Tech vendors work on apps to certify your COVID-19 immunity

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright April 23, 2020
Summary:
Blockchain-based systems under development for rapid credential checking by employers could have a role in tracking COVID-19 immunity

Businessman using social network © sdecoret - Fotolia.com
(© sdecoret - Fotolia.com)

Technology that lets an employer automatically check your qualifications when applying for a job is still in its infancy. But the advent of COVID-19 has created a new need for rapid checking of credentials, which could bring these apps to the mainstream far faster than originally expected.

Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri today confirmed that the HR tools vendor is already talking to public authorities in the US about the potential to use its Workday Credentials platform and Wayto app, currently in beta, as an electronic wallet that certifies COVID-19 immunity. Answering a question from diginomica about this possible use, he said:

We are actually in early conversations with federal and state government ... Credentials would be an interesting starting point to track exactly what you said.

The Workday app, launched last October at the Workday Rising conference, is one of an emerging breed of blockchain-based credentialing systems. These allow organizations such as employers, professional bodies and educational institutions — or healthcare providers in the case of vaccination and test records — to issue digital credentials to individuals. Through the app, the individual can then allow other organizations to check those credentials electronically, rather than having to produce paper certificates or wait for manual reference checks to be carried out. The use of blockchain ensures that the source of the data can be verified, and also that individuals can retain control over who is able to view their information.

Tracking COVID-19 immunity

A similar system at an earlier stage of development is the Velocity Network. Rather than being managed by a single vendor, this is an open initiative backed by SAP and Oracle along with other key players in HR software and staffing. In an emailed response to diginomica today, Velocity's Ecosystem Lead, Yvette Cameron, said that while the network leaves it up to its ecosystem partners to build the apps that will run on its infrastructure, there is a clear case for its use in a COVID-19 context:

There are many examples where the ability to work, or to attend onsite education opportunities, requires proof of medical status — especially in healthcare where evidence that immunizations are up to date, or that a TB (tuberculosis) test has been passed are required before work can begin.

The concept of tracking the results of COVID-19 immunity, such as with yes/no status or red/yellow/green status, in order to get people back to work is under active consideration at many levels, both government and private sector.

If such a certification does become available, the Velocity Network is constructed to allow individuals to claim these 'credentials' for secure storage on their mobile device, and enable the immediate, controlled sharing of that data with prospective employers or institutions as needed. And of course this would be done in full compliance with regional legislation about the storage and exchange of health-related information.

Credential checking for job mobility

At the moment of course there is no proven vaccine available for COVID-19, although some initial testing has begun. Antibody testing to assess immunity in those who have recovered from the disease is also at an early stage.

Nevertheless, it's clear that immunity to COVID-19 is likely to become a desirable attribute for many jobs, particularly in frontline roles that interact in person with customers. It may also become a requirement for international travel to certain countries. In each of these cases, the ability to quickly and reliably verify an individual's vaccination or immunity test result takes on a new priority. Of course this also raises important ethical and privacy issues that must be resolved — a topic diginomica will be exploring in future articles.

While COVID-19 immunity creates a new use case for this emerging technology, the aftermath of the pandemic also provides fertile ground for the original use case of speeding the process of checking more traditional employment credentials. Even as US unemployment spiked to an unprecedented 26.4 million last week, some sectors are still hiring, such as grocery chains and the healthcare sector. Others will join them as the lockdown starts to lift, and with remote working much more common, many more people are going to be recruited for roles without ever meeting anyone at their employer in person.

These are ideal conditions for adoption of a reliable system that can automatically and instantly validate the credentials of people so that they're cleared to work right away. Alongside the broader move to distributed teamwork this could also make it much simpler to bring in remotely sourced talent on-demand, whether as an internal resource, a contractor or even a gig worker.

My take

This development is one that I originally planned to include when I wrote about how business will stay changed once COVID-19 passes at the end of last month. At the time though it seemed perhaps too much of a stretch, so I decided to hold it until I had some research to stand it up. This is nascent tech. Workday just has a beta app in the field, while the rest of the industry, including SAP and more recently Oracle, has lined up behind Velocity Network, which is at an even earlier stage of development. Nevertheless, as I wrote in that earlier article, COVID-19 is recalibrating how we're all thinking about many things that seemed a little too far-fetched a couple of months ago, and which are now moving quickly into the mainstream.

All new technologies need what used to be called a 'killer app' to help them get established. In the current context we need a term that's in better taste, perhaps let's call it an elixir app. But maybe the need to quickly, remotely and securely check credentials for employment in this new world — including COVID-19 immunity — will prove to be the 'elixir app' that these blockchain-based credential networks need to drive them into mainstream use.