If you read any of the prediction lists that are always published at the beginning of each year, you probably thought 2020 was already going to be notable for technology and data science advances. But if you’re like many enterprises, this year has taken a turn that you never expected.
However, while the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many companies’ best-laid plans, a crisis also presents advantages and lessons that can strengthen your enterprise over the long run. As India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once said, "Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage — that they force us to think."
2020 will be the year that all of us were forced to think more deeply about our businesses. And today, thinking more deeply about the business must involve thinking more deeply about data. Here are four major ways we see data analytics being reshaped by the unprecedented events of this year:
1. We are all data scientists now.
An article from MIT details how COVID-19 is upending data analytics practices and strategies, "few organizations are facing business as usual or as expected". People from all backgrounds and disciplines are posting epidemiology graphs and “R-nought” curves on social media. Politicians are presenting data as the main motivator for people to radically change their daily lives.
There are plenty of disagreements taking place about data analysis as well. People are asking questions like, “Are we testing enough people to get an accurate sample size?” “Are our tests even accurate?” “Are the models we’re using for analyzing data the right ones to use?” Many of these discussions, which concern accurate data collection and analysis, have been occurring between data scientists and analysts in the enterprise for decades.
Arcadis makes the point that just as sports and politics have helped raise the public’s awareness of data’s importance, COVID-19 will likely “further democratize and promote understanding of data analytics to a global audience.” That means more people — particularly younger generations — will see themselves as citizen data scientists. Business leaders should expect more of their people to request access to data, tools, and platforms so they can contribute to business-critical conversations.
2. The cloud will be in demand—and tested—like never before.
According to one estimate, the cloud computing market is expected to grow from $233 billion in 2019 to $295 billion by 2021. Enterprises had already been turning more and more to the cloud before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has only accelerated the trend as many companies have to now support remote workforces.
Data analytics companies can help enterprises navigate these shifts by providing maximum flexibility. Uncertainty is the only certainty for the months ahead, as spikes in infections may force more lockdowns and impact supply chain and business operations. As-a-service offerings will be even more in demand as companies look for the ability to scale their capacity up or down depending on their needs at any given time. Cloud service providers also need to provide assurance of uptime even as potential shelter-in-place orders force limited crews to be on-site to manage data centers.
3. Data will save the supply chain.
The combination of panic-buying for certain goods (toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and thermometers) and a steep lack of demand for others (restaurant and school milk products) has forced supply chain managers to either ramp up production or dump no-longer-needed products. Before COVID-19, many companies analyzed only one- or two-years’ worth of data to predict demand and plan production needs. After 2020, suppliers will incorporate more data points and leverage artificial intelligence and other analytics models to identify and plan for anomalies.
There will be a learning curve as automated forecasting algorithms may overproduce or overstock for a few seasons. But enterprises with the depth and breadth of data to see and correct for outliers will be better prepared to effectively manage year-to-year anomalies.
Ultimately, analyzing spikes and dips in demand will better equip enterprises for the next crisis by revealing trigger signals that help predict and prevent these situations. This is data analytics at its best as it helps companies be more effective and more responsive to their customers’ needs.
4. Healthcare needs will drive advances in 5G, IoT, and AI and new cross-functional partnerships.
In February of this year, Teradata predicted that 2020 would be the “Year for 5G and IoT,” driven in part by the drive for “smart anything,” including Smart Cities and Smart Health.
What a difference two months has made. Now the demand for these capabilities has accelerated rapidly as healthcare and city leaders look to mitigate the spread of a rampant infectious disease. While the rollout of contact tracing apps and GPS location data monitoring has raised privacy concerns around the world, it’s clear that some level of smart monitoring will be required as we gradually end lockdowns and open up businesses. Technology will play a key role in achieving the delicate balance between protecting public health and supporting economies.
Healthcare has been leveraging data for many years, but data analytics companies are now being called upon for help on a wider and more urgent set of objectives. For example, Teradata is working directly with both public and private agencies and the White House, using analytics to help predict the likely location of new outbreaks, which populations are most at risk of infection, and the resources that will be needed in specific regions. Our data scientists around the world are participating in hackathons to create innovations that could be used to slow COVID-19’s spread and to advance treatments and a vaccine. And we’ve also joined the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, working alongside many of our own customers and tech industry peers, to help bring healthcare and government data together and generate new insights.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the future is difficult to predict. However, history has shown that when a crisis mobilizes the entire world towards one goal, humanity can make enormous progress. We see COVID-19 as an opportunity to pressure-test and evolve data analytics and move forward as an industry, together.
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