Analytics can play a major role in economic recovery as we transition out of Covid-19: SAS
Amir Sohrabi, regional chief operating officer & head of digital transformation, SAS Central Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa on the role of analytics in tracking disease and supporting economic recovery
For digital transformation to make the most impact, there are several factors that must be in place. High quality data must be available and readily accessible, this will require collaboration between different departments with in public and private sector organisations. Organisations must also have processes and systems in place which provide secure access to personnel that can analyse data using a range of different techniques.
So, how ready are private and public organisations across the region to transform digitally in terms of infrastructure, regulations, funding and community preparedness?
Amir Sohrabi: As the analytics culture is developed and becomes the catalyst for digital transformation, organisations will implement an Analytical Centre of Excellence (ACE). ACE will be leveraged to govern people, process, and technology in order to provide systematic analytical based decision making. This will help accelerate digital transformation. With COVID-19, for example, facts on the ground change constantly and we need to be able to obtain insight from ever-changing datasets. ACE will bring consistency and the required governance for driving agile decision making in an increasingly uncertain economic environment.
Our current client engagements in private and public sector demonstrate an increased awareness at the executive levels on the requirement for digital transformation starting with building an analytics culture. Digital Transformation is no longer a long-term strategy is now part of near-term Digital Resiliency public and private organisations. Due to this sense of urgency we are seeing an increased willingness to invest in Digital Resiliency and analytics serves as the tip of the spear in this space. Public Sector organisations are leveraging the current circumstances to further develop their digital engagement platforms which in turn is allowing them to provide better and timely citizen centric services.
COVID-19 has triggered an economic slowdown; how can data analytics help companies stay competitive and recover from the pandemic?
Amir Sohrabi: We believe that analytics can play a major role in economic recovery as we transition out of COVID-19. Companies can utilise analytics to develop forecasting capabilities that help them plan how much to manufacture and order. With demand sensing, for example, a company can analyse its own data and information from other sources to help it predict what customers will buy and when.
We have recent examples of online grocery stores experiencing shortages on certain in-demand products. With AI-based solutions, they have been able to identify alternative suppliers with availability and are thus able to continue meeting their customers’ needs. Taking the predictive capabilities of analytics technology further, companies can use historical data to predict the possible progress of this current recession and identify pathways for recovery.
Are digitally transformed countries and organisations effectively leveraging data analytics in combatting the virus?
Amir Sohrabi: We are seeing several excellent examples of governments utilising analytics to help combat the virus. Analytics is being used to identify and track outbreaks, monitor the availability of treatment capacity, and pinpoint sufferers most at risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. Researchers are now analysing medical databases to identify the most effective treatment approaches and possible pathways for development of a vaccine.
To give examples of how analytics can help health authorities, our partner in Bulgaria, Software Group, developed a platform, COV.ID, that digitalises personal and medical data from institutions working with COVID-19-related cases. COV.ID processes and structures the data, empowering government institutions with real-time information as well as modelling possible scenarios for the progress of the disease.
SAS also worked with the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine in Germany to develop a system that provides an overview of intensive care bed and ventilator capacity. Developed in just a few days, analytics capabilities allow the system to not only track capacity and utilisation, but also forecast the expected demand for resources.
For these types of solutions to work effectively, access to high quality data is essential, but this can be challenging. The type of data we need to identify possible high-risk scenarios tends to be fragmented across different entities and industry sectors. For example, tracing requires the integration of telecoms and healthcare data with basic demographic information. Collaboration between public and private entities is essential for disease control strategies to work.
How has the Middle East utilised data analytics compared to other regions? Have you witnessed a correlation between infected cases within countries that are more digital than those who are not?
Amir Sohrabi: I don’t think we can say that countries with superior digital infrastructures have seen fewer COVID-19 cases than those without it. There are many factors in play, including the extent of lockdowns and social distancing measures, how early these were implemented and how open a country’s borders are. It is the case, however, that analytics has helped countries track the spread of the disease, identify communities most at risk and manage healthcare capacity.
We are actively working and supporting governments across the Middle East address the challenges they face in confronting contagious diseases. As the examples above demonstrate, we have gained great experience in other regions and we have the expertise to set up analysis centres for COVID-19 and other conditions here in the region. For example, by utilising telecoms data and SAS analytics solutions, healthcare authorities are now able to risk score residents and identify lockdown breaches.
Will this pandemic redirect funding towards accelerating innovations and digital transformations, or will this period bring about a slowdown?
Amir Sohrabi: We are already beginning to see many changes in our behaviour as a result of the current situation and many predictions have been made about our future direction.
I believe that more and more of us will spend more and more of our time working remotely from digital work & learn place platforms. This pivot will require substantial investment in robust cybersecurity infrastructures and data networks. The shift to digital retailing was already well underway before COVID-19 and will continue, supported by investment in predictive capabilities and automated customer support systems.
Supply chains, and our dependence on imports, are now under much closer scrutiny and this may lead to calls for more local sourcing of products and components.
In this, many people see the beginning of a possible slowing of the globalisation trend of recent decades.
Behind many of the anticipated changes is the concept of contactless, touch-free commerce. This will see us move more rapidly to digital payments, with implications for the cash economy, adaptation of telemedicine at an accelerated pace, and online learning become much more prevalent, including hybrid programs at school and university levels.
In the near term we will attend events and conferences virtually and conduct business meetings online. We will also begin experimenting much more with the utilisation of drones and robots, especially in high-risk health, safety & environment (HSE) situations. It is the fear of exposure to disease that will drive many of these developments, but this will subside as vaccines are introduced and infection risks and rates go down.
History has taught us that nothing is permanent and we will overcome the current situation. We have gained a lot of great experience about our resiliency and it is helping us innovate at faster pace. I believe as humans our desire for social interaction will gradually lead us back to our more traditional ways of working, educating and governing. At the same time, we will leverage the insights we have gained from this experience to become more efficient as a civilisation allowing us to leave a greener earth for the future generations to come.