As coronavirus spread across the globe, data science was at the forefront. Charts documented new cases, and showed predictions for how and when the virus would spread in different regions. Data analysts specializing in the spread of infectious diseases projected how different governmental interventions and social restrictions would “flatten the curve.”
While governments and infectious disease experts continue to use data science to predict the spread and sequestration of COVID-19, there is another way data science applications will be put to use as the world deals with the pandemic: helping businesses as they reopen and react to an altered economy. In fact, in a survey by Burtch Works, 80 percent of businesses reported that they were using data science to cope with the impacts of the pandemic, and 45 percent said that data was driving their decision making.
Using data science to predict consumer demand
Navigating the economy post-pandemic closures presents several challenges for companies. First, the data collected on customers in the previous years won’t be an adequate predictor of 2020 demand. Additionally, companies will have to make predictions about how pandemic closures will impact their customers’ buying habits: Will businesses see a spike as they are allowed to reopen after months of customers not having access to their products and services? How quickly will demand pick up? How much business will have been lost altogether during pandemic closures and the ensuing economic downturn?
Data science can help companies work around that by quickly reading, modeling and making predictions using data as it comes through the door. Using data science to monitor consumer demand and behavior will allow businesses to adapt quickly as needed, as well as to spot and respond to emerging trends. As companies adapt to the pandemic-impacted economy, they can use data to help them estimate their backlog, adjust staffing levels and set the most effective hours of operations, among other adjustments.
Data science applications for company operations
The COVID-19 pandemic also has shown its ability to disrupt company operations, through employee absences, supply-line interruptions and business closures. Using data science, companies can predict these disruptions and formulate plans for dealing with them. Employee data and office conditions can help companies to determine their risk for a coronavirus outbreak. Tracking COVID-19 data in their area, or in the areas their supply lines interact with, can allow companies to see emerging virus trends that could indicate additional business closures or disruptions. Using data science to cope with COVID-19 disruptions allows companies to be more agile in responding to problems because it allows company leaders to identify potential problems, find the best solutions, and spot and address problems much more quickly.
Making use of data in the pandemic economy
It may be difficult for companies to look at 2020 data as anything but anomalous, but the reality is that 2020 data can provide valuable insight to companies. While many may be tempted to look at 2018 and 2019 data to make predictions now that the economy is beginning to recover, that would ignore the fact that the pandemic is predicted to have long-term impacts on the economy and on individual businesses. So how can companies adapt?
Data models will have to be updated and reviewed much more quickly to allow for accurate reads and predictions of customer and business behavior. Companies also should incorporate broader economic data to make predictions. Data will have to be examined by individual industries because the pandemic has had different effects on different business sectors. Companies also might find it helpful to look at data from economies and businesses whose regions had earlier impact due to the pandemic; those regions are likely to be trending ahead in terms of the recovery and can provide valuable insight on the recovery process.
Moving forward with data
Data science has shown its value as COVID-19 swept the globe; it provided important predictions as to how the virus would move, how infection rates would increase and the impact of preventative measures on infection rates. As the economy reopens, data science will play an emerging role. It’s a new role for data science, as technology has evolved since earlier outbreaks, like SARS and MERS. In fact, some data science experts have pointed out the valuable role data science could play in the pandemic recovery, calling the pandemic the true test of data science applications.