How to Use Coronavirus Tracing Data to Make Your Business Thrive

Consumer data is everywhere during the Covid epidemic. For some, it can predict the future.

Zack Styskal
Jul 1, 2020 · 6 min read

By Alan Lightfeldt and Zack Styskal

In this article:

If you live in South Korea, your mobile devices are probably driving you crazy. With over 90% of the population using a smartphone, nearly 47 million are subjected to dozens of Covid-related government-controlled emergency alerts every day. And you — as a resident — can’t turn them off. In fact, if you leave your phone behind when you go out, you can incur a massive fine; and South Koreans aren’t alone. Hong Kong tracks via Facebook-owned WhatsApp, while China follows Covid cases through WeChat. In Italy, the Google and Apple-developed Immuni app was downloaded by more than 25% of eligible users in its first 10 days, and Google says it’s exploring how to help governments aggregate and blend this and other data, of which it has more than probably any other company on Earth. Some governments are aware of privacy risks. Norway, for example, is ending use of its contract tracing app, Smittestopp, after the Norwegian Data Protection Authority determined the app’s privacy invasions weren’t justified. And indeed, MIT researchers flagged the app as one that fails in data minimization and transparency.

Ethical Digitization Through Data

In such a sea of information, businesses have clear opportunities to gain insights like never before — and with consumers and employees around the globe hidden from sight, companies have never needed data like they do right now. That said, they need to be mindful about data access. Just because it’s available doesn’t mean it’s yours. But with principled moves, sharp observations are just around the corner for insight-driven leaders.

This is how you can use Coronavirus tracing data to power your business in 2020:

1. Manage teams with empathy

“Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business” says Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group.

At this point, nobody expects office culture to go back to what it was pre-pandemic. And as geography won’t be as much of a factor as it once was, employees are likely to have more flexibility than ever before about which jobs they take.

Organizations large and small are using public and third-party data sets to enhance their workforce availability analyses. Epidemiological model predictions and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) use Covid case data to enable organizations to factor public health risks into their operations decisions. As more U.S.-based companies weigh reopening storefronts and manufacturing sites in an uneven recovery, leveraging these datasets is critical to maintaining the health and safety of employees.

2. Forecast consumer fluctuations and pivot quickly

During the initial weeks of the U.S. lockdown, it was difficult — if not impossible — to find flour and yeast in most chain grocery stores as Americans baked at home in earnest. The tectonic spike in demand was so sudden that not even Amazon was able to keep these products in its massive inventory. But specialty markets and bodegas in New York and other cities managed to keep shelves stocked throughout the lockdown — including flour. Online delivery of toilet paper? Forget it. Bodegas? Squares for miles.

In the grocery battle between David and Goliath, how did smaller stores outmaneuver the big ones? The answer, in most cases, was the ability to pivot to new and alternative suppliers quickly. When name-brand products became impossible to supply, small grocers replaced them with off-brand and international alternatives. Instead of King Arthur Flour, for example, a small grocer in California kept flour in stock by selling a Korean brand.

Although large retailers have removed most of the ‘slack’ from their supply chains, they can stay nimble and minimize the severity of product outages by taking in better data and applying it to their supply chain and logistics algorithms. Specifically:

· New technology such as smart shelves that digitally track products allow retailers to measure demand in real-time and identify — down to the store level — where supply needs to be shifted. By including Covid tracing data, retailers and CPG companies, for instance, can enhance prediction in fluctuations for currently used metrics like “share of shelf” and “share of inventory,” but can also use expected outbreak patterns to guide how to deploy inventory to the right places at the right times.

· Decentralizing the response to insights generated from this data can improve a company’s reaction to shifting consumer demand. Data-empowered local teams (instead of a centralized ‘one size fits all’ approach) greatly improve chances of resiliency for go-to-market plans.

3. Predict changes to the supply chain

Sandeep Dadlani, of Mars, Inc. acknowledged that CPG supply chains almost seem to work better when people don’t “show up” to the office:

“They watch the trucks, pick up the phone, and get calls from the retailers… Now that the logistics and technology teams have lost their in-location perspective of the supply chain and can only access raw data about inventory, supplies, materials, and packaging, their interactions have changed. Conversations between remote team members have become more focused and less subjective, productivity has improved.”

Perhaps more than ever, supply chain resiliency is paramount to the most effective, nimble organizations. The global pandemic is (hopefully) a once-in-a-generation event in its impact and reach — sparing almost no one. However, it is just the latest in a series of events that have marked nearly a decade of increasing instability in the global economy. The U.S.-China trade war, Brexit, climate change and natural disasters such as the 2011 tsunami in Japan are just a few of the major challenges to managing supply chains that precede the coronavirus pandemic. The need for good facts and agile responses isn’t going anywhere.

With consolidated data that includes Covid patterns, we can monitor each piece of the supply chain no matter where we are. Leaders that invest in cloud-based applications that provide real-time network visibility are the most successful at improving resiliency of their supply chains. One major foodservice distributor recently gained a clear “line-of-sight” into its inventory across thousands of vendors through the deployment and adoption of Tableau dashboards powered by real-time supply chain data. These reports broke down the data silos that had previously obscured leaders’ assessment of risks and opportunities. Investments in control tower solutions such as these allow leaders to make more effective decisions, faster.

4. Get Paid

Recently, one Fortune 100 consumer packaged goods company quickly trained and deployed a classification model to predict which suppliers and buyers were most at risk of defaulting on payments during the Covid epidemic. Early warning capabilities like these help companies anticipate and manage fast-moving disruptions. By understanding that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) models provide actionable, data-driven insights in risk areas, the finance team was able to proactively mitigate the financial impact of payment defaults to the company before they ever occurred.

Moving Forward

The consumer landscape is shifting every day lately, and the future of Covid-19 and its impacts on business can feel completely unpredictable — but it doesn’t have to be. With the right mix of data and skills, any business can use Coronavirus tracing details to predict what’s coming and take the right next steps.

Alan Lightfeldt (L) is a Principal in Slalom’s Data and Analytics practice

Zack Styskal (R) is a Principal in Slalom’s Strategy and Operations practice

Slalom Data & Analytics

Insights, how-tos, and fresh perspectives on the latest…

Zack Styskal

Written by

I lead product incubators and digital accelerators, love geography, and am fascinated by enclaves and exclaves.

Slalom Data & Analytics

Insights, how-tos, and fresh perspectives on the latest trends in data and analytics and data science.

Zack Styskal

Written by

I lead product incubators and digital accelerators, love geography, and am fascinated by enclaves and exclaves.

Slalom Data & Analytics

Insights, how-tos, and fresh perspectives on the latest trends in data and analytics and data science.

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