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Data can guide decision-makers in making informed choices in business, political and social contexts. An approach valuable even during the new Coronavirus emergency
Mar 31, 2020
Covid-19 is a global emergency, classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic. An exceptional event, but not an absolute novelty for humanity: from the plague of the 14th century to the Spanish flu of the early 1900s, there are many challenges that we have had to face and overcome in our history.
The teachings of the past, however, have not been a warning and even now, we have found ourselves unprepared. Because the arrival of a virus was not, as claimed by someone in the United States, "a black swan”, something highly unlikely to happen, but an event that could have been foreseen thanks to the tools available today.
But not all is lost, because even now that unfortunately the global emergency is underway, we can use this same analytical approach to fight Coronavirus, thanks to new and powerful weapons: scientific research, of course, but also and above all, information. From the speed and growth of its spread (we know that every patient can infect from 2 to 3 people) to the number of infections and hospitalizations, from the analysis of the most affected areas nationally and globally, up to the projections on the effects of quarantine and the economic and social consequences, data are guiding the choices of decision makers in this complex situation. Simplifying, we could say It is about looking at the virus using math.
For example, some governments (as successfully done by China and Singapore) are aiming to collect information through apps and telecommunication systems in order to track citizens' movements. This is because we are taking exceptional measures and we need feedback, in the form of information, that can help us verify their effects. The objectives are two: try predicting the geographical evolution of the pandemic on the basis of people’s movements, and check whether the measures taken are respected, in order to be able to evaluate their real effectiveness. The European challenge (won until now) is also to do all this while preserving citizens' privacy and following the legal framework of the GDPR.
With these data available, it is possible to make more informed and effective measures and decisions. That this mindset is advisable is no news, but this kind of approach is still not enough widespread both in the public and in the private sector. In fact, data are not only a resource for political and institutional decision-makers, but also for companies, communities and individual citizens, in order to be able to look at the future with awareness and new certainties.
Collecting data is not enough: it is important to know how to interpret it
Every day we have 40 times the number of observable stars in the universe available as bytes. It is therefore essential not only to possess information, but also to be able to identify what we need, interpret it and be able to use it to our advantage. Not a simple task, but fortunately technology comes to our rescue: thanks to artificial intelligence systems, algorithms and mathematical models it is possible to identify recurring patterns and behaviors in the data, creating correlations that can encourage intuitions and guide us in making quick, and above all, correct decisions.
Data are the ingredients, while technologies represent the tool we need to get the most out of it. But something is still missing: an accurate process and a culture that promotes an analytical approach, based on a critical spirit, curiosity and sharing.
Both on the political and institutional level, as well as in the private and corporate one, to benefit from data it is important to consider them as a strategic factor, and not merely a technical one, not underestimating any part of the process.
Not an action but a process: how to exploit data to make decisions
First of all, it is essential to define the strategic objectives from the beginning and to direct the research into data and information that can really be useful.
It is necessary to pay close attention to their gathering, making sure to have reliable sources and, subsequently, apply precision and critical spirit to the analysis, also taking advantage of Data Science, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence tools made available by technological evolution.
At this point there is the Data Visualization phase, a process by which data are packaged and shown in an orderly and understandable dimension, which can stimulate reflections and help to draw correct considerations and conclusions.
Only now than we are ready to make decisions or evolve our beliefs if data suggest changing direction.
We can say that the data-driven one is a decision-making process based not only on knowledge, but also on trust: data only helps us if they are correct, if we are able to listen to them and willing to trust them.
Data-driven decisions in businesses
Companies begin to understand the wealth that data can generate, not only in economic but also in strategic terms.
According to a survey conducted in the United States in the spring of 2019 involving over 1,000 executives of large American companies, in 75% of organizations, analytical capacity improved compared to the previous year and 70% of respondents believe that data analysis is destined to play an increasingly important role in the next three years. At the same time, however, the study shows that within the company teams, it is not always possible to have the skills to collect useful information and observe it in the correct way to extract the value they can generate. In fact, 63% do not believe that their companies are guided by data analysis and 67% say they do not feel comfortable accessing or using the data available. But the problem is not technical: only 5% cited technology as the cause of the problem while 95% attributed the difficulties to cultural, organizational and process issues.
It is in this context that SDG Group operates.
"Since the statement of the corporate mission, we have characterized our proposal of consultancy and professional services to companies through the approach that today is summarized by slogans such as data-driven, data-first, data-science. The goal is to transform corporate data in strategic assets to improve the efficiency of business processes, encourage problem solving and support management in planning and in the decision-making process."
Data and Covid-19: a new form of optimism
The new Coronavirus is giving us a new confirmation, if still needed, of the importance of data for making decisions. It is necessary to pay attention to the number of patients, the percentage of swabs carried out on the total number of those presenting symptoms, real data on deaths and their causes. The numbers and their projections have prompted the governments of the world to resort to drastic measures to deal with the emergency, even at the cost of blocking entire countries on the economic and social front.
Even SDG Group, in the current emergency, is dedicating its best resources to a project that, starting from data, aims to limit the spread of Covid-19. In fact, one of the many challenges to be faced is that of finding and monitoring potentially positive individuals, while limiting the risk of exposure of health professionals and other individuals. The proposed solution, “DocDot”, integrates, among other components, an Israeli remote photoplethysmography APP, which allows remote real-time monitoring of the main vital parameters in the diagnosis of respiratory problems such as frequency, oxygen saturation, heart rate and beat variability, all using the smartphone camera. Once data has been acquired, the application provides an overview of the results and offers a detailed view of the historical trend and immediately understandable graphs on the trend of the parameters. But that's not all: in this delicate phase, the application also allows you to perform a remote triage, with qualified personnel, of patients with suspected COVID-19. At this point, SDG Group provides its infrastructure for data collection and analysis and its Data Scientists to analyze information and apply useful models to define the dynamics of contagion and manage the appropriate actions over time to limit risks.
Meanwhile, giants such as Facebook and Google have also taken the field by making available data in their possession, to understand the spread of the virus starting from data on mobility and to identify the protein structures of the virus.
Today we are getting ready to look at the situation also from the first positive data: the number of people recovered, the scientific research in progress to identify treatments, therapies and vaccines and the impact of technologies in the fight against the pandemic. Here data can provide an important tool to deal with the emergency with a different awareness: having the right and complete information allows us to look at tomorrow with more awareness, new perspectives and solutions and, why not, with a new and rediscovered optimism.