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How AWS is supporting Asia’s battle with Covid-19

Public sector organisations and startups across the region have been tapping AWS cloud services to speed up and enable a range of pandemic-related initiatives

The Covid-19 outbreak has been a boon for public cloud suppliers, which have been going into overdrive to support digitisation and pandemic-related initiatives that are being rolled out at breakneck speed.

At Amazon Web Services (AWS), employees have been working long hours and at weekends as organisations such as Singapore’s education ministry tapped the cloud to support the switch to remote learning for students in the city-state.

“The Ministry of Education harnessed our technology to scale quickly and reliably to ensure the continuity of home-based learning and teaching,” said Peter Moore, regional managing director for worldwide public sector in Asia-Pacific and Japan at AWS.

“We implemented a student learning space that gave students at primary, secondary and pre-university levels access to the curriculum and resources they needed if they were in school.”

In Indonesia, AWS supported the local government in West Java in its efforts to develop a Covid-19 response app, which is now being used as a front-line tool to control the outbreak. Moore said it took just 16 days to develop and deploy the app, a process that would have taken two to three months using on-premise infrastructure.

Moore said the pandemic has not only led more existing customers to increase their investments with AWS in the case of markets such as Singapore, but has also attracted new customers in Indonesia and India who used the cloud supplier for new initiatives.

“The use of AWS increased, and new customers who weren’t using us before had no other way to work quickly to address their needs than to use AWS,” said Moore. “We had a very good year in 2020 – our business has accelerated, and I feel good about how we’ve responded.”

Chris Morris, vice-president for cloud and partner ecosystems research at IDC Asia-Pacific, said cloud services have addressed more than cost management challenges during the pandemic, adding that the speed of implementation has also spurred cloud adoption over this period.

But not all organisations have the skills and resources to harness cloud capabilities, prompting AWS to launch the Diagnostic Development Initiative (DDI), a $20m initiative to advance research on Covid-19 and other infectious diseases in fields such as detection, diagnostics and public health genomics.

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“Just in the first year of the programme, we have supported 87 organisations across 17 countries, and they range from startups that often don’t have the funding to deploy leading-edge technologies, to non-profits, research institutions and businesses,” said Moore.

“We have awarded $8m worth of promotional credits and professional services to support a range of diagnostic projects, including things like molecular tests for antibodies antigens and nucleic acids.”

One beneficiary of the DDI is Medo, a Singapore-based healthcare artificial intelligence (AI) startup that used Amazon SageMaker and Amazon Textract in combination with ultrasound to help radiologists and clinicians to identify medical conditions and provide a diagnosis in less than a minute.

Moore said Medo’s AI algorithm is device-agnostic and can be integrated into any ultrasound probe to conduct scans at the point of care, especially during emergencies. The diagnosis can be shared with emergency response teams before they arrive, so that the right treatment can be administered quickly, he added.

With pandemic-related use cases of cloud emerging in the past year, Moore said AWS will continue to enhance its offerings, always putting speed ahead of delivering complete services.

“We go into the market with minimum viable products, and we allow startups, in particular, to experiment with those capabilities and provide us with immediate feedback,” he said. “That goes into a rapid prototyping phase and we are able to quickly iterate on our initial capabilities.”

Moore said AWS has learned a lot during the pandemic in terms of how AI will be used, and that the company has “made some really good decisions in our journey to bringing AI and machine learning to everyone”.

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