In a partnership spanning seven years, Durham University and IBM have been working together in key areas such as research, teaching and learning, recruitment, and other outreach activities.

The importance of this partnership became even more significant with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. IBM stepped in to support Durham researchers in their work to safely and securely share important publicly available information with the NHS and local authorities. The information, including tools, dashboards and reports, comes from trusted sources including the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England. The information hosted on the IBM Public Cloud has been used by local resilience forums and regional modelling cells for local authorities during the pandemic.

The project is led by Durham’s Dr Camila Caiado and Professor Brian Castellani from the Departments of Mathematical Sciences and Sociology respectively.

The Durham team has been using its predictive modelling expertise, a process which uses data and statistics to forecast outcomes, to help regional organisations manage their responses to Covid-19.

This modelling expertise has enabled Dr Caiado and her team of researchers to develop a dashboard with modelling resources and regular reports that not only supports regional planning and decision making, but can be used, for example, to support hospital planning for critical care capacity, and to investigate effectiveness of treatment for different groups of patients.

IBM’s support was invaluable to Durham researchers when they needed to present their analysis to hospital trusts and local authorities. Within 24hours, Durham had access to IBM Public Cloud to host their dashboard, allowing the NHS and councils to access the analysis.

The secure system allows doctors, planners, analysts and all others involved in the local response groups to log in and view this critical information in a timely way.

Durham University’s research responds directly to the need for a regional approach in responding to Covid-19. The research recognises that, while national models have been helpful in predicting worst-case scenarios throughout the pandemic, a regional approach takes into account different health needs and how these vary across the country.

This variation has been highlighted by places such as London which has experienced a high number of cases early on in the crisis, compared to areas such as the North East of England which have ‘peaked’ much later.

Local level insights are crucial because they can help to develop more realistic short and medium-term predictions that inform strategies to exit lockdown.

The university and IBM signed a memorandum of understanding in 2013 and is one of 18 strategic partnerships between IBM and UK universities. Since then, the two organisations have been working together to further joint research projects and support Durham students in their learning through IBM seminars.

Durham researchers and students also have access to IBM’s academic initiative where they can use IBM’s software for teaching and learning.

The Covid-19 project is a part of a long-standing partnership with the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) North East and North Cumbria, an organisation which works with regional health organisations.

Durham University hopes to work with all trusts in the North East of England on the longer-term planning of health and social care.

Elements of this article were originally published in longer form on The Conversation.