Mar 23, 2020 - Technology

Tech companies partner with public sector to take on coronavirus

IBM logo

Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The past couple of days have seen a wave of partnerships between government and private tech companies (or individuals) to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The federal and state governments need private-sector help to navigate the crisis but can offer key resources and information that private actors otherwise couldn't access.

Driving the news:

  • Yext, a company that sells tools to businesses to help them manage their online profiles and field customer queries, helped the New Jersey government build a website in just a few days to serve as an online hub for coronavirus information.
  • IBM, along with other tech giants — including Google, Amazon and Microsoft — is working with the White House, a number of universities and several national labs to make supercomputing resources available to help explore potential treatments or cures for coronavirus.
  • A group of techies, many with experience in the Obama White House, are offering their skills to government agencies in need of their expertise. The volunteer effort, dubbed U.S. Digital Response, includes Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka, former deputy U.S. CTO Ryan Panchadsaram (now at Kleiner Perkins), and Cori Zarek, another former deputy U.S. CTO, who is now at Georgetown University.

What they're saying:

  • Yext: "Our whole mission is to fight misinformation," Yext CEO Howard Lerman told Axios. "We're seeing tens of thousands of questions per hour come through," he said just hours after it went live, adding that the website was put together in just 24 hours and the company wants to do this for any government that needs it.
  • IBM: IBM Research director Dario Gil said in a blog post that its Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has already allowed researchers to "to screen 8,000 compounds" to identify those most likely to bind to a key protein of the virus and block its ability to infect cells. From that, Gil said, 77 promising small-molecule drug compounds were identified for real-world experimentation. "Now we must scale," Gil said.
  • U.S. Digital Response: Pahlka told Axios the group has more than 1,100 volunteers already, but needs more state, local and federal agencies to know of their services. The need, she notes, is huge as governments see not only surging demand for directly virus-related information, but also for services like unemployment assistance and food aid. "We know they are overwhelmed, and we have great people to help them," Pahlka said.
Go deeper