Dealing with the COVID ‘infodemic'

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Jen Stirrup
Jen Stirrup

The reality is that we're all data scientists now. News programmes have been obsessing about data in a way that's never happened before, and data is more than ever in the public eye. We are also generating lots of data today, and are aiming towards gaining wisdom and knowledge that can be used to heal the situation which is has been so difficult for so many people, during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“We even have a new words to describe it, which is an ‘infodemic’,” said Jen Stirrup, founder nd CEO of Data Relish, during her keynote address at the ITWeb Business Intelligence Summit 2021, held as a virtual even this week.

Stirrup spoke about how disruption, caused by COVID-19, has impacted the world of data and information, and most importantly, what companies should do about it.

“COVID has made the world unpredictable, and that includes the world of data. Humans are fantastic − we have achieved so many things, but one thing we haven't really achieved is the ability to predict the future. The closest we can get to doing that is actually through using our data and understanding what's happened in the past.”

She said COVID has finally forced businesses to pause and reassess what's really important to them. 

“We've had to rethink our businesses, what's important to our customers, and think about putting our people first. For some organisations that's a new thing. Many organisations have finally realised that their data is important, where before, they didn’t really understand the power of their data, and perhaps even confused it with technology.”

Democratising data?

Tech companies are encouraging organisations to use their data, and to use AI. Part of this is wanting to democratise AI, by making it accessible. But in reality, is that a feasible approach?, she asked. We’re loaded with information and data pieces. Every day organisations have to manage masses of data, and think about improving their processes, and take in the detail, and do this under the pressures of the pandemic.

“We end up skimming, and not really making the most of our data. Does that mean it's really a digital democracy? The term seems to assume that everyone has equal access to the same data, and the same power.”

Stirrup says we can only do this if we make sure we improve our business processes as well. 

“So how is AI going to help us with these issues, and how is it going to improve the future of work? There have been so many pressures on employees and team members working with data since the pandemic. IT teams and BI teams have been working hard to produce reports, data dashboards, and all sorts of data science artefacts, since the beginning of the pandemic.”

One thing we haven't really achieved is the ability to predict the future. The closest we can get to doing that is actually through using our data and understanding what's happened in the past.

Jane Stirrup, Data Relish.

The same goes for many organisations, she said. 

“It's been easier to start data science projects while people are working at home, because they've had to rethink what businesses can do when their entire workforces are working from home. So if you have a data driven mindset, there are subtle opportunities for individuals to try to carve out a career, or make a strong statement about themselves by really becoming data driven, and data literate.”

Stirrup said we also have to think about data privacy. 

“This is a big risk for many organisations, because people are working at home with WiFi that perhaps is not secure. To ensure privacy, businesses need to have good data privacy processes in place that are easy for people to follow, because businesses are starting to ask themselves what is the ROI of data, and this doesn’t always mean return on investment, it can also mean ‘risk of incarceration’ in terms of the legal risks surrounding data privacy.”

The importance of collaboration

Something else she says has become increasingly evident during the pandemic is the increased importance of collaboration. 

“We have extra demands placed on us, and the way that we can help one another is through collaboration rather than competition. This also gives us the opportunity to become more data driven. Robert Metcalf said the community value of a network grows as the number of its users increases. The power of a network and putting data together becomes increasingly important and more interesting when it is shared and when it's combined with other data sources as well.”

Let's make sure that we can share and collaborate. It's not a competition, she stressed.  "We can all lift one another up. The reality is, the power you have is really reflective of how much power you give away, and how much you can enable and influence other people. When we think about the future of work, we are thinking about empowering ourselves, and empowering one another.”

According to Stirrup, we need to build a world in which every individual has the opportunity to thrive. 

“The skills shortage is something that's very real right now in the world of COVID. This can also be an opportunity for us to build a better world. We can help by using techniques and technologies such as artificial intelligence, data science and business intelligence, and fitting them into an innovation strategy to really support the organisation. 

"Believe it or not, spring is coming, and there will be a world after COVID, and we need to be ready for that post-pandemic world.”

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