It’s hard to overstate the continuing collective toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic. The scope is staggering. In the United States alone, millions of people have been infected, trillions of dollars have been spent, and a large portion of the economy has been shut down. Industries like hospitality, food services, retail and transportation have been disproportionately affected, but no sector is immune. Your business isn’t facing this challenge alone.
Data analytics are being employed at the heart of the battle against COVID-19. Tracing the outbreak and modeling data to predict outcomes is critical in this crisis. Businesses and governments around the world are starting to apply a wide range of advanced analytics to that data to address the unprecedented health, economic, and social impacts.
For example, Canadian startup BlueDot has successfully used artificial intelligence (AI) to trace and predict outbreaks by analyzing unstructured data in social media and news reporting.[i] And analytics is also finding a home on the front lines, with AI solutions that help health care workers diagnose and monitor the virus much more efficiently.[ii]
Data analytics is center stage in the lab, too, where the development of ever more effective vaccines continues. For instance, Google’s DeepMind unit applied its AI algorithms to catalog the structure of the potential proteins that could help the virus spread. The division then published its findings to assist scientists working on potential treatments.[i]Natural language processing (NLP) and AI fuel the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), which applies analytics to more than 138,000 scholarly articles and shares new insights across the globe to accelerate medical breakthroughs and inform smart policy.[ii]
Back to Business
After the health consequences of the pandemic, no other factor is more important to address than the devastating economic impact of closed businesses. As you prepare to get your business back open, it’s critical to take advantage of all available data, and that means leveraging analytics.
The safety of employees and the success of reopening strategies will include multiple safety protocols. You’ll need to identify potential signs of infection and have policies in place to help mitigate any spread. Tools such as thermal imaging combined with AI can help you quickly identify elevated temperatures among people at your site. You can also use 3D Lidar Sensors with data analytics to spot poor handwashing techniques so you can target education and promote greater hygiene awareness. And you can use video analytics to gain insight into the effectiveness of your social distancing measures and use the technologies mentioned to enforce the policies that have been created.
AI and analytics can also help in monitoring sanitation standards and creating efficient schedules for disinfecting equipment. For example, Hitachi is working to combine robotics, 3D Lidar Sensors, and UV light to create automated cleaners that maintain continuous sanitary conditions in the workplace. These analytics-driven solutions can help your customers and your workforce feel safe and comfortable at your facilities.
Not only can these technologies help you successfully reopen your facilities, they can extend across your business to provide essential visibility. By using advanced data services to capture and combine information across regions, you’ll also be in a better position to navigate regulation and compliance in multiple locations around the world.
Navigating the New Normal
Once you’re able to safely reopen, analytics will be an important tool to help you understand the ways your customers’ behavior has been drastically affected by the pandemic. According to a McKinsey study, COVID-19 is significantly shifting what, where, and how consumers are making purchases. Demand for household consumer goods skyrocketed 76% over 2019 levels in the three weeks following the first major U.S. outbreak. E-commerce in the grocery industry more than doubled in March alone, and between 30% and 40% of all consumers experimented with new brands during this time.[i]
Analytics can provide you with insight into the highly dynamic and volatile trends that are impacting your industry. AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms can analyze point-of-sale transactional data across multiple locations. This information can help you control inventory and personnel at fulfillment centers that will most likely see spikes from online sales. You can also use it to reduce production of specific parts in segments that have seen a slowdown, or better monitor competitors to identify opportunities in the marketplace.
Building Operational Resilience
In addition to tracking consumer trends, analytics can be applied to operational data to improve efficiency and visibility. This can be useful in the near term for businesses such as restaurants that must meet capacity restrictions. With analytics and AI, these businesses can determine what changes and improvements they need to make to stay in business at different percentages of capacity through the phases of reopening. For instance, in addition to optimizing seating arrangements, restaurants can use NLP to monitor social media to predict online or dine-in options and use conversational chatbots for customers’ orders.
Analytics can also help with supply chain disruptions. Resource shortages in Brazil or railway delays in China impact your bottom line, and the ability to track these vagaries in real time is a strain for traditional forecasting. With advanced analytics, you can increase the efficiency of business operations by predicting the availability of your parts and optimize your supply chain dynamically. Given the speed at which the virus continues to spread, it is imperative to increase the frequency of your supply-chain forecasts while synthesizing thousands of data points across every geography in which you operate. This allows you to outmaneuver disruption, manage resources, and support your partners across the chain.
Analytics also maximizes your operational efficiency through better, more actionable communications by informing you about infections in the workplace and initiating contact tracing more promptly. Imaging solutions, smart sensors, and automated tracking powered by AI can provide you with important tools to refine policy around workflow, safety procedures, education and training programs, and operational or business process changes.
5 Ways to Use Analytics to Respond to COVID-19
With endless ways to leverage data in your COVID-19 response, where can you best deploy analytics to have the greatest impact on your employees and business? The following strategies can help you leverage your data resources effectively:
- Closely monitor for potential outbreaks among people on-site and inform your social distancing policy with tools like thermal imaging scans, 3D Lidar Sensors, and video analytics.
- Better understand and anticipate customer behavior affected by the pandemic by using transactional data from your end customers downstream.
- Better predict changes to your demand and supply chains by using more advanced analytic models and increasing the frequency of your forecasting.
- Incorporate geography-specific outbreak or resurgence information into your decision-making process for your business operations.
- Predict delays across the supply chain and setbacks with employee health, and optimize your operations accordingly.
Learn more about how to use technology to respond to COVID-19: Digital Health and Safety Solution.
Footnotes:https://www.kaggle.com/allen-institute-for-ai/CORD-19-research-challenge [v] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/rapidly-forecasting-demand-and-adapting-commercial-plans-in-a-pandemic