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Data holds the key to adapting to, and eventually overcoming, Covid-19

data woman
(Image credit: Future)

Data has been in the spotlight this year, but mostly for the wrong reasons. We’ve been glued to our televisions, laptops and newspapers as we’re bombarded with information and statistics about Covid-19; the number of cases, the scale of the economic downturn, the morbidity rate. We’re more interested in data now than, perhaps, we ever have been before, and it has undeniably been a cause for worry since the onset of the pandemic. However, data shouldn’t just be seen as the bringer of bad news; information and data should also be seen as a useful tool in helping us to adapt to, and eventually overcome, Covid-19 – all whilst improving operational efficiency.

The importance of good data

During the past year, efficiency has still been important, but organizations are increasingly turning to data-enabled solutions to help them comply with strict new regulations and remain Covid-secure in order to help them reopen in a way which keeps their staff and customers safe. Now more than ever, it is critical that there is no mistake when it comes to these solutions – knowing the exact amount of people in an area of a shopping center, or having precise measurements on the air quality or hygiene rating in the bathrooms of a gym, are all critical to helping us return to some semblance of normality in a safe way.

Before we look at exactly how data can (and is) helping us to get back to normal, it’s important to mention that not all data is equal. Data is the foundation almost all of the automation, AI and IoT processes that help make our lives and businesses more efficient and productive, but these only enable proper efficiency if the data underpinning them is of a good quality. If datasets are incomplete or inaccurate, then the processes they are supporting will be much less efficient. In layman’s terms, when it comes to anything data-driven, you get out what you put in.

So how do we get this information?

How do businesses gather all of this information in an effective way? The answer is actually a lot simpler than many think – A data-enabled solution doesn’t have to be much more complex than installing sensors at key locations within a business venue and measuring simple but key data points. A cheap sensor at the door of a grocers, for example, can be used to measure how many people enter the store, with a corresponding sensor at the exit to measure how many are leaving. This information is then fed into a central controls panel to give real-time visibility into how many people are in the store at one time: an invaluable piece of data when trying to ensure social distancing.

It’s not just simple data like footfall that sensors can monitor. The sky is (almost) the limit when it comes to the innovation and complexity of data gathering devices. Need a sensor that detects CO2 particles to determine the freshness of the air in a room? There’s a device for that. Want to scan the temperature of staff intermittently throughout the workday to help track potential symptoms? There’s a device for that too. When it comes to options regarding the gathering of information and data, organizations are spoilt for choice. The hard part of a data-enabled solution, then, comes with what to do with all of the information once it is acquired.

How to utilize data effectively

Ensuring good quality data is only one-half of the puzzle when it comes to utilizing information to help with Covid-security. The second, and just as important, half is knowing how to use that data to properly inform smart working practices, improve insight into information on, for example, social distancing or air quality, and enable stricter working regimes in areas such as cleaning.

The truth is that the people that are instrumental to businesses being able to reopen in a Covid-secure way aren’t the data scientists or IT experts – They’ll be the frontline workers, the cleaners and security guards. The frontline will be the ones enforcing social distancing or cleaning communal areas and bathrooms; it makes sense, then, that the information organizations gather to help ease those jobs should be in the hands of those frontline staff. By connecting handheld devices with those sensors dotted around a venue, even with something as simple as an app on a member of staff’s mobile phone, the frontline can be empowered with real-time data that enables them to do their job in a more efficient and more effective way.

Take security guards as an example: with real-time data on the number of people inside a store, or crowded aisles, guards in a supermarket will know when the optimum time to stop people from entering would be, all without having to go through the laborious process of manually counting the number of customers present. The guard’s job is made easier, and they don’t have to be in constant contact with the public thanks to sensors helping to do the counting job – data makes their roles easier, whilst also keeping them safe in the process.

Such technology can also be used by more senior management staff to help gain a greater insight into the reality of the operation on the ground, and plan more effectively to deal with potential issues. Management teams could, for example, use data sensors to see how often bathroom facilities are clean, and compare with how often customers are using them. If one facility is being used more often than another, managers could decide to ask frontline staff to change their patterns to reflect the need for more attention to be paid to one facility than the other. There’s the efficiency aspect to this too; connected workforce management solutions don’t have to be an added expense in creating a Covid-secure work environment. In fact, these solutions improve operational efficiency by allowing the frontline to work in a much smarter way. Having insight into what’s going on in real-time allows management teams to carry out the additional hygiene checks or crowd control without the requirement of additional staff – the data gathered will help keep staff and customers safe from Covid-19, but it will also allow this to happen in a cost-effective way.

The future is data enabled

Connected solutions are harnessing huge amounts of data to improve operations (and efficiency) across all sectors of the economy and, ultimately, to help businesses and venues reopen in a Covid-secure way. Organizations need to remember two fundamental things when using connected solutions to reopen – the quality of the data is vital, and the staff members on the frontline can benefit from it the most. Properly utilized data will be crucial to helping us adapt to, and eventually overcome, Covid-19.

Michael Elliott, CEO and Founder, Over-C

Michael Elliott is an entrepreneur and expert in connectivity and digitalisation. He is the CEO and Founder of Over-C, a leading provider of digital platform management, which uses location, sensor data to empower front line workers.