The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of higher education students, faculty, and staff that depend upon these colleges and universities. While many of these schools have demonstrated resilience and innovation by embracing distance learning, guidance, and support for their students, the financial viability of these schools will remain at risk if they can’t clear the path for everybody to return to campus as soon as possible. This can happen only if a comprehensive plan is in place to ensure the safety of everyone on campus—especially those members of the community who are at highest risk of suffering ill effects from COVID-19, such as the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.
There will be many parallel efforts in place to ensure a return to campus is done safely. They are likely to include measures such as routine temperature-taking and monitoring of other symptoms for anyone entering campus; instituting social distancing guidelines across all activities; enacting additional cleaning and hygiene protocols; and many more. But one of the most critical endeavors facing a return to normalcy will be the ability to perform effective testing, with data-driven contact tracing supported by a seamless communication and notification system when a case is discovered.
The Essential Role of Contact Tracing
Contact tracing is one way that COVID-19 patients are supported. It includes warning anyone who has been in contact with an infected patient of their potential exposure in order to stop chains of transmission. While it can often be a very time-consuming, resource-intensive, and manual process, there are major investments and innovations underway to accelerate digital contract tracing capabilities worldwide—given the pivotal role contact tracing plays in providing the necessary assurances that our schools, and our economy, can reopen safely.
For example, Apple and Google announced a partnership in which they are building software into their respective iPhone and Android operating systems—which collectively power billions of devices around the world—that will tell smartphone users if they have been in contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19. As promising as this may sound, there are a number of privacy and policy issues that this potential capability has already raised.
An initiative led by MIT called PACT (Private Automated Contact Tracing) is trying to address many of these concerns. PACT is also looking to leverage individuals’ smartphones for automated COVID-19 contact tracing—but by taking an approach that either doesn’t capture or that redacts the users’ GPS or other identifying data. Apple and Google are working with PACT to enable the delivery of a variety of apps for this endeavor.
Key Capabilities for Higher Education Contact Tracing
But for higher education’s manual and digital contact tracing and communication efforts, universities will need accessible and trustworthy data from across core internal and external sources. The key capabilities universities will require include:
- Data and application integrationacross a typically hybrid infrastructure—which can consist of a combination of multi-cloud and on-premises sources and targets. Critical data that will need to be accessed includes information from student enrollment, human resources, finance, payroll, and recruitment and alumni systems, among many others.
- Contact data enrichment and validation to ensure SMS data, as well as phone and email contact data, is accurate and deliverable and verify that all communication lines are valid and usable.
- Data quality and master data management to ensure contact tracing analytics and insights are based on clean, standardized golden records of students, faculty, and staff. The institution must have the ability to trigger a contact tracing request for everyone on campus.
- Cloud analytics environments to perform necessary contact tracing analytics and highlight risks. Higher education institutions are working to bring this data together in cloud data warehouse environments to perform these critical analyses, leveraging analytics platforms like Amazon Redshift, Microsoft Azure Synapse, Google BigQuery, Snowflake, and others.
I’m hopeful that with the right processes, policies, and tools in place, higher education institutions can continue their journeys toward a safe and successful return to fulfilling their missions. We at Informatica offer dedicated pricing and programs for our higher education customers to support your COVID-19 response initiatives, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything we can do to help you.