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Mobilising data analytics to fight COVID-19

Jim Goodnight, co-founder and CEO of SAS.
Jim Goodnight, co-founder and CEO of SAS.

Amid the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on markets across the globe, businesses will have to enter ‘a new normal’ focused on mitigating the pandemic, and on recovery and healing. Companies will also have to adjust to a new way of doing business and data analytics models will have to be re-evaluated

This was one of the key takeaways from the SAS Global Forum 2020, hosted virtually this week.

Jim Goodnight, co-founder and CEO of SAS said during the first few weeks of the crisis, analytics was a critical weapon to fight COVID-19 and SAS Analytics moved to protect its staff, as well as assist customers and partners who were struggling to keep operations going.

“The size, scope and complexity of the outbreak was often beyond the data models and algorithms in place. So we quickly started to build new models to respond to COVID-19,” said Goodnight.

During the first phase of the pandemic, analytics was used to help health officials with information pertaining to the availability of hospital beds, where the next hotspot was likely to be and deploying the right resources to these areas.

Goodnight said SAS is helping manufacturing companies to keep industrial plants operating by dealing effectively with issues like balancing supply chain constraints and disruption to the workforce.

He added that optimisation models are being used to tackle unique challenges including reducing the number of employees on a shift to maintain safe distancing requirements.

The SAS executive added that the telco industry has been asked to analyse network movements and SAS machine learning models can help predict the location and movement of new cases.

“Another impact of COVID-19 is that more government money is flowing to help businesses and individuals weather the storm. Now this will help stabilise economies, but will also create opportunities for fraudsters to abuse these programmes. SAS customers in the public sector can use analytics to monitor the programme effectiveness and minimise fraud,” Goodnight.

Goodnight said while analytics has a big role to play in recovery from the pandemic, the models and algorithms developed for business as usual will no longer apply.

“Data scientists and business analysts will have to re-evaluate their models to prepare for a much different landscape in the future,” he said.

Oliver Schabenberger, COO and CTO of SAS.
Oliver Schabenberger, COO and CTO of SAS.

Oliver Schabenberger, EVP, COO and CTO of SAS, added that disruption is not unusual nor unprecedented, but the extent and suddenness of the disruption caused by COVID-19 is unusual.

“How an organisation responds to disruption, and how it recovers from it, depends on its preparedness and that is a function of its agility, resilience and mindset.”

Schabenberger spoke of the principles of analytics that the company uses as a guide to inform its approach.

“The first principle of analytics is analytics follows the data… this principle is about bringing the right analytic technology to the right place at the right time, whether it’s on premises, in a public or private cloud or at the edges of the network. The second principle is that analytics is more than algorithms. The value of analytics is not just in the features and functions of an algorithm – not any more. The value lies in solving data-driven problems end-to-end. Data science teams are no longer measured by the models they build, but by the value they generate. The third principle is democratisation, analytics for everyone. Digital transformation has just become very real… things that cannot be done digitally right now, are likely not to get done. The effects of the COVID pandemic have increased the urgency of digital transformation many times over, but organisations will not benefit from the impact of digital transformation unless data and analytics can scale beyond the data science team… we need to enable and empower everyone.”

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