The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted business operations—and our everyday lives—like nothing else at any point in history. No one has a crystal ball, so how can you make informed business decisions in times of great uncertainty, with a situation that changes on a daily, even hourly, basis?
This is a question for essential businesses like grocers and pharmacies, for the healthcare and manufacturing industries and for agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO)—but also for businesses that are continuing to function with remote workforces and digital platforms (while keeping workers gainfully employed).
It’s a time when ‘gut’ feelings are more likely to be based on fear than rational decision-making. Just as there was no global shortage of toilet paper, fear drove people to panic-buy, leaving store shelves empty.
One way for businesses to make better decisions amid uncertainty and fear—and rapidly adapt and adjust to changes in real-time—is by using facts and data as the driving force behind decision making.
Business Intelligence (BI) and data analytics are already being used to track the spread of the coronavirus by public health organizations and research institutions. The use of analytics (along with heavy-handed government actions) helped Taiwan—located just 130 kilometers from the Chinese mainland—take control of the viral outbreak by mapping transmissions and managing resources such as masks.
But analytics and BI can also be used by businesses for better, more informed decision making—which is particularly important at a time when a lot of false information and fake news is flying around.
In other words, it can provide a “single source of truth,” according to Gartner VP analyst Roberta Witty in a Gartner webinar that addresses short- and long-term actions to the coronavirus outbreak. She recommends three actions to take amid business disruption:
- remote working
- digital operations
- the use of analytics to drive better decision making
Businesses are struggling to keep track of the latest guidelines, directives, and restrictions coming from government agencies, says Witty, whether specific to their industry or to their geographic location. There’s a lot of data out there—so much so that it’s causing information overload and increased anxiety for employees, suppliers, and partners.
Gartner recommends a three-pronged approach to analytics: visual exploration, reporting and dashboarding, and advanced analytics. Dashboarding can help you make sense of public health data, while advanced analytics can help you leverage that data in your own business. Many organizations lack that expertise in-house, so Witty recommends using an analytics platform (and offering learning opportunities for self-service analytics).
In-house visualization techniques can help you sort through data from organizations offering ‘good’ data, such as governments, research institutions, and global agencies. Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, for example, has a real-time visualization of the outbreak using data sources such as WHO and the Centers for Disease Control.
You can then leverage this public health data for your own organization through dashboarding, which allows you to plot your resources, facilities, employees, and suppliers. This, in turn, allows you to generate in-depth insights to respond to emergencies and changing business practices.
“The first thing you want to do is leverage augmented analytics [to empower self-service users], but the next thing is to make sure you’re doing this in a way that supports your business outcomes,” says Witty. “Don’t take these things in just for experimentation with no goal long-term for the business. You want to make sure you’re investing properly.”
Predictive analytics can be used to plan for impacts to your organization—from a hospital predicting how many beds it will need for infected patients to grocery stores, take-out restaurants, and food delivery services predicting demand for certain perishable products. This could help them make better decisions around resources, many of which have become precious in recent weeks.
It can also help retailers and manufacturers track changing customer behavior, manage supply and demand, make faster supply chain decisions and make better decisions around pricing, promotions, and inventory.
While it’s not entirely possible to predict what’s going to happen next—or any other black swan event, for that matter—business intelligence and data analytics can help employees make better decisions and businesses better allocate resources. At a time when there’s so much uncertainty, good data can provide some guidance and direction.
About the Author
Vawn Himmelsbach is a writer and editor specializing in enterprise IT, writing for national newspapers and technology trade magazines on everything from AI to zero-day threats. She also spent three years working abroad as an Asian correspondent, covering all things tech.Follow on Linkedin