Using data and analytics to navigate coronavirus and safeguard for the future

Data and analytics are often a significant factor driving innovation, but in these difficult times, they are proving more crucial than ever

June 10, 2020

6 Min Read

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is destroying lives and devastating the global economy, and the after-effects will continue to be felt for some time to come.

Businesses are feeling the squeeze, and need to move fast to manage the new ways of working and to bring their companies back to normal, ensuring they are protecting themselves and preserving jobs longer-term.

Data and analytics are often a significant factor driving innovation forward, but in these difficult times, they are proving more crucial than ever in helping businesses to steer safely through and continue business as usual.

Keeping track of team sentiment

People are central to any business and are vital for business success. At a time when employees are having to communicate using their electronic devices,  the many face-to-face interactions that usually take play daily are now being carried out remotely. Though this may require some adjustment and pose new kinds of barriers, companies can also use this new, comprehensive interaction data to glean a thorough understanding of how employees are coping, how workloads are being handled, and where support can be given.

Business models frequently function by estimating a team’s effort, putting a valuation on their time and how long it takes to complete a task. With work all carried out online, analytics can be leveraged to measure the time spent on a specific task or operation far more accurately. This new data can in turn facilitate a more accurate costing process. At a time of increased uncertainty, businesses better able to estimate and deliver upon their promises and timelines will be more likely to win and retain custom, demonstrating that they function effectively even in times of global difficulty.

Such measurements can also be gathered to assess the health and well-being of the people in your company. The platforms being used to enable your colleagues’ working days can be utilized to provide analytics and insight that can be enhanced with NLP (natural language processing) to gain in-depth and accurate insights into how employees may be reacting to any situation. These insights  allow business leaders to better gauge the mood of the organization. Gaining a more complete picture of employee welfare means businesses can adjust accordingly to ensure teams remain happy, and businesses can therefore continue to operate effectively.

Such analytics do not need to spell an intrusion into privacy; such measurements can retain employee anonymity. For example, some programs look for keywords and emoji usage in people’s messages, with algorithms reporting on the sentiment felt across the team in real-time.

Reacting to change

The global pandemic is causing major disruption to companies’ supply chains, affecting operations worldwide, altering the movement of goods, the provision of labor and services, and causing many organizations to shut down parts of their businesses, or even close, thereby putting jobs and livelihoods at risk.

Although of course a shock to the supply chain is rarely positive, any behavioral changes can be measured in data. Businesses need to consider the way they utilize graph-based analytics so as to gain a clearer understanding of their supply chain, identify issues and plan alternative solutions at a quicker pace.

At present, you must ensure your business is utilizing analytics and data to build a comprehensive and detailed understanding of the supply chain. You need to know everything from your supplier’s suppliers and the resilience of those businesses, to altering economic conditions, to understanding realistic production capacities, and if any alternatives are available or would also be disrupted by Coronavirus. Keeping track of purchasing power and competitor pricing in this environment is crucial, as is analyzing the numerous global economic factors that can affect a business’ goods and services.

By gaining this in-depth view of your supply chain, you can build models to help your business navigate challenges. Valuable and up-to-date data can be used to create contingency plans and respond quickly to challenges. Systems to monitor and minimize any negative effects on your business, as well as those which clearly communicate any unavoidable impacts earlier to your own customers will differentiate those who are coping from those who are struggling.

There are many data products, specialized data analytics solutions, data marketplaces and organizations providing expert consultation, which can help integrate solutions within your company, and this is a crucial time to invest in them.

Changing attitudes towards external data

Organizations must be able to ingest data at speed, especially in a world where there is more data than ever before flowing through data pipelines. This means external data has also become a key consideration for business decision-makers.

Given coronavirus is a black swan event, it will have invalidated many of the algorithms used by business for operational forecasts and strategic decisions that relied solely on internal data. These AI tools are built using previous data gathered through year-on-year patterns, making it hard for such AI algorithms to predict the effects of the unknown.

So to remain agile and enable swift pivots in reaction to the ongoing crisis – or indeed top future threats – organizations need to change their data practices to include external data sets that include leading indicators that correlate to their internal data. By integrating this market data from external sources effectively, you can use this information in your own models so they are better placed to be reactive to wider marketplace changes, hopefully leading to better internal forecasts that better represent the realities you’ll face.

An example of this process being used successfully is in the pharmaceutical industry, where external data informs its budgeting and forecasting. The industry takes advantage of epidemiological and demographic studies to advance its understanding of disease prevalence and impact. The pharmaceutical industry can then take decisions about medicinal production and distribution with that data integrated into its models.

As such, data-sharing will be vital for a more successful future. Academics are already sharing both data science methods and data to great effect, and initiatives have been launched for the collecting and sharing of Covid-19 data. Companies must leverage all the external data they can gain access to build their models and adjust their forecasting. This will provide a more accurate picture of supply chains and the impacts the business could suffer so that preparations can be made accordingly.

Collaboration is to be encouraged. Banks share data to create a person’s credit score; similarly, retailers could work together to share data and understand critical supply chains during the pandemic. While being primarily a human tragedy, Covid-19 is continuing to threaten the global economy. During such a difficult situation, business survival and continued growth is key to economic success. Business leaders can, and must, take advantage of data and analytics to ensure they continue to survive- and can thrive.

Andrew Morgan is head of data engineering at 6point6, a technology consultancy headquartered in London.

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