April 23, 2020

Contact Tracing – What to look for in a solution

contact tracing mobile app photo

Contract tracing has become part of our new vocabulary.

As experts in the technical realm, we have had a lot of queries from customers about contact tracing, all with a common goal of getting people back to work safely.

The multitude of questions that arise can be overwhelming. What is a safe distance? How many staff should I have working on this? What does a solution look like for me and my team? With many different aspects to be considered, we look to experts to provide this guidance.

Where we, like other technical businesses, can help is with developing a tool to enable contact tracing as it is a key requirement for many in order to get back to work. It is incredibly important to remember that with anything, successful implementation vitally underpins the golden triangle mythology – people, processes, and technology.

  1. People – Everyone involved needs to be aware of the common goal.
  2. Processes – Contact tracing needs to be created in an easy to use, and structured manner that makes it executable and repeatable.
  3. Technology – the tools that empower the people and processes to enable them to strive to that common goal – contact tracing, so that people can work safely.

The most common mistake made when introducing new technology is over-reliance. Now, there are many ideas thrown around on what a “contact tracing app” should look like. And with today’s technology, most of the suggestions are technically feasible. However, we need to be careful to not miss the forest for the trees. We should not be implementing an all-encompassing one-stop-shop app that is able to perform end-to-end contact tracing if it means compromising other factors. These can be things like the privacy of users, over investing, flexibility, and so many other key areas that simply should not be compromised.

Developing a technological solution that is able to perfectly contact trace people who test positive for COVID-19 will be close to impossible. We should instead be looking for a solution that is able to assist the people and processes perform contact tracing more efficiently and effectively.

We have pieced together based on our experiences and skill sets what we think are foundational guiding principles for contact tracing solutions for businesses:

  1. Speed to market is critical. With exponential growth, the virus does not wait for anyone to create a perfect solution. Developing tools that can quickly be rolled out is key.
  2. Privacy matters and people should be very clear of data usage, access, and eventual deletion. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” – Benjamin Franklin. Privacy is a serious matter and COVID-19 should not be an excuse to throw it out the window.
  3. Solutions need to be flexible enough to adapt to changes. Situations are rapidly changing – and so should the tool. There are no clear guidelines or requirements set out by governing bodies. Everyone is still trying to figure things out as situations change over time. The right solution needs to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes.
  4. The right solution is contactless. The message is loud and clear on how to stop the virus from spreading. There is no point in creating a tool that assists with detective controls, when it compromises preventive controls.
  5. Solutions must be simple and adoptable. Whatever is being implemented needs to be able to be used on a variety of different devices such that businesses don’t need to engage in overhauling their tech just for this current need.
  6. Relevant enough to be a sustainable solution. Emergencies happen all the time. They merely vary in magnitude. A tool that best serves the current situation will be one that can cater for a variety of other situations with only small enhancements needed.
  7. User-friendly. Techies love to overthink applications and what can be done. In this case, the sole purpose is the collection of entry and exit data to be used if someone in the vicinity becomes infected. So the user interface should deliver on this simple task and then drop that data in a facility for extraction when needed. It should not extend to try to do more.

The solutions that are about to be launched into the market must be simple and not intrude on people’s daily tasks. They should also give employers the assurance of what data is collected and how the data will be treated. The solutions need to be reliable and work a whole lot better than pen and paper.

Now, lots of development firms can make these simple solutions, but it requires an awareness of the principles discussed above. We hope solution-makers follow these principles and help businesses get back to doing what they love – helping New Zealanders.

Stay safe Aotearoa.