A few months ago, the cover of this magazine featured a 20-year retrospective of Y2K. As it turned out, the calendar flipping from 1999 to 2000 ended up being a non-event, but for those of us of a certain age, the lead-up to the new millennium (yes, I know that technically that happened a year later) was serious business. People legitimately wondered if airplanes were going to crash, banks would fail, and power grids would go dark because decades of poor technical planning were coming home to roost. And while we dodged a bullet then, the current pandemic has raised the same questions. And the answers, unfortunately, are far less encouraging.
The bottom line is that governments at all levels – from the smallest towns to the federal government – were not prepared for what is happening now. In many ways, it’s the exact opposite of Y2K. Back then we went through years of obsessive planning and worry that turned out to be for nothing. This time, we blissfully ignored the possibility of a pandemic and were left scrambling to find a solution when the COVID wave hit. Even the SARS outbreak in 2003 didn’t move the needle enough for us to prepare for what is happening now.
But now isn’t the time to point fingers. Instead, government leaders need to seize the moment and do what they can right now to help flatten the curve and get Canada past the worst of this outbreak. It will take years to implement systemic fixes to make sure that we’re better prepared next time, but today the mission is incredibly simple and time sensitive: save lives now. That’s where fast technology implementations can play a huge role in making a difference. Let’s look at a few things that government agencies can do in the next few weeks to make a difference and protect Canadians.
1 – Improve Procurement
We’re all reading the same stories about how communities don’t have enough masks, ventilators, and basic safety equipment, but no one really seems to know how much gear Canada has and where it is. There is no excuse for that in 2020 – especially now. It is essential to create an open, free system to track equipment so that it gets routed to the right people. The good news is that these kinds of inventory systems already exist. The bad news is that no one has taken the lead on collecting and managing this data.
2 – Enforce Social Distancing
Everyone is talking about flattening the curve by maintaining isolation protocols, but compliance has been pretty spotty. Some of that is to be expected, of course: constantly changing laws and classifications (and new medical knowledge coming out every day) have made it almost impossible to track what’s open and what’s closed. But what we CAN do right now is use technology to manage crowds by reducing or eliminating lines. There is no reason for people to be standing in clusters waiting to get into a store or hospital. Again, this is a problem that technology (including ours) solves every day; it’s just a matter of wider implementation.
3 – Collect and Share Data
This is the biggest problem I’ve seen since the epidemic hit North America. I don’t believe that governments and public institutions are deliberately hiding information; if anything, government employees have been doing heroic work to share information with each other to help save lives. But that has its limits because there are so many disparate systems in play. How can a hospital in Niagara Falls share its information with a nursing home in Saskatoon? Right now, the sad answer is “not very easily.” But a national database that supersedes existing systems could make valuable data available in a matter of weeks, buying critical time for local and provincial leaders to make decisions that will lead to good outcomes.
There’s no single magic button to fix COVID. The next few months are going to bring unprecedented suffering and tragedy to Canadians in every province and territory. But by quickly adopting new technologies, the country stands a fighting chance of minimizing casualties and improving health outcomes for everyone.
Kevin Grauman is CEO of QLess, a pioneer in virtual lines and digital crowd management. He was named as one of the 100 Superstars of HR Outsourcing in the USA by HRO Today magazine and is also the recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Kevin regularly provides expert business insights to the U.S. venture capital community and is regularly sought by media, pundits, analysts and business owners for his counsel on all things startup and human capital related.