Coronavirus: Get ready to mobilise IT

As major cities around Europe enter the lockdown phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, people will increasingly rely on online services to stay in touch and to order groceries and other essentials. On the evening of March 13, Ocado posted on Facebook that it would be prioritising deliveries.“In this time of unusual demand, we have made the call to temporarily prioritise deliveries for you, our existing customers. This means, after today we will not be processing new customer bookings for the time being,” Ocado stated in its Facebook update. One customer who tried to order from Ocado was told that the earliest delivery slot would be March 29.

Private companies may be called to help

Ocado is working to expand capacity. At the same time, the government is considering measures which will involve manufacturers changing production lines to ensure that the UK can meet demand for ventilators to help those suffering from severe breathing difficulties as a result of the virus. There are reports that private hospitals and hotels may be asked to provide accommodation to house patients who need to be hospitalised due to the illness.

Beyond the physical changes that will need to take place, there is a huge administrative burden. IT will need to rework existing business processes and the back-end systems that run these extremely quickly to support the government’s efforts in combating the virus. How quickly can an ERP system that has been doing more-or-less the same thing for the last two decades, be turned around to manage an entirely new production run, with suppliers and raw materials never encountered before? All of this reworking will need to be done with very little forward planning.

Information sharing will save lives

There is likely to be a huge amount of collaboration between companies to ensure raw materials, bed capacity and medical equipment are in the right place, at the right time to keep up with demand. For over half a century, organisations have used the information revolution to enable them to work better and give themselves a competitive advantage. IT may now be asked to be more agile than it has ever been before to support new information flows that need to be stood up quickly, with little end-to-end testing.

Never before has the need for fast, seamless information sharing across government, non-government agencies, the private sector and charity been so important. Life itself will depend on how effectively information is shared, to support the most vulnerable people.

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