In and amongst all the bad news emanating from the global pandemic are some heart-warming stories that we should remind ourselves of if ever we feel overwhelmed
Just as governments, healthcare providers, food retailers and supply chain staff are working tirelessly to respond to the Covid-19 emergency, businesses are also rising to the challenge. From tech giants to boutique businesses, enterprises across the world are using their skills and resources to fight the virus. The world urgently needs their abilities in problem-solving, manufacturing, logistics, data management and finance.
At a strategic level global companies such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, IBM and Google Cloud are working closely with scientists and academics from many leading institutions, including the US National Laboratories, NASA and MIT, to provide computing power. They’re collaborating as the Covid-19 Supercomputing Consortium. Researchers can submit proposals that experts can then analyse, allocating the appropriate resources. Vast supercomputing power can then tackle the mass of data produced in fields such as bioinformatics and molecular modelling, reducing the time for results from weeks to days, or even hours.
This work is vital to find a vaccine, yet there are more immediate, basic shortages. Hand sanitiser has become a rare commodity, with hospitals reporting dispensers being ripped off walls. The distilling industry has seen that this an issue they can help with. This sector has an abundance of alcohol, and by sourcing supplies of material such as glycerine, they can quickly mass-produce this badly needed product. Pernod Ricard, which makes spirits including Absolut Vodka and Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, worked with the US government to quickly meet regulations so its new sanitiser production and distribution efforts can be accelerated.
At the other end of the distilling spectrum is small gin producer Harrogate Tipple, from Yorkshire in the UK, which is now making sanitiser. Importantly the local MP speedily secured the government’s agreement to waive all alcohol duties on the product, allowing the business to source other ingredients and set to work. They hope to produce thousands of bottles a day.
As the crisis deepens the need for ventilators has become acute. These machines provide mechanical ‘breaths’ for critical patients and while manufacturers are ramping up production, it isn’t sufficient to meet demand. In the US car company GM has teamed up with a ventilator business called Ventec with the aim of producing 200,000 of the machines. GM will be able to provide 95% of the parts. Tesla and Ford also have ventilator programmes, with Tesla buying over 1200 excess stock from China as an interim measure. Ford is also using existing car parts to make a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) protective hood in collaboration with 3M. The hood filters air, allowing medics to safely remain in treatment areas.
In the UK the Ventilator Challenge Consortium aims to produce 30,000 ventilators as quickly as possible. Formula One racing teams such as McClaren are teaming up with a variety of businesses including automotive manufacturer Nissan, component producers such as GKN, and aerospace companies including Airbus, Thales and Maggit. All are focusing their expertise on this one issue. An existing model will be produced, with the manufacturers using cutting edge 3D-printing technologies to speed up the process. In Italy Ferrari and Chysler Fiat are doing the same.
Dyson, which makes vacuum cleaners, are building their own design of ventilator, with the UK government placing an order for 10,000. As it is entirely new, there are some concerns about the speed of delivery, but Dyson are confident.
While ventilators are relatively uncomplicated machines, there is another piece of medical equipment which couldn’t be simpler, the humble facemask. Globally stocks are falling, not least because many were made in China, which has seen huge domestic demand and disruption to facemask businesses. Luxury-goods maker LVTM, which has already adapted perfume factories for sanitiser production, is turning its textile manufacturing skill to make facemasks. They aim to supply the French health service with 40 million masks in the next few weeks. Prada, Gucci, YSL, and Spanish clothing business Zara are all now mass producing these masks.
Accountants are playing their part too. Businesses are desperate for support from their advisers. Accountants are having to be more pro-active in helping clients navigate the help offered by government, and support for dealing with landlords, loan re-payments etc. They are casting aside any former concerns over competition and profit, and sharing their knowledge via social media and other platforms, giving advice for the greater good and mutual support of business.
Many software providers are offering free trials and extending discounts to existing customers to support them while times are tough. They may wll be doing so with an eye on the long-term customer, but what does that matter if it helps SMEs and SMPs get the job done.
For example, Paul Ormrod FCCA, founder of Cashfac plc, is offering its cash management app (SlideBy) free to help small businesses steer through the current cash squeeze. ‘I started my ACCA training doing the books, accounts, VAT and tax returns for small businesses and I saw them through some difficult times, so I know what it’s like to be there,’ says Ormrod. ‘I am able now to offer something back via ACCA to help members and their clients.’
Businesses are working together as never before. All have a common enemy in Covid-19. Decisions that once took months are taken in days, while evaluation and testing are being accelerated in a manner never seen in peacetime. These collaborations will continue to expand and deepen as the we battle this extraordinary crisis – and maybe we’ll emerge as better people as a result.
Matt Warner, journalist