COVID-19: Don’t Miss This Moment – Invest Now in Data Literacy

Ted Cuzzillo,
Principal Analyst – Data Analytics

Summary Bullets:

  • The world will find its way through the COVID-19 pandemic with data.
  • Data analysts will be among the ordeal’s heroes, and organizations with strong data literacy throughout will recover the fastest. Invest now in data literacy.

Doctors, nurses, and hospitals are the frontline heroes for the acute victims of the COVID-19 virus. But data is everyone’s compass — today as ‘the curve’ signals danger and eventually as the curve signals hope.

It’s a good time to understand data. Many organizations in the western hemisphere now face their greatest peril of our lifetimes. Those that survive will eventually face another daunting task: rebuilding in a new, different economy. Understanding data – knowing how to read it, organize it, prepare it, analyze it, and explain it – will be crucial.

Hopeful Work

For now, the hopeful work with data goes on among data professionals, mostly out of public view. One large-scale project, for example, is under way at San Francisco-based Splunk as the technology vendor, which specializes in ingesting and analyzing vast datasets, identifies risk factors.

The first part of the data job is just organizing data sources. That includes persuading owners to release their data, anonymized. The more data we have to work with, the more risk factors come into view.

Some data owners have been more cooperative and generous than others. Members of an emerging coalition of city and state CIOs, for example, had from the start an unusual awareness of the urgency. Splunk and that coalition of CIOs have gone through ideation, scoping, and corporate partner recruitment in three days — a monumental task. Splunk’s head of global impact, Corey Marshall, hopes to have built a minimally viable product by about the end of March.

Kaggle Data Competition

Meanwhile, at Kaggle — a community of data scientists and machine learning experts who have solved a wide variety of difficult challenges since the group’s founding in 2010 — 734 teams jumped into a pair of anti-COVID-19 challenges. Both challenges, launched March 20, involve forecasting confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities between March 25 and April 22 by region. The challenges also require teams to identify risk factors and to help answer key questions about the efficacy of non-pharmaceutical interventions and environmental effects on transmission.

Winning teams receive $1,000 and prestige — a miserable hourly rate but nevertheless worth every minute for the participants.

Eventually, all this work with data at Kaggle, Splunk, and elsewhere will help flatten the curve. Data workers will have earned new, greater status in popular culture — reinforcing what has already been a strong trend in business: the tendency to view data analysts as heroes.

It’s up to every organization to invest now in data literacy. The more data-savvy organizations will more easily find their way through the pandemic and through the post-pandemic recovery.

Every organization would be wise to start investing now in its own internal data literacy.

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