As business leaders cope with the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, the need to ensure business continuity in the short term while being more resilient in the future in order to thrive in the post-pandemic era is top of mind. The key to these efforts will be decisive, data-driven leadership. More than ever, decision-making needs to involve a fact-based, data-driven approach to have a clear and accurate view of how decisions impact staff, customers, sales, and operations.
A recent survey, State of BI & Analytics Report 2020: Special COVID-19 Edition, indicates an increased importance and central role of examining data to enable organizations to understand changes and business opportunities during and following the COVID-19 economic turmoil. In fact, 49% of companies surveyed use data analytics more or much more than before the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, companies have refocused their data usage to address the most pressing challenges and opportunities they face today. For example:
55% started utilizing data to improve efficiency and rely on it to predict changes and outcomes
47% look to their data as indicators of how they can better support customers
45% count on data to predict business outcomes
Collaboration Is Key to Understanding Data
According to McKinsey, in times of crisis, leaders should reject traditional hierarchical models and “involve many more stakeholders and encourage different views and debate. This approach can lead to smarter decisions without sacrificing speed.” Business leaders require data-backed evidence to inform decision-making; however, it’s critical to understand any nuances, biases, or limitations of data. The pandemic is showing businesses, in real-time, that not all raw data is equally valid and not all forecasting models will show an accurate result.
To avoid this, bring in all key stakeholders, including finance, operations, technology, and others, to share relevant perspectives on the data. Some companies have implemented daily operations committee meetings to address pandemic “hot spots” and evaluate metrics dashboards to determine which areas of the business and technology need to be addressed.
In fact, according to McKinsey’s research, “prior to the crisis, our findings showed that those realizing higher returns from AI and scaling it more broadly were much more likely than others to assemble cross-functional teams to solve business problems (62% vs. 23%). However, during the crisis, we observed many organizations, regardless of analytics maturity, automatically assembling cross-functional crisis-response teams with all relevant stakeholders to develop analytics solutions for faster response.”
Communication is key across teams to collaborate and weigh in on metrics and data visuals, giving real-time feedback about the organization’s immediate and long-term needs. Collaboration tools can allow for point-to-point communication and tracking the flow of operations. For example, technical leaders are capable of pinpointing the answers, but may not understand the larger problem or the data. When business leaders frame the objective, other stakeholders may be better at understanding the real meaning of the data and uncover potential areas of bias that could ultimately lead to poor decisions.
Organizations must keep customer safety, customer needs, and the customer experience as top priorities during the pandemic. Many businesses are experiencing higher demand for customer service, putting a strain on customer and contact centers that may be operating with fewer staff. Using data analytics can provide business leaders with insight into key customer issues and questions, giving them the ability to respond proactively, decrease call volumes, and limit strain on the staff.
In addition, data scientists can exploit your business data, such as customer contact history, customer care logs, or social media data to understand changing customer behaviors. This action can help businesses improve their responses and focus on proactive communications to customers.
For businesses hindered in building revenue due to COVID-19, this is an opportunity to implement new channels of communication and data collection. With considerate communication, businesses can build customer respect for their resilience while generating useful data. Track which messages resonate with customers or what services or products they still consider essential. Also, as a case study, analyze sales data from 2008 and 2009 for insights into how customer behavior changes during times of economic adversity.
Meeting the Needs of the Organization
Data analytics have been fundamental in the response to COVID-19 and the impact on business and the workforce. Data has informed several immediate tasks facing organizations, such as identifying potential supply-chain breakdowns, driving support services to at-risk employees, forecasting demand, and uncovering the effectiveness of crisis-intervention approaches.
The key, according to McKinsey, is to align data analytics to the broader business strategy. In fact, their research finds that only 30% of organizations align their analytics strategy with their broader corporate strategy. Companies that have scaled AI effectively are nearly four times more likely than others to align these strategies.
Once aligned, businesses can mobilize analytics to educate and address business-critical issues to guide near-term decisions. For example, using workforce sentiment analytics, staff projections, and remote workforce optimization can guide support and operational decisions regarding employees. Digital and social media analytics can provide a macro understanding of the concerns of workers in different locations and demographics, including their behavior patterns and responses to the evolving crisis.
Lastly, some businesses are using epidemiological forecast data and combining that with their own data from HR and operations to deliver critical insights into staff worriers, working patterns, sick leave, return to work schedules, management, and support models.
The Pandemic Has Pushed Data Analytic Adoption
There is little question that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on businesses. It has already forced many companies to reevaluate their data analytics and take a more focused approach to data gathering and data-driven decision-making. The pandemic has also increased the need for data, as business leaders require it to gain clarity for informed decisions and for strategic planning. The instability caused by COVID-19 may well have derailed companies’ thought-out plans for 2020. However, despite uncertainty and unpredictability, business leaders will be better equipped to plan for the future through effective use of integrated data, measurement, and by allowing data to drive decisions.