A recent survey shows that Canadian organizations are increasingly turning to data analytics in their efforts to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

When asked by the Economist what technology would have the biggest impact on their recovery, Canadian executives identified digital data collection (46 per cent) and the use of analytics to inform decisions (42 per cent).

That’s a leap forward given that only 29 per cent of Canadian CIOs identified analytics as a high priority in the 2019 CanadianCIO Census. “The pandemic has made people start to realize that they can remove barriers and transform faster than they thought,” said Steve Holder, Head of Strategy and Innovation at SAS Canada. “The pandemic has made us treat this like a crisis. And in times of crisis, transformation happens.”

It’s not surprising that the problem-solving and predictive capabilities of analytics are being seen as essential tools for recovery, notes a McKinsey report. “Insight-driven decisions—not gut-driven ones—will lead to business survival,” the report says. “It’s time for every organization to strengthen, not weaken, its commitment to data by doubling down on its analytics efforts.”

Health data is the new business data

As part of their recovery strategies, business and government leaders have started to use health data like never before, said Holder. “They need to understand the stages of recovery and the situation in different geographies,” he said. “They’re using that to inform not only how they run their business, but how they pivot or digitally transform their business.”

Healthcare organizations are leading the way by relying on coronavirus dashboards like the one developed by SAS, which allows them to run various projection scenarios. For example, the Cleveland Clinic, which operates in the U.S. and Canada, partnered with SAS to create innovative models to forecast patient volume, bed capacity, medical equipment availability and more. As the situation evolves, the models can adjust in real-time. “I definitely think it helped the organization be prepped for this and to make informed decisions,” said Chris Donovan, Executive Director of Enterprise Analytics at the Cleveland Clinic.

Similarly, Holder described how a consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturer started using health data and advanced analytics to forecast demand. Their demand drivers are radically different due to the pandemic, he explained. Different regions have had varying levels of demand, depending upon the stage of their recovery. “This organization was able to really use advanced analytics to get a much more concise view of their demand at a regional level to understand how the demand patterns have shifted and will continue to shift in the days, weeks and months to come,” said Holder.

Analytics is driving decision-making in all sectors

The pandemic has accelerated the way all types of organizations are consuming data and analytics. It’s made both public and private sector organizations take a new look at the use cases for data analytics to solve a wide range of problems, said Holder. In the public sector, for example, SAS is working with a provincial justice department to manage the backlog of court cases that built up during the lockdown. They’re using analytics to prioritize cases to make sure that trials take place within the required time limits. It’s also helped them develop a plan to provide appropriate personal protective equipment to their frontline staff. “It’s a great example of how data and analytics can really drive different outcomes,” Holder said.

Human resources departments will also be making greater use of analytics for the recovery process and beyond. “Historically, analytics hasn’t been at the core in HR,” said Holder. “Now, there is a plethora of HR analytics use cases that are being pursued.” To start, HR will need the data to help decide when and how to reopen offices and what needs to be done to protect employees, he said.

Resilient organizations will recover faster

One similarity across companies who are surviving the pandemic is a mature analytics foundation, states an article by SAS in the Economist. How an organization recovers from disruption depends on its preparedness.

Organizations will need to improve their business resilience as they move forward, said Holder. “Organizations are going to recognize that they can have a lot higher impact by being data driven than simply looking backward,” he said. “I think organizations are going to be a lot more focused on their data and their customers, and that’s going to be part of their resilience strategy.”

As well, organizations should start looking at data that they’ve never looked at before, Holder said. “Whether that be work-from- home data or public health data, the pandemic has made us realize that there’s insight to be culled from sources that organizations often didn’t look at or didn’t feel were important,” he said. These are the types of sources that are informing government and business leaders on how to reopen our economies to get Canada moving again.

Where to start

The foundation for any analytics is data. “I think organizations need to start by getting their data right,” said Holder.

The pandemic has revealed inefficient workarounds that companies have used to fill gaps in data quality. To become more resilient for the future, organizations must be able to easily connect to the data they need. This includes breaking down silos so there is one accessible source of data.

Once an organization’s data house is in order, then they should begin using advanced analytics to go beyond reporting and look forward, said Holder. “Moving into insight creation is the pivot that organizations need to make analytically,” he said. “The pandemic is making that even bigger because the usual operating models don’t necessarily apply in the new world. It’s opened up the ability for us to advance the analytics agenda.”

Learn more about how to use analytics to boost your recovery at the SAS COVID-19 Data Analytics Resource Hub.