In the fallout of COVID-19, technology has become the one sector that has uniquely benefited from the isolated workforce and the need for novel medicine. But the reliance on tech, medical technology and biotechnology in this uncertain time has provided opportunities for non-tech firms to unite with tech and medical leaders to build tools that hospitals require for care and people need to remain healthy.
How companies manage this switch and communicate the potential issues with customers and shareholders will give them leeway under the extraordinary circumstances. It will also aid in keeping part of their operations in action, making it possible for a faster restart once the nation recovers from the outbreak.
One of the best examples of medical technology companies linking with outside organizations is in the effort to supply hospitals with ventilators for severe coronavirus cases. The number of ventilators in the U.S. fell woefully short of demand. Enter car manufacturers, which had closed up shops, ceasing production until the crisis waned.
General Motors Company Chairman and CEO Mary Barra reached out to every GM facility to gauge which factories could produce ventilators instead of cars for Ventec Life Systems. GM has a target of increasing the number of ventilators Ventec develops in a month from 200 to around 6,000 by the end of April.
Ford Motors has followed suit, partnering with GE Healthcare to produce 1,500 by the end of April and 50,000 ventilators over the next 100 days. Tesla, Inc. will also build ventilators out of its Buffalo, NY facility.
A similar response has played out with facemasks. Hospitals face a shortage of the masks, as they treat patients. Meanwhile, guidelines have changed, encouraging everyone to use a mask as they go to the grocery store or seek out other needed supplies. HP, Inc. has worked with startups that have purchased its 3D printers to develop medical face shields. Apple, Inc. sourced its supply chain, with the help of local governments, to find 10 million masks, which it donated to hospitals. Prada S.p.A turned its fashion design facility into one that would build 80,000 medical gowns and 110,000 masks.
The development of coronavirus tests has become another area where quick adjustment of resources has filled gaps. Here, traditional firms take the lead, but they have to increase operations at an exponential scale to ensure they meet demand. Laboratories, such as Abbott Laboratories or Thermo Fisher Scientific have increased the number of tests they will provide by million or more tests per week, as one example.
It’s a call to action by companies not seen since World War II, yet one that requires coordination and communication, to allow such drastic adjustment to a company’s operations.