Governments, local authorities and health bodies have been grappling with containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus for months now, with lockdowns and subsequent contact tracing systems being a priority. However, as manufacturers continue to make positive noises about the creation of an effective vaccine, attention is turning to how to distribute a vaccine to potentially billions of people.
The challenges associated with this programme will be immense and complex. Demand is likely to be greater than initial supply, whilst delivery and supply chain management will require mammoth coordination. Then once the vaccine is ready to be administered, groups will need to be prioritised, outreach programmes will need to be put in place, and scheduling and management programmes will be required. Finally, organisations will need to monitor the success of the vaccine across multiple groups to establish the efficacy.
In other words, the systems and processes required to make this work effectively at scale - when it is so desperately needed - are incredibly diverse and complicated. Which is why Salesforce sees an opportunity to work with public sector organisations and health bodies to use the Salesforce platform, specifically its Work.com bundle, to support this global effort.
Work.com was announced earlier this year in response to Salesforce customers needing new tools to get safely back to work and introduce new systems, such as contact tracing - you can read our full write up here. Now Work.com is being extended to support the rollout, distribution and management of any effective COVID-19 vaccine.
The idea is that some core features will be introduced, but that local requirements will be tailored to using the Salesforce platform. We got the chance to speak with Bill Patterson, executive VP and general manager of CRM Applications at Salesforce, ahead of the Work.com for Vaccines release.
Patterson said that the new Work.com features have come about as a direct response to working with organisations grappling with COVID-19. He said:
When the virus really started to hit, back in the February/March window, we were leaning in and learning from our customers about what was happening - how it was impacting their business, how they were driving continuity in operations, how they were taking care of customers. So we were kind of learning and listening and doing all the way back to the start of the calendar year. We started with Salesforce Care, which was what we stood up as a crisis response set of solutions. And that was really interesting, taking the worry away from our customer around how to deal with continuity of operations. So we had like 70,000 companies come to us at that time, really leaning in and asking for help.
As we were out doing implementations and deployments of our technology, a lot of the worry that was on business leaders' minds was, what does it mean to come back? So Work.com was born from listening to customer needs around helping them plan, strategise and become data intensive organisations. Since that time, Work.com has been used by thousands of organisations globally. In the United States, about 38 States are now using Work.com for contact tracing. We are working with international governments like New Zealand to standardise contact tracing.
Given government agencies and health organisations are already using Work.com for managing their response to COVID-19, it's unsurprising that Salesforce sees an opportunity to extend its capabilities and embed itself as a partner in one of the most challenging global projects in decades. Patterson said:
With COVID-19 and the progression of the virus, we know that the active quarantine has helped. We know the acts of tracing have helped suppress it in a lot of areas of outbreak. But the next horizon where technology has to serve a purpose is in the area of vaccine management and coordination. This will be the largest public vaccination effort, ever. Bigger than Polio. This action is going to need technology to coordinate the scale and coordinate the data and give access to incredible solutions for public and private organisations.
So what we're doing is that we've actually built out some primitives in the platform for vaccine management.
The new features, according to the Salesforce release of Work.com for Vaccines, include:
Public Health Command Center - this will provide a single dashboard that gives a comprehensive view of vaccine management data, delivering the ability to make data-driven decisions and take action when needed. Command Center provides a view into the health status of communities and can display current vaccine and medical product inventory levels and a forecast of potential vaccine needs.
Vaccine Inventory Management - to help organizations assure the availability and maintenance of adequate vaccine doses, syringes, and PPE stock levels to meet public health needs, accurately forecast demand and help reduce wastage and avoid surpluses that could be deployed elsewhere.
Vaccination Appointment Scheduling - this will help people schedule vaccination appointments and perform health assessments with electronic consent capture, while allowing clinicians to determine and prioritize eligibility.
Clinical Vaccine Administration - to help ensure medical professionals are trained on vaccine administration before delivery and that pre-arrival screenings and approvals have taken place, helping to avoid onsite bottlenecks. AI and data analysis tools also allow agencies to manage community health, log and track administration of the vaccine and analyze community-wide vaccine results monitoring.
Vaccination Outcome Monitoring - this will help capture data on people's experiences, health results and outcomes following their vaccinations. Self-service guided surveys will help people self-report their health outcomes and allow clinicians to follow up with them if a larger health concern in the community is detected.
Public Health Notifications - to help public health officials curate accurate education and outreach campaigns and communicate with providers and people via their channel of choice. In addition, they can automate recurring communications, such as reminding someone to come in for their second dose of the vaccine, helping to reduce staff burden.
Scaling with local requirements
Patterson said that the biggest challenge for governments and healthcare providers in getting this right is the ability to scale a vaccine rollout, whilst taking into account variability and local requirements. For example, geography, temperature and different demographics will all require different approaches at a local level.
Salesforce is planning to make use of its partner network, as well as work with the local organisations themselves, to support any implementation. Patterson said:
Because of the local nature and requirements to every geography, every community, every country, our goal is to work with local development organisations, partners, solution providers, the government agencies themselves, to use the platform to tailor it to its own unique needs. That's the only way we think this will scale. If we created a solution for the State of California, it might not even be relevant for the State of Oregon, which is one state north of me. We need to really lean in with these organisations that are on the last mile and help them tailor and tune the system to those local needs.
For example, if you think about the United States, climate is going to be a major objection to overcome for distribution. If you're in a climate like Phoenix, Arizona, where it's now on record having another day in triple digits Fahrenheit temperature, that's going to be a very different situation than maybe someone that's in a more moderate climate. These things matter, to be able to tailor it to local needs. And that's why we're really working with our partners like Accenture, like Deloitte, like Infosys. We really aim to make this an incredibly global platform, but with local solutions that are pulling from it.
It can't be denied that the global effort required to effectively roll out a COVID-19 vaccine - when it is so desperately wanted and needed by the public and business - is hugely challenging. There is no blueprint for this and plenty of mistakes will be made along the way. In one sense it's bold of Salesforce to put itself out there as providing a toolset to support this, when the risks of failure are so high. However, I anticipate that it also won't be the last vendor to do so. We have seen a number of cloud providers come forward with options for supporting organisations navigating the COVID-19 economy - and the requirement from the software industry to adapt has been clear. What's also clear is that there is demand there and an opportunity to become a partner with answers for organisations that are overwhelmed and facing unprecedented uncertainty - if vendors can get this right, that will likely bode them very well in the long run.