Data Science Competency for a post-COVID Future
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Written by Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist, Mango Solutions (an Ascent company)

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains and markets and brought economies around the globe to a standstill.

Overnight, governments, public sector agencies, healthcare providers and businesses needed access to timely and accurate data like never before. As a result, demand for data analytics skyrocketed as organisations strived to navigate an uncertain future.

We recently surveyed data scientists working in a variety of UK industry sectors, asking them about:

  • how their organisation’s reliance on data changed during the pandemic
  • how their teams are having to re-align their skills sets to deliver the intelligence that’s needed; and
  • top trends on the horizon as organisations pursue a data-driven post-COVID recovery.

What they told us offers some interesting insights into the fast-evolving world of data science.

Decision intelligence gets real

Our findings highlight how the sudden disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of data analytics sharply into focus for business leaders and decision makers across the enterprise.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed said that demand for data analytics rose across their organisation. The top request areas for problem-solving and enabling informed strategic decisions included:

  • Immediate crisis response (51%) – risk modelling, digital scaling and strategy as organisations looked to make near-term decisions to address key operational challenges.
  • Informing financial/cost-efficiency decisions (33%).
  • Logistics/supply chain (26%).

As reliance on data became mission-critical, data scientists in some industry sectors were at the nerve centre of COVID-19 response efforts as organisations looked to solve real-life problems fast.

Data scientists are adapting their skills sets quickly

As organisations beef up their data strategy to better prepare for future disruptive events and thrive and survive in the new normal, data scientists are having to adjust to new ways of working and adapt their skills sets fast. Indeed, 49% of data scientists say their organisation is now investing in building their internal capabilities through learning and development programmes, with 38% actively recruiting to fill gaps.

Now part and parcel of the enterprise decision-making team, data scientists confirm they are having to hone their business and communication skills to ensure they are able to support business leaders across the organisation better. Indeed, an impressive 34% identified working more effectively with business stakeholders was now a top priority. With data now being used more broadly across the organisation, one-third (33%) of the data scientists confirmed that they plan to boost their own communication and business skills so they can interact more cohesively with business leaders – and collectively identify the right problems to solve for their organisation.

Top data trends for 2021

As organisations continue to push ahead with operationalising their data and analytics infrastructures to handle complex business realities, data scientists are scaling up their deployment of machine learning algorithms to automate their analytical models.

According to our poll, upskilling their machine learning (ML) skills was identified as the #1 priority for 45% of data scientists as they look to accelerate their AI and ML computations and workloads and better align decisions throughout the organisation.

Similarly, big data analytical technologies (such as Spark, Storm and Fink) was the top priority for 39% of UK data science teams, as was getting to grips with deep learning (39%) as analytics teams look to jointly leverage data and analytics ecosystems to deliver coherent stacks that facilitate the rapid contextualisation decision-makers need.

Finally, with more people across the organisation becoming increasingly dependent on data-driven decision making, data scientists are having to find new ways to present data in ways that business teams will understand.

In a bid to democratise data and support faster decision making on the front line, they’re working on increasing their skills in areas like data visualisation (27%) and modelling (23%) so they can tease out trends, opportunities and risks in an easily digestible way that makes it easy for decision-makers to consume and engage.

New opportunities on the horizon

In a post-COVID world, organisations are looking to tap into an increasing number of data sources for the critical insights they’ll need to tackle emerging challenges. In response, data scientists are having to extract and analyse data quickly – even in real-time – and in the right way. Integrating data-driven insights into the decision-making process.

In response, data scientists are having to upgrade their technical and business skills as organisations look for efficient and innovative ways to use the big data at their disposal.

In summary, the research highlights both how important it is to align central data communities in order to boost and demonstrate value across the business, while ensuring that investment in L&D programmes is fully aligned with developing trends and business objectives.



successful strategies to navigate your team
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Having access to the right data, at the right time, and in the right format, in order to inform your business strategy has always been critical in defining commercial success.  But in today’s exceptionally challenging business environment, where market conditions are changing daily (and in some industries, such as oil and gas, hourly), the availability of business-critical data, and the insights derived from it, is the key determinant in ensuring commercial survival.

Truly, we are in uncharted territory for the world economy and there are no precedents to refer to for those businesses trying to navigate a path to survival.  This means that the ability to understand trends to predict outcomes and to measure progress – through data management and analysis – is essential for senior executives to make the right decisions about the direction of their businesses.

In short, never has data science been more important – and having immediate, short and long term data strategies in place will help create the agility required for long term commercial success.

Here are five key data initiatives to focus on during this period:

1. Management Information (MI)

i) If your MI is based on retrospective data that was extrapolated manually through Excel wrangling and presented in a way that is not relevant to the situation because of a time lag, or worse possible errors and therefore counter intuitive, then it will be ignored versus

ii) having the right (MI) and metrics.  You can’t make good decisions without good data, so get your data & analytic teams focused on rethinking your MI suite, injecting forward-looking insight, and ensure it is automated

2. Business scenario simulation

The only thing that is certain right now is that nothing is certain. And if nothing is certain, then scenario planning can help and asking the right questions will be key to success:  what would happen if this situation lasts 3 months?  Or 6 months?  Or 9 months?  What happens if the ‘new normal’ is more, or less suited to your business?  Analytic teams can help you simulate and understand the impact of different scenarios on your business so you can better plan for the future.

3. Prepare for success

How do you ideally plan for your escape velocity to ensure you are in the best position to succeed post Covid-19?  For example, how do you best behave to regain and retain your clients if you’ve recently undergone significant churn?  Data science can help you plan the best approach and strategy to optimise the outcome commercially.

4. Data-driven transformation

A positive side effect of Covid-19 in the business world is that the situation will serve as the catalyst needed to accelerate digital transformation for many organisations, and thus reducing the time to becoming data-driven.  Are you prepared for this change?  If not, you may find the competitive landscape in the ‘new normal’ has shifted, with technology enabling other companies to make better, data-driven decisions and reduce costs. Could you compete with that?  Now is the time to focus on your transformation strategy to prepare you for life post-Covid.

5. Data & Analytic Literacy

Part of becoming data-driven is changing the culture within your organisation to make data-driven decision-making part of the DNA, rather than something that comes ‘from the top’ and trickles down, possibly getting lost on the way. Now is the time to teach your workforce the language of data & analytics, so you can devolve more decision making and give people the skills to thrive in the new data-driven future.  Upskilling, buddying and mentoring schemes can all help with this.

Now is perhaps the right time to make decisions using your data. The Covid-19 situation has become a numbers story on all levels, and it’s the data behind those numbers that is driving many Government, business and personal decisions.  We know from watching the news how regularly those numbers change, and the same will apply to your business.  Remember, agility is the new currency for business and putting effective data strategies into place now will help you emerge on the other side of this as healthy as you were when you went in.

Author Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist

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