COVID contact tracker apps from NearForm adopted by several US states

October 22 2020 No Comments

NearForm is a software solutions company specializing in globally accelerated solution and platform delivery for a range of clients that includes Condé Nast, Ingka, and EY. 

Recently, NearForm has been working in partnership with public health authorities across Europe and the US to deliver COVID-19 contact tracing apps to put power in citizens’ hands and increase engagement when combating the spread of the virus. The company has developed contact tracer apps that are now in use in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Gibraltar, Jersey, the largest of the channel islands, as well as New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, with more currently in development.

Built upon an open-source, collaborative ethos and a unique delivery model, NearForm helps simplify and solve complex business and technology challenges. With a presence in over 20 countries and growing, NearForm creates software solutions that accelerate enterprise success, enrich the customer experience, and contribute to the information community’s development.

We recently spoke with Cian Ó Maidín, the Founder and CEO of NearForm. We discussed COVID-19 contact tracing and their growth within the US market, as well as other expansions.

What makes NearForm unique?

Since its inception almost nine years ago, NearForm has taken a remote-first approach to work. This approach allows us to be more perceptive and responsive to market developments and the needs of our clients. We bring together both design and engineering at NearForm, which enables us to deliver the most challenging projects in very short amounts of time and at a very high level of quality.

In terms of the industry, NearForm is a conduit between the web open source eco-system and the enterprise. We are the biggest contributor to the Node.js project. The team contributes 30% of all the code to the latest release and their contributions to the module eco-system representing about 8% of all the modules downloaded globally each month. 

And of course, this year, as many businesses had to adapt to working remotely, our clients have been able to rely on and leverage our experience as they transition to a new normal.

Can you talk about your experience expanding into and working in the US market?

We first began working with US companies back in 2014 and now have a number of US-based clients, including Walmart, Uber, ADP, and Conde Nast. Our remote-first approach has allowed us to deliver for these clients from our HQ in Waterford with project teams of highly-talented engineers across 21 countries.

As part of the launch of the COVID Tracker app in Ireland, the Irish Government open sourced the underlying code developed by NearForm to the Linux Foundation Public Health for other public health authorities to leverage and build contact tracing apps. Following the apps’ success in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar, we began working with several US states to develop their contract tracing apps.

We have launched COVID Alert apps for New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. All of these apps are inter-state operable with each other, meaning someone from New York can travel to New Jersey and still receive exposure notifications. We worked closely with each public health authority to customize the apps to meet their specific requirements, for example, the content and languages used.


Can you share with us how the COVID-19 Contact Tracer technology works?

Sure, for the contact tracing apps, the COVID Alert apps in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware provide an additional tool to support and augment the manual contact tracing efforts and help states slow the spread of COVID-19. It does this using Bluetooth technology.

When two people meet, their apps exchange a digital handshake using anonymous bluetooth IDs. If a person with the app later tests positive, they can anonymously notify their close contacts by uploading a random six-digit code to the app. This will be picked up by the phones of the people they have exchanged a digital handshake with in the past 14 days. 

A major concern for all US citizens and elsewhere is privacy, and with this in mind, we built these apps from a privacy-preserving approach using a decentralized model. As mentioned, close contacts are identified via anonymous keys. If a person chooses to share their keys following a positive diagnosis, this will be done privately and anonymously.

The apps being fully customizable also allows states to provide relevant information directly to their citizens, while the interoperability between these states adds a layer of protection for those moving across state lines. 

For additional information, a Press Release from New York Governor Cuomo can be found here.

What other types of solutions does NearForm provide for its US clients?

A good example is a recent project with Condé Nast International. Their engineers needed an automated way to migrate vast quantities of content, and they started working to develop a tool.

They needed to manage a wide range of content spanning multiple territories, languages and content types, but they had to meet a hard 90-day deadline of migrating the first territory, Germany.

Condé Nast saw the need for additional resources who were experienced in key technologies, including Node.js and React, so brought us in to assist with the project. You can read a case study on our work with Conde Nast here.

We are continuing to work with our current US clients and are in several discussions with other US states looking to launch their own contact tracing apps.

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