The Essential Role of Government During COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic touches every aspect of business, technology, and society. And stable and effective government is at the heart of managing through this crisis. What we do now will have longer-term implications for the health and safety of our families, our citizens, the economy, and even global stability.

In the past few weeks, IBM has collaborated with many of our government clients and is driving action across three critical phases of response.

Immediate response: During times of crisis, governments around the world must act quickly and decisively, even in the face of limited information. In the next month, governments are facing issues of emergency management, continuity of operations, and citizen engagement and care.

Cognitive assistants and self-service tools can help agencies provide services to help citizens maintain physical and mental health. For example, government agencies in Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Spain, UK and cities across the United States quickly deployed virtual agents using IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens to help answer citizens’ questions about COVID-19.

In addition, mobility tools and infrastructure can ease the intensifying strain on citizen services, coupled with a reduced workforce capacity resulting from work-from-home hurdles and restricted citizen movement. IBM is helping cities and states provide mobility tools to support both government workers and students who have been sent to work from home.

Cognitive analytics can also be applied to help governments understand what is happening and to match resources to demand. For example, they can use resources such as this AI-powered online map that tracks the spread of U.S. COVID-19 cases down to a county level from IBM and The Weather Company.

Recover and rebuild: As society moves past the immediate response, governments are anticipating the next challenges. They will need to rebuild agencies’ confidence; enable citizens to get back to work; help return the private sector to full output; and shorten the length of the economic downturn.

Technology and process transformation have big roles to play in effectively making that happen. In support, IBM is offering expanded emergency operations, along with our social program management and healthcare capabilities.

Optimize for the new normal: Finally, governments will be looking ahead to what the “new normal” will be. They need to re-imagine their business processes and seek better ways to operate, considering a range of questions:

What happened and why? How will we avoid this in the future? What did we learn about how we could work remotely? What processes and systems helped, and which became obstacles? Which parts of my agency or business need to be redesigned completely? How do I evaluate my adaptability and resilience, so I am better prepared in the future for unforeseen events?

Given the complexity and dynamics of managing through this extraordinary global crisis, the sharpest focus will be on the most immediate societal issues, for which public and private sector collaboration can have the greatest impact. The private sector is stepping up to help governments become more efficient, resilient and robust in performing their missions.

At IBM, we collaborated with the U.S. government, industry, and academia to launch the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, which provides access to the world’s most powerful high-performance computing resources to accelerate scientific discoveries focused on treatments and a cure. You can read more about all of IBM’s efforts here

Collectively, we are marshaling our resources and bringing experts together: governments, scientists, developers, partners, academic institutions, health agencies, and IBMers. We’re managing through the COVID-19 outbreak doing what we do best—applying data, knowledge, insights and even world-leading compute power to solve problems. Together, as a community, we can find our way through this.

A final note: During my time as a first responder, a mantra was drilled into my head: “The first rule of emergency management is: Do not become part of the emergency.”

I hope everyone stays safe in the days ahead and gets time with your family and loved ones. At IBM, we know that those who work for the government fill critically important roles in our society, and it is essential that they take care of themselves and the teams they lead.

Tim Paydos is global vice president of IBM’s government industry business.

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