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Importance of analytics clear amid COVID-19 crisis

With health organizations and business leaders alike trying to minimize the effects of COVID-19, analytics is playing a critical role in the decision-making process.

The COVID-19 crisis has put the importance of analytics in the spotlight.

Data has been the driving force behind decisions to close schools or direct people to stay at home, hospitals' moves to order more supplies and repurpose staff, and companies' decisions to lay off workers or close entirely.

The predictive models that show how many deaths could result from COVID-19 if certain measures aren't adhered to demonstrate the critical importance of analytics in fighting the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, the predictive models that show how commerce might be affected under various scenarios demonstrate the critical importance of analytics in trying to keep the economy from complete collapse.

Sisense, founded in 2004 and based in New York City, is one of the analytics software vendors whose tools are being used by organizations on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 and businesses trying to navigate perhaps the most challenging economy since the Great Depression.

Amir OradAmir Orad

Amir Orad, CEO of Sisense recently discussed the importance of analytics in dealing with the effects of COVID-19.

In Part I of a two-part Q&A, Orad spoke about the role of augmented intelligence and machine learning in getting at the true spread of the novel coronavirus. Here in Part II, he discusses how healthcare organizations and businesses alike are using analytics to inform their decisions during the COVID-19 crisis.

Given the ways Sisense's platform is being used, can you give some examples of the importance of analytics as organizations attempt to understand the impact of COVID-19?

Amir Orad: Yes, there are multiple ones. We are helping those that are fighting the coronavirus itself and those that are fighting the impact of the coronavirus, and I separate the two.

As far as people fighting the coronavirus, for example, a coronavirus task force in New York is using Sisense predictive analytics to help them with simulations. We have a customer in the U.K. who just published an analysis by location, looking at the impact of the coronavirus in the danger zone. They are amazing visuals, amazing things. These are people in the field, in the U.K. dealing with the coronavirus right now.

We have a company doing shift management in hospitals with Sisense, so they help decide how many nurses and doctors are needed at what time because you don't want to overburden them -- you have to keep the number of those heroes on the front line from being too many or too few. We have a county in California that has dashboards for all the local villages showing the level of risk, and they're using that to educate the decision-makers in the local communities about what to do.

And starting [this] week, we will be making our licenses fully free to anyone on the front line of fighting the coronavirus because we have seen so many people doing that that we decided to open it to everyone else, fully free to everyone fighting the coronavirus. They can get free licenses for the next few months as needed, and our help and our time to help them.

What about an example of the importance of analytics on the business side?

Orad: There are a lot of B2B and airline companies that are trying to minimize costs and understand the impact on future demand. We have a customer [in transportation] using our algorithms to recalculate and reload schedules because you can imagine that the change in demand is dramatic -- this is something we have not seen since the Great Depression -- and overnight they have to reshuffle all their train schedules.

Given how starkly the COVID-19 crisis is showing the importance of analytics -- both from a healthcare perspective and an economic forecasting perspective -- could this crisis lead to faster adoption of a data-driven culture in organizations where it didn't previously exist?

Orad: [Analytics] companies now need to provide more value to their customers than ever before. There have been a few dozen companies that reached out to us and said they are accelerating production. I said, 'Why? There's the coronavirus, didn't you get the memo?' And they told me it's because they need analytics because their business in chaos.

For example, we have a back office that helps [a customer] run her business. They're now shipping to her new analytics capabilities to help her support remote visits and remote training, and the fact that some of her offices are closed and some are open. We have a customer in the travel space who told me that because there's a reduction in travel, there is an opportunity to upgrade all their systems -- what's a better time than when no one is flying? People need analytics to navigate the landscape because a fitting that was effective yesterday is not effective today.

It will be a very challenging few months for people, communities and the economy, but I think the pace of innovation, cooperation, and the number of data-driven companies will go up significantly over time.
Amir OradCEO, Sisense

No one on planet Earth, unless you are 102 years old, has a gut trained to deal with a plague. So, the company is not working, it needs analytics, and we need to give our customers analytics. So I think this will accelerate adoption and the need for analytics in vertical domains and businesses where it wasn't needed until now. Overall, it will be a very challenging few months for people, communities and the economy, but I think the pace of innovation, cooperation, and the number of data-driven companies will go up significantly over time.

What about the ability to collaborate and innovate, will the vast numbers of people now working remotely have an effect on how quickly new analytics capabilities can be developed?

Orad: I think the answer is no, and I'll explain. It takes a crisis to bring the best and the worst out of humanity. It takes, unfortunately, a plague to unite us all in trying to solve something together. If you go back to big data and innovation, this is the first time in the history of medicine that overnight people opened the data rooms and now have collaborative data-sharing exercises. The medical journals typically take two months to go from research to publication, and now there are chat rooms and Slack rooms that are sharing research in minutes -- not three months, but in minutes. The pace of innovation around the coronavirus is skyrocketing; it's unheard of. Everything is Open Source, shared, live -- data, research, tests. First, around the coronavirus specifically, there is massive innovation.

I have a friend who is now buying meat from the butcher on WhatsApp. That butcher probably did not even know what WhatsApp is three weeks ago. They had no website; it was old school -- you can imagine a butcher from 1890 to now and it was the same store. Now they are shipping and you can pay online. Why? Because necessity is the mother of all innovation. I had a meeting with a client the other day, and she's someone who always wears a suit to the office, so we have a very strict relationship. For the first time I met with her with kids in the background in a living room setting, and we had a more open discussion and did more out-of-the-box thinking than ever before because we were in weird environments and had no choice but to talk about it.

Many things will be dramatically improved at an accelerated pace as a result of where we are. But this would not have been possible 30 years ago because we didn't have these tools and technologies, data sharing, and video and everything else that my daughter takes for granted.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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