THE last 12 months have been a whirlwind of activity for NearForm, as its technology played a pivotal role in the fight against Covid-19.
Through its work, initially with the HSE, the company developed a solution for digital contact tracing that went beyond exposure notifications to support existing contact tracing efforts in addition to allowing users track their symptoms, access up-to-date information, and QR code check-in.
Co-founder and president of NearForm Cian Ó Maidín explains: “Following the launch of the Covid Tracker App, we supported the Irish Government in donating the underlying code by open sourcing it to the Linux Foundation Public Health under the name Covid Green. This source code is now being used for free by public health authorities all over the world, covering tens of millions of people.”
NearForm has worked in partnership with public health authorities across the US and the UK, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, Scotland, Gibraltar, Jersey, Northern Ireland and New Zealand.
“We were also the first to develop inter-operability which allowed for apps from different jurisdictions to work across borders. This is included as an option in all of our Covid-19 contact tracing app solutions, and can be activated once corresponding regions decide to do so.
“We believe the next big step is intercontinental inter-operability, for example between the US and Europe, which would add an additional layer of protection to those who must travel for essential purposes.”
The year that changed everything for NearForm began with a phone call from the HSE on a Sunday afternoon in March 2020 — setting off a chain reaction of creative activity that eventually pole-vaulted the company into a global profile.
“Within 24 hours of that phone call, we had a team come together in our virtual command centre at work using the same tools we relied on every day to host a fully remote, design-led workshop with the Department of Health and HSE to outline the scope, functionality, and requirements of the app,” says Cian.
Within 10 days, NearForm had a working prototype, and within four months it had helped the Government deploy an app which garnered 25% adoption within 36 hours.
“I like to think of us as a ‘Swat team of developers’ — working at that pace is our bread and butter, because we specialise in accelerated solution delivery, that’s why many of our clients choose to work with us,” Cian explains.
As NearForm has been remote almost since its inception, while the majority of companies were transitioning to a new remote working environment, they were uniquely agile to meet changing needs.
“In late 2020 we successfully launched contact tracing apps in three territories at once — with a fully remote team. It’s a great testament to the team, and to remote working as a practice. More than anything it was an honour for us to be able to work on this stuff in a rollercoaster of a year — people at NearForm have a real sense of pride in what we achieved.”
Since first working with US companies back in 2014, NearForm now has a number of clients in North America, including Walmart, Uber, ADP, and Conde Nast: “2020 showed us we are really well-positioned to help companies at scale.”
In less than a decade, NearForm has developed a global network for the delivery of high-value, high-quality technical solutions and consulting.
“With staff across more than 20 countries and a multiplicity of timezones, we have an established base to rapidly grow delivery capability in the United Kingdom, United States, and Europe without having to change our structures or ways of working.”
Cian sees 2021 as adding another hundred staff to the NearForm workforce.
“We are looking to hire a lot of people, many of which will be in the US and the UK, and we are also building out our leadership team across those two regions, as well as growth across Europe and possibly further afield.”
Regardless of the continued expansion and further global ambitions, NearForm will continue to maintain its headquarters in Waterford.
“In 2015, Waterford County Council’s old building in Tramore became our new HQ, and despite 90% of our employees working remotely, it remains our headquarters so I guess you could say that Tramore is in our DNA.”
From a company and employee perspective, Tramore has proven not just an attractive place to live but has also given NearForm a base in which to build internationally facing technology for major global enterprises.
“2020 has shown others that you don’t need to live in big cities like San Francisco, London, or Dublin to have a successful international business and a good quality of life. As we have a concentration of the leadership of the company based here, really you could say that our spiritual home is Tramore — but our company is based on the internet as we have people in over 20 countries working for NearForm and this is going to expand significantly over the coming years.
Looking to the remainder of 2021, Cian takes a cautiously upbeat view.
“The vaccine will play a huge part in making this happen, but it’s also important that we as a society continue to protect ourselves and our families until the rollout is complete. If we continue to pull together, while staying apart, using the advice and the tools we have to protect ourselves, I believe we can help our society and economy reopen and stay open safely.”
2021 is going to be very much a stop-start year, he predicts, with things returning to a consistent level of normal by December.
“I am very optimistic for Ireland going forward, we have a thriving tech community and industry here.”
With the adoption of remote working practices, he anticipates a huge opportunity for the creation of sustainable high-quality jobs all across Ireland.
“We think that this will breathe new life into small towns and villages across the country over time. There’s no reason why more organisations like NearForm can’t pop up all over Ireland going forward.”