How data analytic tools can provide clarity during the coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis is causing business leaders to face difficult questions. Find out how even basic analytics tools such as Microsoft Excel can help you model future scenarios.

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If you think back several months, you likely sat in a room at some point and listened to a presentation about the wonders of analytics. If you're now on lockdown due to COVID-19, it might seem like eons ago that a dozen people would be gathered together in the workplace, interacting with each other in "flesh space" rather than via a videoconference. Perhaps that presentation was provided by a vendor, touting his or her company's analytics "solution" that would process historical company data and provide predictions as to the future.

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Most companies have been investing in some type of analytics or reporting tools for decades, starting with data warehouses in the 1990s, and more recently, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools that claimed not only to offer analysis, but prediction and proactive recommendations. Pre-coronavirus, and in past economic boom times, most companies underutilized these tools. When times are good, companies tend to focus less on the reporting and analysis, and more on increasing output to meet growing demand. No one gets concerned about a few basis points of fluctuation in sales when the company is selling every product or service it can produce.

Analytics could be your superpower

The only thing that seems 100% certain at the moment is global uncertainty. The best weapon against uncertainty is information, which is what most analytics technologies were sold as providing. An ability to identify market trends, disruptions to your business, or even which employees show the most potential for learning new skills could be crucial to the very survival of your company, especially if you're in an industry that's being incredibly hard-hit at the moment, like travel and tourism, retail, or a smaller business.

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Even the most basic analytical tools could provide a "superpower" that allows your organization to weather the storm while others struggle. Simple forecasting and modeling tools that allow you to create multiple potential future scenarios, and gain insight into what happens if the world remains on a COVID-19 "lockdown" for days, weeks, or months can allow your company to plan its cash reserves, and take early action that may be the difference between survival and extreme difficulty.

Surprisingly, the large companies that are the objects of envy for smaller organizations tend to struggle mightily with even basic reporting tools, especially during times of crisis. Due to the complexity of their systems, multiple "sources of truth," and funding cycles that require months to even begin consideration of a new project, times of uncertainty can provide outsized advantage to companies that can make what amounts to informed "guesses" about the future, act upon them quickly, and adjust as conditions change.

Invest downtime in analysis

Like most technologies, buying and installing new analytics tools is usually the fun part of the process. There is a new "toy" to play with and a flurry of activity required to connect everything and get it working. However, the value from analytics doesn't come until someone sits down and wades through masses of data to help gain some insight into the future. If your organization has sent office workers to work from home, consider investing some of the newfound time saved from commuting and abundant meetings in leveraging these tools.

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Get your best technologists linked with the best analysts in your company and let the analytical "brains" and the technology "brawn" leverage the tools you already have to help the company gain clarity. Even if your most advanced analysis tool is Microsoft Excel , an ability to model future scenarios that inform action is infinitely more valuable than a company with the most advanced, AI-powered analysis tool that sits in the proverbial corner while people scramble.

As a technology leader, now is the perfect time to come to the table with the tools and know-how to provide your colleagues with some measure of light to peer into the otherwise murky future ahead.

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