Standards have always accelerated innovation, COVID-19 demands we do this again with data

The COVID-19 crisis has drawn out many of the best sides of our collective character. We are surrounded by inspiring stories of ad-hoc collaborative action to solve this truly human crisis, from doctors sharing notes over email in search of a shared understanding of the virus, to cross-border teams forming to source essential PPE from around the world.

As in any major event, in particular one as disastrous as this, humans crave information. Where are people sick, how many are dying, is it near loved ones, will it happen to me? And organizations need to ask similar questions — which parts of my business can begin to come back online, and how do I return my employees to work safely?

In fact, more fundamentally than in many other crises, this one is all about information. If we could figure out where the virus is, it would be easier to control. If we could figure out where it isn’t, that’s where businesses could start to return to normal. And it isn’t easy to do: the virus is invisible for some time before it reveals itself in symptoms, by which time it could have spread widely; all too often, it doesn’t reveal itself symptomatically at all.

But we’re not completely helpless. We can use data to anticipate where it could be, and get ahead of it, or ensure there are resources available by the time it gets there. We can use data to balance healthcare and economic recovery. We can inform decision-makers — to be sure, in this pandemic, each of us is a decision-maker.

Given all of these, it is no surprise that the past few weeks have seen an explosion of information, from any number of sources. There are many incredible organizations gathering this critical information — New York Times, EU CDC, USAFacts.org, COVID Tracking Project, COVID Act Now, and many academic institutions producing important predictive models — IHME, University of Texas, Los Alamos, and others.

And while there are storied organizations like ESRI and the Pacific Disaster Center that provide this data to crisis management experts and in specific applications already, this is a unique scenario where everyone needs access to this data — from individuals to organizations of all industries and sizes.

But which data sources are reliable? Are they comparable, so they can be combined (apples to apples)? And, critically, how can the data be made easy to consume by computers, that can turn it into visualizations to drive insights, power mobile applications to reach hundreds of millions of people, and automate decision support systems? Does every group of developers building mobile apps need to search GitHub for raw data, scrape web pages of their published figures, become expert enough to tell good data from bad, and build the same infrastructure for data ingestion, normalization, aggregation, and reliable consumption?

This is why we’ve built the COVID-19 Data Platform, a free service that unlocks the full power of Salesforce to gather, unify, and deliver trusted COVID-19 data to developers and analysts around the world, as well as the Salesforce ecosystem.

Unlocking the full power of Salesforce

At Salesforce we are a different type of company, one that is built on a foundation of values and stakeholder responsibility. The way we enact this is through our 1-1-1 model, which we started with our founding in 1999, where we return 1% of our equity, 1% of our product, and 1% of our employees time to non-profits and NGOs.

We’re also a global community — a community of internal developers and external partners who build critical applications on the Salesforce platform; a community of developers and IT professionals who consume and contribute APIs openly in MuleSoft’s Anypoint Exchange; and a community of passionate data people who share insights and inspiration with Tableau.

So it made sense to try to increase the clock-speed of our community who are responding to this crisis. By making the data more consumable, more reliable, and more accessible, the next generation of mission-critical applications and visualizations could be developed to help everyone.

To do this, we brought together the best of our technology across Salesforce, MuleSoft and Tableau; as well as that of our collaborators at Akamai Technologies, Snowflake, and AWS.

MuleSoft is built on the vision of leading with APIs and integration to deliver reusable units of data and capabilities, which form application networks: ecosystems that are designed so they work together to solve problems quickly and reliably. All of these capabilities help us to monitor and manage the consumption and harmonization of these COVID-19 data sources into the data platform. Equally, our bias towards discoverability and re-use means we also have the perfect vehicle for distributing these APIs for public consumption, through Anypoint Exchange.

Tableau makes it possible to analyze and visualize the value of this data. The data is only as good as the story that comes out of it, and Tableau helps to bring this public data together with proprietary data to help make decisions relevant to each organization and individual. Tableau visualizations powered by this platform enable the Work.com Command Center, and we are making the data from the platform available for free through Tableau Public. But in the spirit of openness and collaboration we are also distributing this data to the AWS Data Exchange, Snowflake Data Exchange, and data.world, so that developers and analysts can make use of it in those platforms too.

At Salesforce more broadly, we are committed to moving the market towards better data standardization and interoperability through our work with the Cloud Information Model (CIM) — we fundamentally believe that the less time spent agreeing on the attribute name for Name, the better it is for everyone. So our Chief Data Modeler, Lars Martinsson, and his team have been tirelessly maintaining a canonical data model for all this new data, which we’ll share back to the public for comment. Additionally, by integrating this data reliably into the Salesforce platform, we enable mission-critical applications to be developed rapidly, including of course Work.com.

Finally, this platform wouldn’t have been possible without our amazing collaborators — Snowflake has enabled us to quickly build and maintain the data warehouse that powers the platform, and Akamai’s global network will ensure that our public APIs are fast and reliable wherever you are on the planet. Thank you.

Conclusion

Our first data sources are now freely available in the Tableau COVID-19 Data Hub and the AWS Data Exchange, and our first APIs are available in MuleSoft’s Anypoint Exchange, with many more on the way. We’ll also be publishing our reference data models for comment as well, to start the conversation. To learn more about how we’re enabling the community with Tableau, read this story from Jeremy Blaney on our team.

We will get through this crisis by working together — and that also means finding ways to share and integrate trusted information. Standards and interoperability in computer hardware were famously responsible for unleashing innovation across competing computing platforms, perhaps if we can rally around a similar approach to data, we can do the same again.

For more information on COVID-19 Data Platform, click here.



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