visualize and identify emerging trends in seconds. For example, they can see the number of positive COVID-19 reports and the number of affected employees by department or location. This enables managers to isolate hot spots within a company and take immediate action.
“When you have real time digital twins collecting contact information for each employee then you can provide statistics that can be easily aggregated to allow managers to see whether outbreaks are occurring and, if so, in which locations/departments. That means that managers can track an outbreak in real time and react instantly to lock down a site or department and make sure that all the affected people are immediately notified.” explains Dr Bain.
Ultimately for businesses, it all comes down to risk. Do they risk relying on generic apps over which they have little or no control and which are designed for the general public? Or do they take the problem in house and utilize software that’s specifically designed to help them take a direct approach in preventing an outbreak?
Technology will continue to provide many of the solutions to the problems created by COVID-19 and it is forward-thinking software companies such as ScaleOut that are utilizing the latest technologies to provide businesses with the solutions they need to help keep us all safe.
“Our mission is to develop technology which helps companies process their real-time telemetry in a more timely and effective manner and to allow them to have better operational intelligence that enable better decisions. Allowing a company to be able to detect an outbreak and inform employees within seconds gives them better knowledge that they can use strategically to contain outbreaks and protect the health and safety of their employees more effectively than they otherwise could.” said Dr Bain.