Over the last few months, the Covid-19 crisis has transformed society beyond all recognition. Its initial impact was both sudden and dramatic, changing every aspect of our lives – both professional and personal. As living rooms and kitchens became temporary offices, seeing friends, family and colleagues became virtual. Each and every one of us has faced a number of challenges during this time of uncertainty and, unfortunately, it’s not over yet.
Although we are now seeing some of the government’s restrictions lifted and witnessing the hospitality and retail sectors starting to reopen – with social distancing measures in place - there is still a long way to go before we can truly regain a sense of normality. Add to this the possible threat of a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 cases, and it’s clear to see that there is a long road to recovery ahead of us.
As such, it’s never been more important for organizations – regardless of sector – to get one step ahead. Healthcare professionals, businesses and governments need to make use of the information they have at their disposal to fight the effects of this global pandemic head on. But, in order to benefit from this information, they need to be able to access and understand it.
Data is knowledge, knowledge is power
For many years, data has been considered the key to success for organizations. In this current Covid-19 landscape, it has become the key to survival. Yet, an age-old challenge that previously prevented businesses from maximizing productivity - and made gathering patient information a tedious task for healthcare professionals – is now hindering relief efforts. This challenge is to do with accessing data, regardless of where it is stored across an organization.
Traditionally, organizations have used a number of locations to store their most valuable information – whether on premise, in a cloud environment or within a much larger data lake. Whilst troublesome before, in the current crisis, this system of disparate data sources is a real cause for concern. This is because global pandemics become even harder to manage when important – potentially lifesaving - information is not made readily available. From medical practitioners at the point of care, to businesses trying to navigate the changing landscape and maintain continuity, a lack of critical information prohibits decision making and slows everything down.
Having the right data can change the playing field, enabling those on the front line and those working behind the scenes to gain the upper hand and beat the current crisis for good. But, in order to reach its potential, data must be delivered both quickly and effectively. It is only then that businesses will survive, governments can implement appropriate measures, and medical practitioners will save lives.
One technology that has taken center stage in recent weeks for its ability to deliver critical insights in near real-time to medical staff, business owners and government officials – as well as the general public – is data virtualization. Often thought of as a ‘logical data fabric’ due to its ability to create a logical representation of centralized data. This unified platform ensures that information – no matter where it is stored – is fully represented in the form of a logical data lake, warehouse or data mart. This means that all data can be brought together to create a complete, real-time view in the format required by each individual user.
The entire process of data virtualization actually holds critical value within itself. By abstracting underlying source complexities, users can have seamless access to information, while IT departments can continue making changes to underlying source systems. It is only through the creation of such a logical architecture that those fighting the effects of Covid-19 can access data almost immediately, without any need for replication. This, ultimately, is what will enable them to take back control.
For example, data virtualization can help businesses to access the data they need to make informed decisions during this uncertain time. By showing how production capacity may be affected at a certain location and when there might be a shortage of workers or raw materials, the technology can help businesses to alter operations and reroute logistics in order to ensure continuity. This may prove particularly important as we enter the next phase of the crisis. Despite some restrictions lifting, businesses are likely to be feeling the economic effects of Covid-19 for some time and monitoring operations closely in order to adapt accordingly and try to stabilize finances has never been more important.
Another example of data virtualization in action is when treating those potentially suffering from the virus itself. Hospitals can use data virtualization to deliver integrated, 360-degree patient health views directly to healthcare workers in the emergency room, enabling them to successfully determine the best course of treatment from the offset. This is extremely important, as often, when treating the symptoms of Covid-19, time is of the essence but so is accuracy. Doctors need to know the patient’s symptoms, past medical history and any allergies to food or medication before deciding on a course of action. This is all information that can be gleaned quickly and effectively using data virtualization.
Many healthcare agencies and research institutions are also using the technology to deliver real-time statistics that will inform containment plans and, hopefully, accelerate the creation of a vaccine. The creation of data portals which contain this type of information – whether it be about the number of people diagnosed with the virus or any variations in symptoms – can enable government bodies to relay the most relevant advice to the general population and improve emergency response times. It is what will give us the earliest possible indication of a second spike in cases and enable us to combat the potential effects.
The global pandemic continues to present many challenges. Whilst there is currently no single silver bullet solution to eradicate its effects, being able to access the right data at the right time could help to give those on the front line a valuable advantage. By bringing together data from disparate sources almost in real-time and making it available to data virtualization is helping the world contain the outbreak, whilst reducing its wider impact. It is helping businesses and economies to bounce back and – in the most extreme cases – it is saving lives.
Alberto Pan, Chief Technical Officer, Denodo