Data is at the heart of decisions being made every day around how we can safely interact. That is why so many people will be understandably concerned about the eight days of incomplete data that have now been reported due to the IT issue faced by Public Health England. Unfortunately, many people haven’t self-isolated that would normally have been informed to do so.
This is not the first and it won’t be the last time the finger points to good old Excel. And the sheer scale of the challenge our healthcare professionals, and the teams that support them, face is unprecedented, so they fully deserve our unwavering support. So while Twitter is already awash with criticisms over the alleged Excel issue, focusing on that one mistake will stop many from taking away (what I believe to be) the key learning from this incident.
The implications of the delay in getting up-to-date data is very clear in this instance. The consequence of not having timely access to information on COVID positive cases means that we can’t make the necessary changes to our behavior, whether that’s as a policy maker or self-isolating to safeguard our friends and family.
Yet, companies that are having to make similarly rapid, agile decisions – not merely because of the environment we’re currently in, but because that’s the speed that business dictates – often work with far older data than this. Batch data uploads into analytics platforms mean that companies frequently work with data that is weeks or even months out of date. This affects their ability to make informed decisions to better manage their resources, find opportunities to attract and retain customers, or identify risks on the horizon. What’s more, the ability to combine data at rest, with data in motion to create derivative data can open even more exciting possibilities and drive new analytics use cases. Timeliness, accuracy and trust are all key.
The outcomes may be less evident and quantifiable than this week’s contact tracing IT issue, but companies can’t keep pretending that their decisions are informed and accurate when based on old information. Learn from the pandemic and this incident – there are real consequences when out-of-date data informs decision-making.