We are living in extraordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reassess countless assumptions and paradigms about how we define and conduct business and, most saliently, how we live our lives.
The surge in communal spirit around the globe can leave one awestruck – from the volunteer armies around the world to significant pivots of SAP customers that have redirected their processes and assembly lines from luxury goods and automobiles to sanitizers and ventilators.
At SAP, we engaged at length in helping governments, customers, and partners cope with the COVID-19 crisis. But beyond that, we marshaled the strength of SAP solutions and our individual and collective expertise to fight COVID-19 through our flagship social intrapreneurship program, SAP One Billion Lives, an initiative founded by Adaire Fox-Martin, member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, Customer Success.
“For the past five years, through SAP One Billion Lives, we have successfully married our business acumen and technology savvy with the passion of our employees for making the world a better place,” Fox-Martin said. “It made perfect sense to extend our annual program to include a quick but substantial sprint to fight COVID-19.”
“By using our technology for good, recognizing and managing COVID-19 outbreaks could be reimagined. Everything from early detection and accelerated case identification to driving containment, resource allocation, and community engagement has the potential to be transformed with digital capabilities,” she added. “I am deeply proud and personally touched by the response of our people. Each submission was well formulated, detailed, and demonstrated the understanding of how SAP solutions and our people could play a major role in addressing the prevention, treatment, and alleviation of the economic and social issues associated with COVID-19.”
In the six short weeks in which the SAP One Billion Lives Sprint Against COVID-19 took place, 487 ideas were submitted. Four projects were chosen for immediate development, with first working prototypes expected by early July. Learn more about the selected ideas:
- COVID-19 Cohort Management: This solution allows people with a compatible COVID-19 status to work together and engage in social activities. In this way, the number of people who absolutely must stay at home during a pandemic could be dramatically reduced, and therefore economies can stay running. Predicated on rigorous testing, tracing, and certification, the solution identifies key cohorts that could engage with each other. For example, the recovered, when proven immune, could work with risk groups as long as immunity remains. With the solution, employers could book employees to work with other colleagues and customers who are in a compatible cohort. Read more.
- AERATE: A critical life-saving asset registry solution enables wide and efficient identification, tracking, and validation of the working status for life-saving medical devices, starting with ventilators. The solution would connect manufacturers, governments, and hospitals with the ability to track device locations and help ensure ventilator effectiveness at stores or at hospitals. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly encouraging and the team has pilot pursuits in the works for three countries. Read more.
- Sustainable Humanitarian Action Project: The disruption of supply chains during lockdown affected governments and corporations immensely but obtaining the necessary resources has been even more difficult for humanitarian organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This solution would connect the needs of NGOs, social enterprises, and businesses to provide better and faster services in times of crisis. It brings together an external needs-assessment social enterprise called NeedsList and SAP Ariba Discovery to give humanitarian supply chains a required boost while helping SAP retail customers find the best channels to donate excess goods. Read more.
- COVID-19 Humanitarian Response: When coordinating a relief mission for a major disaster or a pandemic, no one benefits from old and inaccurate data. Through fast and clear data management, the 4W Machine Learning Wizard tool helps lead a much more effective response to COVID-19. The tool reads files, extracts needed information, understands it, corrects it—even completes the missing pieces—and finally consolidates it all in a simple and streamlined manner to present a single source of truth during a relief mission. It helps cut the data processing time down from 14 days to one hour and enables NGOs to plan, prepare, and execute based on more accurate, close-to-real-time data. The end result is a collectively improved humanitarian mission. The tool is based on machine learning and natural language processing. Read more.
Ability to Socialize and Work During a Pandemic
As the impossible actually happened and the raging COVID-19 pandemic put nearly the entire world into a lockdown, Kai Wussow, like many, was confined at home. Working in a makeshift home office that at other times doubled as a kitchen table, he felt frustrated and had enough of feeling helpless.
“Like many colleagues, I could not meet customers. In my role, I believe in personal, high-touch customer support. I felt like I was trying to do my job with one hand tied behind my back,” Wussow explains. “The magnitude of the situation dawned on me, and I wondered what could be a better way to cope with the situation. Blanket lockdowns might be necessary when dealing with something brand new because we are simply not prepared for it. But this does not have to be so if we are able to manage a few things, like, in the case of COVID-19, the health status certification and management of people with compatible health status, or the ‘cohort.’”
And so, the idea for a COVID-19 Cohort Management solution was born and submitted to the SAP One Billion Lives Sprint Against COVID-19 challenge. It was founded on the premise that as long as we ensure that only the people with compatible health status interact with each other, we could still work, keep the economy running, and socialize while minimizing the spread of the virus.
Predicated on rigorous testing, tracing, and certification, the solution identifies key cohorts. For example, the recovered, when proven immune, could work with risk groups as long as immunity remains. The infected with no symptoms could work together as well as with those that are tested immune and traced.
As soon as the cohorts are clearly identified and certified, they could be self-managed to a certain extent, managed by employers, or managed by society at large. With the cohort management solution, employers could book employees to work with employees and customers who are in a compatible cohort. Some organizations have been trying to do this manually, but with Wussow’s solution, this effort could be simplified and executed at scale with improved safety.
“SAP’s large footprint in workforce management software is a great foundation to build on, and I believe that SAP Sports One software provides a great basis that could be adapted in a short time to serve the purpose,” explains Wussow. “SAP Sports One is a robust system, used by the entire Bundesliga. It already deals with aspects like managing and scheduling players with injuries and diseases. It enables the players, doctors, and physiotherapists to collaborate to create training schedules for the healthy players and recovery schedules for the injured players in a safe and privacy-observing way.”
Helping Save Lives with Efficient Management of Medical Devices
When asked how he came up with the idea for the AERATE project, Andrew LeBlanc humbly says it was not his. He heard it on television.
By that he means that he, like everyone else, was following the news about the COVID-19 pandemic as it started spreading across the globe. With the exponential growth in the number of infections, country after country was in the news stating the issues with sourcing and managing life-saving medical equipment, such as ventilators. And in a pandemic like COVID-19, which attacks the respiratory system, a ventilator could make a difference between life and death.
Very few nations could pinpoint, at speed, how many devices they had, where they were, and if they were in an operational state. Government leaders were voicing out the need for hospitals and governments to be able to “flex” as one streamlined system, sharing resources in an emergency.
To LeBlanc, an enterprise architect in Customer Success at SAP, this statement did not sound unlike a usual problem statement he might receive from an enterprise customer — in his words, “brief, to the point, and requiring immediate attention.”
That same night, LeBlanc called Matthew Easlea from product engineering for SAP Australia, to tell him about his intention. Within a day, they had an initial idea to track ventilators and optimize their effectiveness.
“As an enterprise architect, you have to be deeply familiar with the entire SAP portfolio and able to sketch a solution for your customer almost instantly,” LeBlanc explains. “This sketch is then taken to subject matter experts to shield it against mistakes and boost efficiencies while closing the loop between a problem and the value delivery, incredibly fast. We applied this knowledge and process to AERATE.”
Both men understood that time was of the essence. The pandemic was spreading at a neck-breaking speed, and the healthcare facilities were overwhelmed. As a result, the plan was simple: deliver a minimum, viable, and highly beneficial solution that would connect manufacturers, governments, and hospitals with the ability to track device location and help ensure ventilator effectiveness at stores or at hospitals. Then, at a more opportune time, they could build a path to apply more intelligent innovations and scale.
By the morning, a lot was done.
LeBlanc and Easlea decided that a simplified and “focused scope” version of SAP Asset Intelligent Network was the way to go. It offered exactly what was needed: fast onboarding for critical medical devices through templates, online tracking in real time with maintenance records immediately available, effective trouble shooting, and a collaboration network to enable creation of one system that could flex and connect the necessary parties and the inventory in an emergency.
That same day, they had the manufacturers discovered. They knew that 20 out of the 28 world’s ventilator manufacturers were SAP customers. They estimated that it comprised 90 percent or more of global production.
“We reached out to organizations and colleagues that were closest to these manufacturers and we had their green light almost right away,” LeBlanc says. “The vastness of the SAP ecosystem and the value of trust-based relationships should never be underestimated. It is as crucial to our success as a company as our technology is.”
Within a few days, the first pilot was ready with actual models and manufacturers for the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile involved, proving the model worked. As alignment and concept feedback with healthcare and regulatory industry experts from SAP progressed, the team grew to 20 active and a total of close to 70 members who wanted to see AERATE succeed. But the team knew that if the system was to truly be successful, it had to go to market as an ecosystem. To accelerate information sharing, large governments and alliances had to come on board.
“This is when we decided to nominate our idea for the SAP One Billion Lives Sprint Against COVID-19 challenge,” LeBlanc says. “SAP One Billion Lives will greatly help with scaling the project and making a run to impact over a billion lives while growing the SAP brand.”
So far, the response has been overwhelmingly encouraging and the team already has pilot pursuits in the works for three countries.
“What is clear from this pandemic is that no one is shut off against a disease. Its effects are no less serious than those of climate change. While I hope we will never hear of this or another pandemic again, we have to count on the possibility of a second or even a third wave of COVID-19, or even a different pandemic in the future. My vision is to help the world get ready,” LeBlanc concludes.
“Over the past month since I nominated the idea to the SAP One Billion Lives Sprint Against COVID-19 challenge, I have already validated it with a number of customers that have shown tremendous interest and would be willing to try it out as soon as it is ready, which is really a great news,” he says.
Firing Up a More Connected Humanitarian Supply Network
“You know something is a great idea when a lot of people come up with it,” Drew Birtwistle says. Experienced at creating positive social impact through his 2017 SAP One Billion Lives venture, Rapid Disaster Relief, Birtwistle has been working with agencies helping people at risk since 2017. Just before the global COVID-19 lockdown started, Birtwistlecould envision the crushing effects the pandemic would have on humanitarian networks.
“When you have both ends of the supply chain, the supply and the demand, shut off almost everywhere in the world and when governments and big corporations start having issues getting adequate resources, you can imagine what happens to humanitarian organizations and NGOs,” Birtwistle explains.
Birtwistle knew SAP Ariba, the world’s largest B2B e-commerce network that sees over US$3 trillion in transactions each year, could play a huge role, but the system was not yet equipped to manage donations and humanitarian supply chain.
At the same time, Jennifer Breslin from the SAP Ariba Discovery team was talking with her colleagues about SAP Ariba retail customers that, in the wake of the sudden pandemic and the resulting lockdown, had inventory that they not only wanted to, but had to, dispose of. Brand new items had to be given away. These customers wanted a way to make sure they could give the goods to those who could benefit the most. As a matter of fact, SAP had already started thinking about what it would take to enable donations on SAP Ariba Discovery, but something was needed right now.
“Today, sustainability is key to sourcing. Every reputable company is looking to diversify and increase their spend with sustainable and positive impact suppliers. From a reputational aspect, this project is aligned with the SAP Ariba vision,” Breslin explains.
Kristen Jordeth from the SAP Ariba Go to Market team, on the other hand, had attended the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit and could not shake the thought that social enterprises, which are regular for-profit businesses but with a social mission at their core, should be more represented in Ariba Network.
“I was touched by their passion and belief that the business world could be the engine for positive change. They were thrilled that SAP was listening to their situations and wanting to help,” Jordeth says. “I drafted an idea about plugging social enterprises into Ariba Network, but with the pandemic, work, and a three-year-old at home, I never pressed the submit button. I was extremely happy when I found out that Drew, Jen, and I were on the same page.”
Through SAP One Billion Lives, the three were put in touch to fulfill the humanitarian supply chain through SAP Ariba software.
At this point, Birtwistle’s contacts connected him with NeedsList, a women-led, technology social enterprise that provides software and builds a network of suppliers for humanitarian work for a faster, more sustainable approach to crisis response.
“Could the solution to our problem be as easy as integrating NeedsList into SAP Ariba Discovery?” he wondered. The team agreed that it was the best immediate action and contacted Natasha Freidus, CEO of NeedsList, who loved the idea, and the project was submitted to the SAP One Billion Lives Sprint Against COVID-19 challenge for realization.
The initial integration is expected to happen very quickly, and the teams are excited about the follow-up plan to this quick start.
“SAP Canada held a hackathon with a number of partners, including Accenture, Deloitte, EY, IBM, and Microsoft, to tackle COVID-19. Interestingly, out of the five winners, three were focused on sharing needs information and could be very complementary to our project with SAP Ariba,” Birtwistle says. “The pandemic has been tragic on so many levels, but one positive aspect that has emerged is the realization that the business and social impact must go hand in hand.”
A Humanitarian Response Through Machine Learning
Originally from Germany but having lived on three continents, Carsten Boekholt was inspired to engage in social ventures by his grandparents, who spent significant time and effort helping refugees. And having personally witnessed poverty and unmet needs in countries like Eritrea, his wife’s home country, his desire to help those in need grew.
Triggered by the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, to which he, like many others, had donated, Boekholt’s professional hat came on. Working in the Industries and Customer Advisory group at SAP, Boekholt helped some of the largest SAP customers improve their supply chain efficiency. And so he started looking into the efficiency of the humanitarian ecosystem.
“I thought that a collaboration platform providing a unified real-time view and fostering collaboration for all humanitarian stakeholders could become the basis for greater operational efficiency and better outcomes across organizational boundaries in humanitarian missions,” Boekholt says. He believed that SAP could achieve much greater impact by improving humanitarian response processes through technology and innovation, rather than through simple monetary donations.
That’s how in 2017, together with Erich Winsloe, Koert Breebaart, and Luiza Maria Ramiento, his first SAP One Billion Lives venture, Relief.iO, was born. The venture works to deliver a robust collaboration platform to drive better collaboration between humanitarian stakeholders, like NGOs, governments, and the private sector.
Since then, Boekholt and Winsloe kept a close working relationship with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). While the Relief.iO platform focuses on improved collaboration between the various NGOs, the UN OCHA team approached Boekholt with a related problem but a different challenge. UN OCHA struggled to coordinate humanitarian missions manually, with a large number of Excel files with thousands of data lines coming from numerous NGOs.
These lines of text represent the information about the needs and available resources that needed to be verified and processed manually, which often took multiple days or even weeks depending on the disaster. Strict templatization did not work since each organization would end up tweaking the templates, leveraging their own formats or unintentionally destroying them.
The team took on the challenge and worked with a group of data scientists and students in Singapore to build a tool that uses machine learning and natural language processing to read the files, extract the needed information, understand it, correct it—even complete the missing pieces—and finally consolidate it all in a simple and streamlined manner to present a single source of truth. A rough working model was built in about four months.
When an earthquake and tsunami struck Palu, Indonesia, the UN OCHA called again. This time they asked if they could use the tool for the relief efforts in Palu. The team supported the UN over the entire three-month mission. Using the new tool, the pilot in Palu brought about tremendous quality improvements and time savings, cutting the data processing time down from 14 days to a few hours. As a result, the UN was able to create a unified report and get back to NGOs on who was doing what, where, and when (4W-Report), along with analytical insights, two weeks earlier than previously. This, in turn, enabled the NGOs to plan, prepare, and execute based on more accurate, almost real-time data. The end result was a collectively improved humanitarian mission.
However, while the tool was functioning well, it was only working as a concierge service and the UN was not able to use it directly.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reached a scale that no one was prepared to deal with, the UN OCHA reached out to Boekholt once again to see how the 4W Machine Learning Wizard could help. This time the team knew the tool needed to be upgraded for self-service if countless organizations across 20 affected countries with tens of millions of people in need were to meaningfully benefit from it.
“When SAP One Billion Lives launched a new challenge specifically to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized that it was once again an opportunity to leverage the program and finish what we started, scaling the tool and bringing it online,” Boekholt says enthusiastically. “The 4W Machine Learning Wizard is built as a web app and it is now time to convert it into a software-as-as-service (SaaS) solution, supporting multi-user, multi-language execution with an ability to scale.”
The team aims to enable the first self-service usage for the UN OCHA by early June 2020 to better coordinate the ongoing crisis, while maturing the tool in an agile development approach to a productized version in August.
“I feel so privileged to be in the position to help, and now that my role is also public sector-facing this project is not only a social impact project but a major conversation starter and an area of interest for our customers,” Boekholt says. “I am tremendously proud to work for a company that is clearly driven by its purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.”
This article first appeared on the SAP News Center.