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Tech for Climate panel discussion at WEF 2020
Climate change remains the greatest unresolved challenge, but the efforts made possible by new technologies can become game-changers. It is therefore no surprise that both digitalisation and climate have become the two decisive driving forces of our time. Using new technologies to protect the environment, reduce CO2 and achieve climate neutrality is crucial.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, this very topic took centre stage at digitalswitzerland’s WEF Breakfast event, which was held on 22 January during the WEF 2020. We hosted a session on “Tech for Climate” in cooperation with UBS. Renowned experts shared how technology is leading us to new climate change solutions. Guests began arriving at the UBS branch in Davos well before 7 a.m. and the room quickly filled up.
Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer advocates a pragmatic way forward
The event was kicked-off with opening speeches by Sergio P. Ermotti, Group CEO of UBS Group AG and Marc Walder, founder of digitalswitzerland.
“Technological solutions and advances offer great opportunities to combat climate change. They also offer major investment opportunities”, Ermotti stated.
In the opening statement of Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer, he called for more facts, more innovations and a pragmatic legislator. He acknowledged that climate change will demand long-term efforts, the question is how the challenges of climate change can be tackled. In his view, Switzerland has everything it takes to be successful and to make a valuable contribution. “Ultimately, we must see ourselves as a team – as Team Switzerland”.
“Tech for climate” was discussed by a high-ranking panel consisting of a pioneer, a startup, corporates and an investor, who had a lot to share:
Sabine Keller-Busse, UBS Global COO & President EMEA, member of the Group Executive Board
Cedrik Neike, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO Smart Infrastructure
Bertrand Piccard, Initiator and visionary behind “Solar Impulse”
Gina Domanig, Managing Partner of Emerald Technology Ventures
Jan Wurzbacher, CEO and Founder of Climeworks
Going beyond awareness and using existing solutions to protect our environment
“Clean technologies exist to protect the environment. The good news is: they have become profitable. It is not science fiction. It is not the future – it is the present. If a company was run today the way the world is run, the CEO would be in prison. In the fields of water, energy, agriculture and industry we already have everything we need to halve CO2 emissions without any additional innovations”, the visionary and global pioneer Bertrand Piccard declared. Solutions must be pulled to the market and not just pushed forward. This requires the support of the government. Regulations are needed for the threats we face. His strong concluding remarks were: “Today, in most parts of the world and in most sectors, it is more profitable to protect the environment than to destroy it. The people who do not understand this are either ignorant, so we have to inform them, or selfish, and we have to oblige them.”
Investing in clean tech can make a difference
According to Sabine Keller-Busse from UBS, climate change is more than just a trend. Banks and financial institutions can play an important role. Where the money flows, innovation can be turned into reality. “At UBS, we are already actively using technology to positively impact climate action, and I expect exponential opportunities in the future for tech in this field“, Keller-Busse added.
More than just mitigation and elimination
“Science has concluded that even if we do everything we can to reduce emissions, there are still about 15 billion tonnes of C02 that we need to remove from the air every year by mid century if we want to be able to restore global warming to 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees. We have already gone too far, so we need more than just mitigation and elimination”, Jan Wurzbacher, CEO and Founder of Climeworks stressed. Despite the alarming words of the entrepreneur, he concluded his address on a positive note: “I am fascinated to see how quickly the technology can be scaled and be part of the solution to this challenge we are facing”.
Not without economic pressure
Gina Domanig has been investing in “Tech for Climate” for many years as Managing Partner of Emerald Technology Ventures. These technologies have been around for over 20 years. The problem is the market. “Today we are experiencing a shift that either regulations are being introduced or being threatened because many large companies are not quite so altruistic. They will not shift their core business to cleaner technologies to save the world – they have to be under economic pressure to do so.
Together we are stronger
Cedrik Neike, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO Smart Infrastructure summed up that the fight against climate change is essential, it is crucial: “We need to work together with startups, with investors and with financial institutions. In other words, we have to create an ecosystem to address the problem. No one can do it alone. Switzerland has a huge opportunity to contribute to this.”
Stop talking, start acting
At the end of the event, Ivo Furrer, President of digitalswitzerland, echoed the main message of the panel discussion and summarised that we must not only talk about these environmental issues, but also take action. While WEF 2020 is still ongoing, we are already looking forward to the next edition of our WEF breakfast with inspirational contributors.
Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation, changed working habits and threatened livelihoods. In fact, it has accelerated trends that were incipient and slow to take off before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, with scarce resources and threatened business models, companies should be building capabilities and a dynamic workforce. Lifelong education is an integral part of keeping people active and skilled.
The business case for re-and upskilling
There is a great business case to be made for re-skilling and upskilling people, or as one expert called it “retraining and redeploying” rather than firing. Beyond the humanist arguments that must be taken into account, as a rule of thumb it costs one-third of an annual salary to make a person redundant and manage the subsequent change process within the organisation. To recruit with headhunters can cost another 20% of an annual salary or more, depending on the position and the company. That is just cash out.
If the adage “Time Is Money” is worth anything then it is a no-brainer to try and retrain staff. Retraining and redeploying costs much less; no payouts, no runway needed to high performance. Employees that are retrained remain in the company and already have organisational knowledge, fit into the culture and can hit performance at speed. Particularly as online, mobile, short and long courses are widely available and not necessarily costly.
Changing job functions
As technology is deployed, job functions tend to change. Whereas pre-Covid companies were implementing technology at a sedate pace, now this has accelerated dramatically as companies try to keep their business sustainable. This is having effects on each worker, as automation can deal with routine functions, whereas humans can respond to the more complex issues
In the job arena, one example of much faster processes in with artificial intelligence (AI), which can scan millions of job descriptions in a short time and is therefore able to change job taxonomies quickly. Before this, job experts took ten years to review and change job taxonomies. More and more companies are using AI to analyse and chart their employees’ progress through different job areas; not enough are using the know-how that AI could offer to transfer and upskill people.
A moral and ethical conundrum
While the discourse is that humans have to be at the centre, the pace of change is such that humans risk begin laid by the wayside. The only way for this not to happen is to ensure that every single person in the working world, employed or not, can have access to lifelong learning that is appropriate, accessible and adds value to a professional profile. Organisations must become more flexible in the way they move people across jobs to retain existing knowledge and create new applicable skills that serve both the individual and the organisation. It is only by a joint effort by all players that jobs will be retained and business supported.
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IMD recently published its World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020. First published in 1989, the study uses benchmarking, statistics and data on economic, political, social and cultural dimensions to analyse and rank countries’ abilities to achieve long-term value creation.
After years of consistent improvement, Switzerland has moved up the ranking to third place – particularly encouraging given that this study takes such a holistic view of competitiveness factors.
Future success factors
I believe that Switzerland has much to offer in our times of volatility and uncertainty. But even more important in my view is to consider what we can do to build on existing strengths and position Switzerland in an increasingly digital/hybrid future. Here, I explore how Switzerland is performing based on four competitiveness criteria.
Switzerland is a nation of engineers. Our winding roads, breath-taking bridges and dense rail network are the envy of many a larger country. So it’s no wonder that Switzerland once again has a podium position in IMD’s ranking for the criteria infrastructure. But what kind of infrastructure should we be building now in readiness for the future?
Already, we understand the importance of digital aspects like fast and reliable fibre-optic broadband and wireless hotspots in rural areas. If smart cities are to become a reality, digital infrastructure will need to keep pace. Switzerland is making a concerted effort to build a future-proof network with stakeholder buy-in from government, telecommunications companies, electricity providers, cable operators, landlords and the public.
For me, infrastructure also includes non-physical aspects like a robust legal framework for digital activities, and strategies to ensure data integrity, sovereignty and security. We need to take a proactive approach to ensure our legislation does not lag behind technological developments.
Switzerland’s health system enjoys a global reputation. As a country, we spend a higher percentage of our GDP on health than any of our bordering neighbours. And we’re the only ones to have increased spending significantly (by around 15%) over the past decade.
I believe that our excellent healthcare reflects other strengths in Switzerland: we’re the life sciences hub of Europe, meaning that cutting edge research and development is happening on our doorstep. We attract the brightest minds from around the world, and some of them naturally find their way into our healthcare system.
Looking forward, I would like to see greater digitalisation of patient data and records as a way to enhance communication between players in different healthcare settings.
The Swiss education system is much lauded for its dual focus on academic and vocational tracks. It’s a recipe that has worked for many years. The quality of Swiss education has been singled out in various studies as exceptional, including in various WEF Global Human Capital Reports.
I believe that we need to capitalise on this outstanding quality and maintain it as educational needs and learning formats shift. Here at digitalswitzerland, we’re vocal supporters of #LifelongLearning. Our children will work in new professions like Ethical Technology Advisor, Personal Content Curator or even Robot Liaison Officer. Some will have job titles we can’t yet even imagine.
Today’s workforce will also have to upskill and adapt to new digital tasks and novel ways of working. And SMEs and multinationals alike will have to embrace change and empower their people to move with it. New learning formats and an explosion in the number of online courses will revolutionise the breadth and depth of learning opportunities. Let’s ensure Switzerland leads this revolution.
Having said in my introduction that it doesn’t all boil down to GDP, I think it’s important to note the strength of Switzerland’s economy. We have fantastic global trade links – partly because we’re an attractive location for international organisations, but also because we cultivate innovative home-grown business.
Particularly impressive, however, is the way we manage public finances. Switzerland’s national debt pales in comparison to that of its peers in Europe and around the world at around a third of GDP. As public spending reached new heights due to COVID-19 bail-outs, Switzerland is one of the few countries that won’t be devastated by this unpredicted financial expense.
Going forward, I have confidence in our political system to make decisions that balance the needs of our economy, health and individual businesses. In our turbulent times, this is a key resilience factor.
At digitalswitzerland, our mission is to position Switzerland as a leading innovation hub. I’m consistently impressed by the agility and adaptability of stakeholders in Switzerland’s ecosystem – not least during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
I believe the foundations are in place and it’s up to all of us to build a future that benefits all.
In May, the Swiss Parliament decided that a legal framework must be put in place. The Federal Council submitted the Botschaft for the urgent federal law on the corona tracing app on 20 May. This week, the Swiss Parliament finally gave green light to officially make the app available for the general public. The app will be published by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). According to a survey, 70 percent of the Swiss population welcomes its introduction.
This blog takes a closer look at the App and what we can expect from it, the current status of the worldwide release of digital contact tracing apps and the critical questions that are still open.
Swiss researchers shaping the Global Standard
The new proximity tracing app has raised high hopes to get back to normal. The SwissCovid-App is designed to alert users who have been in contact with a person who has tested positive for the coronavirus. It notifies the user if he or she has been less than two meters away from an infected person for more than fifteen minutes.
As great the potential benefits of such an application are, it is crucial to be also aware of potential risks. It is crucial that the data collected for contact tracing may never be used for other purposes – or linked to other data to identify and possibly further profile individuals.
Regarding the SwissCovid-App, the technical aspects are fulfilled. The App fulfills the criteria of “privacy by design”, does not track the user’s location, only the proximity between users of the app based on Bluetooth. In a first blog about proximity tracing apps, I summarized the formal criteria that must be met for a trustworthy app: voluntary, transparency, privacy by design, decentralized storage and processing of data, temporary, necessary, proportionate and scientifically validated. However, to be effective, the app must be used by as many people as possible. Trust in the app is therefore essential.
Within a very short amount of time, a team of developers and researchers has developed a complex distributed app that meets the highest technical, security and data protection standards. The SwissCovid App is based on the Apple-Google API. This makes Switzerland the first country in the world to use the Google and Apple interface for proximity tracing. By joining forces, Apple and Google are setting the global standard – which in turn was decisively shaped by the Swiss researchers from ETHZ and EPFL. They were able to win over the two tech giants for the decentralized approach, which offers maximum data and privacy protection.
Digital Contact Tracing worldwide: Centralized vs decentralized approach
For instance, France and the UK currently use a central protocol. Under this system, data is entered into centralized computer systems operated by the government. In Switzerland, the protocol and storage of data is decentralized. This offers users more privacy and control over their information by keeping it on their phone. Many countries in Europe, for example Germany, opt for the decentralized approach based on the Swiss model, which is also promoted by Apple and Google.
South Korea’s contact-tracing approach uses video surveillance, credit card data and geolocation information. This extensive collection of data and intrusive surveillance is problematic from a data protection perspective.
SwissCovid-App could be a trustworthy solution to strengthen analog contact tracing
The parliamentary decision to create a legal framework for the app has allowed a broad public debate on the potential benefits and risks of digital contact tracing, and the clarification of open questions about the process. It underlines the dimension of voluntariness by prohibiting companies and others to force people to use the app. After a test phase, which involved around 15’000 people, the testing of the security, as well as functionality of the app, we will have soon an app available that meets key privacy and security issues from a technical point of view, while at the same time being introduced in a clear and legal framework that protects the rights and freedoms of citizens. In addition, the Federal Council should be able to stop the app when it is no longer necessary or when the app proves to be insufficiently effective. These points are of crucial importance and, in combination with transparency and communication along the process, have helped to create trust. Thus, the Swiss App could potentially serve as a global role model for responsible digital contact tracing. As part of a broader strategy (test, trace, isolate), digital contact tracing could make a significant contribution to the common good and be an act of solidarity
However, the real test to prove its effectiveness starts with its public release, expected at the end of June. It is an experiment. No one knows today how many people will actually use the app, what long-term impact this will have on our society and our use of new technologies. The debate and development process of the app is so far seen positive, yet its release should be followed critically. Bluetooth technology is not flawless either. It cannot be completely ruled out that so-called “false positives” – i.e. false reports of a possible infection – will occur more frequently than in classical contact tracing. Whether the SwissCovid-App will be a success story will be seen in the next days and weeks.
So far in this series, PwC, the University of St. Gallen and IMD have shared some of the ways they’ve responded to the crisis with innovative thinking and digital technologies. World Vision and Salesforce told us how they’re making a difference in communities around the world. And Heads! International and Daimler explained how they turned adversity into opportunity. As we emerge from the acute phase of the crisis, we explore how some of our other members’ innovation efforts could support a new normal.
Beyond “business as usual”
American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) strives to be at the intersection of technology and human service. Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the company has helped hundreds of thousands of travellers with rebooking, cancellations, refunds and repatriation. As people begin to cross borders again, there will be a ‘new normal’, with an expectation for disruption and uncertainty. GBT has been helping clients gain visibility on forward bookings by proactively pulling data, identifying and communicating with clients and their travellers that need support. This will continue as travel returns and companies will want to closely monitor travel plans and analyse the impact of travel on budgets, cashflow and planning.
Promoting digital innovation
The ZHAW University of Applied Sciences switched seamlessly to digital teaching during the coronavirus crisis. To support planning certainty and protect student and staff health, the university has moved all teaching online until 31 July 2020. ZHAW has underlined its commitment to innovation by pledging CHF 500,000 from its Digital Futures Fund (DFF) to support projects that provide a greater overall benefit during the pandemic. From over 109 applications, ZHAW digital selected 27 proposals in digital transformation at the ZHAW as well as externally. Some of the projects address immediate concerns such as ways to host events digitally. Others support a longer-term collaboration and networking within the ZHAW digital community.
Importance of infrastructure
Besides an innovative mindset and willingness to adapt, a strong digital infrastructure is more important than ever in the post-pandemic world. As an important pioneer of technology around the world, Huawei implemented many innovative solutions from the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Many of the solutions to fight the pandemic in China used 5G to enable AI-powered services. Use cases cover various different scenarios, from comprehensive telemedicine and remotely controlled medical equipment, to unmanned spraying devices – so collaboration with other expert partners is important
Despite the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, our members have embraced digital opportunities to adapt to life in lockdown, maintain business operations and support staff and customers. If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that collaboration and communication powered by digital enablers are a powerful mix. In a post-pandemic world, we’ll be ready for whatever comes next.
Perfect time to build a pipeline
Heads! International, a leading international Executive Search company, worked with a major banking client to design a global female talent pipeline on the Managing Director level – during the lockdown phase. While many companies were ordering hiring freezes or postponing new campaigns, Heads! International identified an opportunity: launching this big campaign to coincide with lockdown had a number of positive aspects.
“It may not feel like the right time to be focusing on anything but survival in the COVID-19 climate,” says Claudio Lupi, Partner at Heads! International in Zug, “but now is actually a unique opportunity to increase female leadership globally.”
The disruption people face has forced an openness for new horizons. In agreement with the client, Heads! International decided to trigger this talent pipeline for senior female managers just as many women in the candidate population would be thinking about their future in a post-COVID-19 world. With many people working from home, it’s easier to connect with female talents, reflect with them and communicate in new ways. “As we already have various digital channels built into our business model, we were able to roll out the campaign very quickly,” says Claudio Lupi.
Developing a pipeline of female talent during the crisis means that Heads! International’s client will be well placed in a post-COVID-19 world to deliver fresh perspectives and a more diverse leadership.
Driving digital connections
As government measures forced all but the most essential of businesses to close for an undefined period, the automotive industry was particularly hard hit. From factories to sales floors, the sector had to adapt rapidly to a new normal. At Daimler, the response across the organisation has been as varied as the teams and departments affected.
Alex Rey, Head of Retail Training & Coaching at Mercedes-Benz Schweiz AG, explains how the organisation has been supporting sales staff, mechanics and customer service advisers from 130 Daimler dealerships around Switzerland: “Nobody knew how long lockdown would last so we were keen to explore new ways our dealers could connect with customers at this difficult time. It meant rethinking what has typically been a direct customer-facing business and developing a new digital dialogue.”
As soon as it became apparent that face-to-face training would no longer be possible, the Daimler training team, together with an external training partner, set about designing two video series. The first taught ways to stay in contact with customers by phone, while the second focused on how to present a vehicle by video for interested customers. The aim was to support dealers in their main activity – connecting with customers – rather than making any kind of sales push. In order to benefit dealers and customers in the whole of Switzerland, the tutorial was translated into three languages. It was important that the resources be easy to access, so Daimler chose to share them via youtube. The entire concept was developed, realised and implemented within five days.
Daimler has been embracing digital learning for some time, but the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated use of distance learning tools. Alongside its specific new training series, the company has put together a package of around 250 relevant tutorials, videos and e-trainings so that dealers could spend time away from the showroom effectively.
By focusing efforts on dealers, Daimler wanted to empower those who would otherwise not be able to work during lockdown. Feedback from users has been overwhelmingly positive; people are keen to get back to work properly, but are grateful for the chance to brush up old skills and learn new ones in the meantime.
Taking a longer-term view, connecting with stakeholders and upskilling throughout the crisis will help kick-start business once restrictions are fully lifted.
Trust in technology
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread, the global children’s charity World Vision responded rapidly, building on current best practices to tackle the crisis – and protect the most vulnerable children and their communities – in the 100 countries it serves. The aid and development agency was already working closely with faith leaders before the crisis. As the most trusted and authoritative voices in many communities, their role in informing and advising people is vital. That’s why it’s so important that they spread timely and accurate information that communities can rely on.
The organisation had already been using WhatsApp groups successfully to enable specially trained faith leaders to access and exchange information and experiences. Users draw on these insights to support positive behaviours, increase awareness and decrease stigma around specific issues like HIV, Aids or Ebola. Leveraging a network of WhatsApp groups across Latin America, Asia, Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe, World Vision mobilised an estimated 80,000 faith leaders in the fight against COVID-19. The groups operate much like a telephone tree, as participants activate their own networks and spread key information. This is even more vital in regions with a low literacy rate.
Christoph von Toggenburg, CEO of World Vision Switzerland, confirms: “It’s about empowering faith leaders to make a real difference through authentic voices that people trust. The WhatsApp discussions are also inspiring new ways of communicating vital information during the lockdown.”
World Vision has also expanded technology use to help frontline healthcare workers deliver support in the crisis. The mobile platform CommCare is already proven in tracking and managing a continuum of service delivery steps in a range of healthcare settings. The tool works online or offline so is well suited for use in some of the poorest and most rural communities that World Vision supports, where the organisation has built a network of 220’000 community health workers. Drawing on experience with mobile solutions to address Ebola outbreaks, developer Dimagi adapted the CommCare app rapidly to the Covid-19 needs. The app incorporates WHO-recommended response mechanisms, can be rapidly tailored to country-specific needs – including local languages – and allows users to add cases or workflows as needed. Regular updates ensure information is always up to date and communities get the most relevant advice.
A force for good
Trusted, up-to-date information is always important, but absolutely vital right now when COVID-19 details are changing by the hour. Being informed with real-time data can help increase safety and wellbeing, as well as reduce uncertainty during these uncertain times. Blaise Roulet, Salesforce Country Leader Switzerland, says: “Solidarity is so important during this crisis. At Salesforce, we have a responsibility to give back to our communities, and we’re using our technology and resources to help in any way we can during the COVID-19 crisis.”
With a focus on bringing companies and customers together, Salesforce uses data-driven technology to deliver rapid insights. As healthcare providers face an influx of requests due to COVID-19, Salesforce has expanded its Salesforce Care solution with additional features that help companies in any industry stay connected to stakeholders. And because everyone’s facing so much change at once, Salesforce is offering free 24×7 support, coaching, and guidance with Salesforce experts to help customers successfully deploy and use Salesforce Care solutions in this time of need.
Time is of the essence so new and existing customers appreciate the fact that the Salesforce Care solutions are available immediately, and can be set up very quickly. The add-ons are being offered free of charge as part of Salesforce’s commitment to doing good.
Although most people these days possess some degree of digital literacy, it’s a skillset that needs to be developed and maintained as part of a commitment to #LifelongLearning. The right mindset, combined with awareness and know-how, are vital to navigate the digital world effortlessly. Many people have had a crash course in digital technologies recently as offices moved en masse to kitchen tables, and meetings were squeezed onto smartphone screens.
PwC is embracing the potential of digitalisation and actively works to strengthen public trust in a rapidly changing digital world. In recognition of the particularly important role digital skills play right now, PwC Switzerland is offering its Digital Fitness app free of charge to all private users and companies until the end of July 2020. With a host of user-friendly features and targeted content, the app empowers users to stay relevant, boost their digital prowess and navigate the digital world more skillfully.
Andreas Staubli, CEO of PwC Switzerland says: “As the leading audit and advisory company in Switzerland, it is a given for us to support society and the economy. With the Digital Fitness app, we are offering a resource which users can easily integrate into their everyday lives.”
With so many of us staying home right now, it is the perfect time to dive into the digital world and develop new skills for the future.
Learning goes digital
Learning hasn’t stopped just because educational establishments are closed. Higher education institutions around the country have adapted fast to the situation. In fact, for some, the crisis has served to accelerate ongoing digital transformation projects. The University of St. Gallen (HSG) is one of them. Having launched a new Learning Management System last year, HSG was planning to focus on digital collaboration win the second half of the year. But the time plan was radically redefined as the crisis unfolded.
HSG quickly mobilised blended learning options like web-conferencing to support students and lecturers in quarantine. Throughout, HSG has tried to anticipate and stay one step ahead. When the lockdown announcement became imminent, capacity for online lectures was increased rapidly through a web conferencing tool suitable for our cohorts of 500+ students. The final testing phase is now underway to enable online exams for students no longer able to travel to Switzerland. On a wider scale, this could also be relevant if campus exams are not possible in the summer session.
At HSG, willingness to engage with new tools almost instantly was exceptional. But while the pace of change was welcomed by digital pioneers, it felt like an avalanche for digital rookies now and then. Various video tutorials, regular live Q&A sessions, and an online community “HSG stands together” helped everyone keep up and deliver a smooth continuation of classes for students.
Disruption drives innovation
Disruption – like we’re seeing in the Covid-19 crisis – is a great accelerator of change. “People get used to the day-to-day and when something shocks the system, people get out their comfort zone and think about what they can do better,” confirms Louis Leclezio, IMD’s Chief Technology and Customer Experience Officer. The business school has developed a hybrid auditorium (HUB), which blends the 100% virtual experience with the in-situ classroom. Programme content is being adapted to accommodate the vision, with some courses already being taught using the newly designed virtual technology.
IMD is also supporting colleagues through its spirit@imd initiative. Via a dedicated intranet page, employees can quickly find news on coronavirus initiatives involving staff, updates on virtual wellness sessions, plus easy access to a multitude of working tools and information. Louis Leclezio summarises his organisation’s efforts: “We don’t get worried, we get busy.”
These stories highlight what can be achieved with the right attitude, a commitment to solidarity and effective digital enablers.
Beyond acknowledging the importance of using new technologies to fight Covid-19, such an app also raises critical questions and concerns: Would it tempt states to increase their surveillance of citizens’ behaviour? How will data protection and privacy be ensured? What would a widespread use of the app mean for our society?
The blog is part of a blog series, which looks at issues that are tackled by the Swiss Digital Initiative (SDI). An initiative, which has been launched in September 2019 by digitalswitzerland and under the patronage of Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer. It aims to promote the responsible use of new technologies through concrete projects. In the last weeks, the need to incorporate ethical principles and values into technologies has become more apparent than ever.
Most Swiss people are in favour of digital contact tracing
Intermediary results of an ongoing survey conducted by the innovation ethics lab ethix show that participants are willing to use a decentralized model – as promoted in Switzerland – and consider the balance between protection of privacy and contribution of the app to crisis resolution to be acceptable. For those resistant to this, the impact on privacy is disproportional.
Proximity tracing as part of a larger strategy to fight Covid-19
In Switzerland, ETH and EPFL are working on an app, based on the DP3T (Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing) concept, that will use the new Google and Apple contact tracing APIs when they become available. The app is designed to alert users who have been in contact with a person tested positive for the coronavirus. It does not trace the user location, but only traces proximity between users of the app on the basis of Bluetooth. As soon as two app users come into close contact, the proximity tracing app registers the contact as an encrypted “handshake”. If someone tests positive for the coronavirus this person can notify their anonymous contacts registered by the app and stored in a decentralized manner. According to EPFL and ETH, the app will be ready by 11 May.
The app alone is not the solution, but must be part of a larger strategy combined with additional measures (e.g. comprehensive testing).
Elements of a trustworthy application
For the app to be effective, it must be used by as many people as possible. Trust in the app is therefore essential. A key to trust is to ensure that the app meets the highest standards of privacy and security and maintains appropriate control mechanisms. The following main criteria must be fulfilled.
Both the Federal Data Protection Commissioner, Adrian Lobsiger, and the National Ethics Committee gave green light for digital contact tracing under specific conditions. They emphasised above all the consensus aspect: every step must be voluntary and without compulsion, even after installation. The Federal Council announced that the use of the app will be voluntary in Switzerland.
It is crucial that the application ensures user data privacy and enables user control over their data. It should therefore be open sourced to allow other software developers to review how it is built. As for the Swiss solution, both the documentation and a sample implementation are available on GitHub.
Decentralized storage and processing of data
The approach adopted by DP3T aims to provide maximum security and privacy for the end user. This decentralized storage and processing of data is an important, trust-building principle. Anonymity of the user is guaranteed.
Temporally limited, necessary, proportionally and scientifically validated The Oxford Digital Lab published guidelines for digital tracking and tracing systems and stressed that measures infringing on fundamental rights must be time-bound, and meet standards of necessity, proportionality and scientific validity.
To summarize, from a technical point of view the Swiss solution seems to fulfill the main criteria for a trustworthy app and develops its app on the basis of “privacy by design” principles. Other countries like Germany, which pursued a central approach in the beginning, switched to a decentralized approach according to the “Swiss model”. In addition to the technical and privacy criteria, the Federal Council will need to stand united behind the app with a broad alliance of civil society, economy and science.
Remaining questions and outlook
Open questions remain: How can we ensure the fairness of the app, how can we prevent the digital divide from widening or avoid discrimination of people who do not want or cannot use the app? What if it is not the state, but for example shops, that make it mandatory for their customers to use the app? Another point is the international compatibility: On 20 April, 43 contact tracing apps were available globally – would we have to switch to a local app when crossing the border?
The situation around Covid-19 is continuously evolving and even though science can base its recommendations on data sets and models, it is an unprecedented crisis and predictions are difficult to make. Time is crucial and all necessary means should be explored to get back to normality. To ensure that our freedom and our democratic systems are not restricted, this should happen in a responsible manner. The use of a contact tracing app must remain on a voluntary basis and be understood as one measure among many, as part of a larger strategy. Measures should be based on scientific evidence and be evaluated on the way. Communication, coordination and trust is key. The “Swiss solution” values strong privacy and data security aspects. And isn’t it a paradox: Most of us use many different apps and devices in our everyday life, sharing our data and information without a second thought, with our personal data often being commercially exploited by others.
We can only speculate on what the long-term impact of the use of the proximity app will be on our society and democracy. Waiting would be the wrong strategy. Switzerland should test new solutions, within the bounds of its unique democratic system, where inclusion, cross-sector collaboration and a pragmatic solution-oriented approach is part of its success story. Yet, a broad societal discussion on the long-term effect and proportionality of proximity tracing apps should take place.
Cybersecurity threats, global supply chain and mobility disruptions, and the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. We are just starting to see the first signs of major changes. No one knows what the future holds, but history has shown that crises trigger deep and unexpected shifts. Instead of waiting for a return to pre-pandemic normality, we believe it is now more important than ever to adapt and innovate.
With the new Leap programme, digitalswitzerland wants to address and tackle precisely these interdisciplinary challenges, which require the consideration and inclusion of entire value chains.
The vision of Leap is to empower organisations to create collaborative and impactful ecosystems for innovation. We want to push human-centric innovation as a way to identify sustainable solutions to systemic issues. We want to encourage Switzerland’s key stakeholders to jointly take a Leap of faith!
What is Leap?
Leap unites the digitalswitzerland challenge and Vertical programmes. With its bottom-up approach, the digitalswitzerland challenge aimed to promote collaborative innovation based on concrete projects. The Verticals sought to complement digitalswitzerland’s existing activities from an industry-specific perspective. Leap combines the best elements of the two programmes and key-learnings of the more than 30 projects launched previously.
These two initiatives brought to life projects like Riva Digital – a digital ecosystem that now brings together more than 25 partners. Together they developed an App that makes it possible to monitor high blood pressure by using a smartphone camera. Other projects include the Swiss Autonomous Valley, which brings together experts and visionary entrepreneurs to create a unique ecosystem to accelerate the development of autonomous systems. The Swiss Datacenter Efficiency Association launched a first-of-its-kind data center efficiency label to decarbonize data centers and significantly reduce their overall energy consumption.
Leap functions as an ongoing hackathon, addressing structural risks and challenges to society and the economy. Challenges, opportunities, unmet needs and areas of potential innovation need to be explored. A team of like-minded people then designs and validates suitable solutions. If these ideas are successful locally, they offer the potential to be jointly scaled globally.
How does Leap work and what are the benefits?
Leap follows a systemic ecosystem approach, which is divided into three different phases of exploration, design and validation. This is enabled by a digital platform called Cognistreamer and annual events. Current projects and related news are published on the Leap Webpage and shared with the digitalswitzerland community.
The opportunities of cross-sector collaborative innovation are obvious: solutions and thus new business models for products and services are more complex in the digital age because they are interconnected and therefore rarely limited to one discipline or sector. By accessing and sharing knowledge, Leap participants can test new ideas, build partnerships and networks and develop new business fields. Participants are given a testing ground outside their organisations while developing talents. Collaborative innovation, allows to jointly bear the risks and benefits of sustainable development of the economy and society.
How to join Leap
There are several ways for you to participate in Leap:
Are you a member of digitalswitzerland? Contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org. We will give you further information on Leap and access to our platform so that you can share your ideas and connect with the Leap community. Do you want to join an existing project?