Let us harness digital technology after a pandemic

BelTech 2021 will challenge, celebrate and inspire an explosion of activity this June

Rebecca Walsh, Design Director at Big Motive

When lockdown was first introduced in Northern Ireland at the end of March 2020, it was evident that the world was about to change, but nobody knew how mand to what level.

It was a time of anxiety and panic – people lost their jobs, 200,000 workers in Northern Ireland were furloughed, contracts were cancelled and whole industries have been sidelined since.

For many businesses, technology has been one of the only ways forward.

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There is no doubt that the pandemic accelerated the pace of our digital transformation - particularly in education, retail and healthcare.

Be it homeschooling or zoom catch ups, every one of us embraced our screens and devices.

Moving forward, Northern Ireland has the capability to transform itself with the help of our world-class technological infrastructure.

Despite a challenging period for almost all areas of business, the digital and technological sectors here took huge strides forward, spurred by the pandemic, that present opportunities for reform across health and local government.

We hear day in and day out how GP services are drowning against a tidal wave of demand while the wait for a consultant led appointment continues to grow.

That is the sad reality of how Covid-19 has exasperated our health crisis, leaving a situation with potentially catastrophic outcomes.

But as with the pandemic, there are always solutions to be found and normally where you would least expect them.

From bringing one of Europe’s first digital responses to the pandemic to the public’s fingertips in a mere 12 days, to creating the UK’s first functioning contact-tracing app, the technologists at work in our very own capital city spearheaded the digital response to Covid-19.

A strategic design company based in Belfast, our team at Big Motive entered a truly unique partnership with the Department of Health and a cast of expert collaborators in spring 2020.

With a citizen-centred approach at the forefront, we set out to create an accessible digital service to provide Covid-19 advice while shielding the capacity of GP services.

At almost 200,000 downloads to date, COVIDCare NI has led to a dramatic reduction in calls and visits to healthcare professionals while freeing up medical staff to help critical patients in need of urgent attention.

Two further intensive design processes led to the development of StopCOVID NI, the world’s first Covid app to operate across national borders, and a uniquely adapted system for use among teenagers.

Using multi-disciplinary teams and focusing on citizen-centred design, these innovations allowed the Department of Health to fight back against a raging virus.

Though families have undoubtedly been ravaged by sickness and loss, the pandemic brought countless opportunities for advancement right across the technological landscape.

Our story is of progressing the fight against coronavirus through collaboration and community support. It displays how technology can combat a life-threatening virus

A sector on the cusp of huge advancements, the local tech community will unite to share innovative stories like this at BelTech 2021.

Returning with its traditional deep dive into Software Engineering, BelTech 2021 will also focus on Digital Product Delivery, an addition which I have been privileged to curate in light of developments throughout the pandemic.

The conference that unites technologists and business leaders from accross the country, BelTech 2021 will challenge and celebrate as well as inspire an explosion of activity when we broadcast virtually on Thursday, June 10 and Friday 11.

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