Adapting to the Lasting Impact of COVID-19 on Your Information Needs

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to immeasurable human suffering and global economic damage. Hopefully, a vaccine will ease many of those impacts in coming months and years. The crisis is also an agent of great change that has forced organizations in every sector to quickly ramp-up the use of analytics as a strategic tool that will lead to lasting improvements in how they operate.

Suddenly, it’s crystal clear that analytics is key to improving marketing, supply chain management, innovation, decision-making, collaboration, compliance, customer experience, and other operations. Nimble companies that seize this moment will build competitive advantage while sluggish rivals languish. Once adopted, these changes will also set the stage for quicker adoption of machine learning and artificial intelligence to further distance leaders from laggards.

CAI, which has provided business technology services for two decades, explored this topic during the third webinar in its six-part series, “Activating Data & Analytics for Real Business Value Creation.” This summary highlights key points from that third session “Adapting to the Lasting Impacts of COVID-19 on Your Information Needs.”

The series features Steven Stone, CEO & Founder of NSU Technologies, and Tom Villani, Senior Vice President, Digital Innovation, at CAI. Stone, a former CIO at Lowe’s and L Brands, shares real-world examples and proven solutions to help companies accelerate their own implementations. We invite you to register for the full series for free at and to contact to participate in a complimentary Data & Analytics Readiness Assessment.


The Need for Speed

For more than a decade, data analytics has evolved steadily as the best way for organizations to optimize operations. However, since the pandemic was declared on March 11, we’ve seen that trend pick up an urgency second only to the quest for a working vaccine. The question is no longer whether to deploy analytics, but how to deploy it rapidly and in meaningful ways.

Much has changed. Millions more customers now interact with companies online. Millions of employees now work from home. Severe supply chain disruptions revealed the need for better analytical solutions.

While no two companies have had the same experience, they share a common need to leverage fresh data to make faster, more reliable business decisions. Many companies also want to know the quickest way to integrate machine learning and AI.

The record numbers of remote workers underscore the need to improve collaboration, provide secure access to data, and create new visualization tools. Otherwise, those workers could be locked outside new data silos as we try to dismantle old ones. Business executives recognize a new need for federated data models that push data closer to front-line workers so they can respond quickly to operational demands.


Navigating Shifts in Analytics Delivery

Just as reluctant motorists learned the advantages of shifting from paper maps to GPS systems, businesses are learning to move from long-trusted paper reports to digital dashboards, mobile reporting, and front-line collaboration applications. That change will help organizations to respond quickly to competitive threats with actions based on real-time data.

Much of this trend requires new infrastructure as a foundation for continual change. The elastic nature of the cloud fits perfectly with this trend, in part because it allows geographic dispersion and 24x7 availability to support self-service applications. These tools complement existing, centralized predictive models, while—with proper tools and training—also support the analytics needs of front-line workers.

BI Tools vs other software – BI tools are used more often for collaboration than Microsoft Sharepoint, dedicated collaboration tools or other software. (2014 BARC Survey)

Even before the pandemic, business intelligence tools were used more often for collaboration than SharePoint or other purpose-built software, according to a 2014 BARC survey. Simultaneously, batch processing has given way to automation that collects, verifies, and reports data on the fly. Extensible and scalable pipeline tools—many using machine learning or AI—help users benefit from the transition. The pandemic reflects the value of complex visualizations that allow users to spot problems and drill down to find the source, or simply to monitor operations on any level within the organization. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the Johns Hopkins University dashboard used by government officials, news media, health administrators, and ordinary citizens to monitor the fight against the virus. With just two or three clicks, anyone can access details for any location in seconds.


Transitioning to a New Normal

The Johns Hopkins dashboard blends up-to-the-moment information from Esri, Garmin, FAO, NOAA, USGS, EPA, and other sources into an infographic that, until recently, would have required hours or days to draw manually. Imagine the potential to use similar technology to report on a company’s supply chain, customer preferences, regional sales, or any number of other areas that once demanded hands-on compilation into paper reports that were outdated before they could be analyzed.

The next stage of visualization may be augmented reality supported by IoT sensors. Healthcare offers good examples of that, too. First, hospital cleaning teams can now wear special goggles tied to IoT sensors that identify which parts of a COVID-19 facility need to be sanitized to minimize the spread of the infection. In another example, patients with chronic conditions like high blood pressure or vascular disease can wear IoT sensors that help doctors visualize urgent problems before the condition becomes emergent. Imagine the potential to spot a stroke before the patient exhibits any symptoms. Just as health officials have sped-up the adoption of analytics during the pandemic, businesses in almost every sector now face urgent reasons to strengthen their own implementations. Consider what has happened since March in three very different industries: retail, manufacturing, and financial services.

Companies championing use of analytics…6.5x more likely to retain customers. 7.4x more likely to outperform competitors on making sales to existing customers. 55% more likely to achieve above-average profitability. (McKinsey & Company)


COVID-19 has accelerated the trend among retailers to re-think the role of brick-and-mortar stores as more and more customers shift to buying everything from groceries to chainsaw parts online. Retailers have long faced the challenge of responding to Amazon. Now they can use analytics to optimize local stores for options like curbside pickup, ship-to-home, and simplified product returns. Localization of such services can help nimble retailers outpace the lumbering online Goliaths.


Few factory jobs can be done from home, so the pandemic presented an urgent need to optimize workspace to allow social distancing. It also required supply chain analytics so that manufacturers could anticipate major shifts, such as a spike in consumer demand for toilet paper while commercial customers slashed their orders. With high-quality data, analytics can also predict soaring demand for common products, like hand sanitizer, or even for more arcane items, like elastic strapping for home-made COVID-19 masks.

Financial Services

Even in an industry known for its aggressive adoption of analytics, the pandemic posed new challenges. Literally trillions of dollars in loans and direct cash payments had to be sent out by governments to workers and businesses idled by the pandemic. Credit card transactions for online purchasing soared at the same time. Health and business insurance claims exploded. Beyond rising demand for traditional services, financial institutions also faced a surge of online customers who could no longer visit a local office. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools like chatbots helped customers find basic information without waiting for the limited number of trained customer service agents.

Perhaps most importantly, analytics tools are now supporting medical researchers as they race to find a vaccine for COVID-19. While the world waits for that, these tools are helping organizations in all other sectors blaze paths toward a new normal, hopefully, one even better than the past.

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Adapting to the Lasting Impact of COVID-19 on Your Information Needs

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