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BI vendors provide resources for COVID-19 analysis

With the new coronavirus continuing to spread worldwide, analytics software vendors are joining in to help in slowing, and hopefully stopping, the pandemic.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, some analytics software vendors are making resources available to help understand the pandemic and potentially contribute to slowing its growth.

Tableau, for one, developed a resource page featuring a host of dashboards that show the spread of the coronavirus. SAS, meanwhile, built a report that shows key COVID-19 statistics.

And Qlik, though it has a similar application showing statistics that is available on request, is working with worldwide organizations to pull together data from disparate sources to not only understand the current situation but also work toward preventing a similar outbreak in the future.

"We believe that in a crisis it's not only about advanced analytics," said Mark Lambrecht, director of the Health and Life Sciences Global Practice at SAS. "It's an environment for the visibility and transparency of data. It's for the societal good -- how we can we help with this crisis."

Meanwhile, Julie Kae, executive director of Qlik.org, the philanthropic arm of Qlik, said that the vendor's goal is to help organizations actively involved in fighting the spread of COVID-19 by providing the best data possible to help them make critical decisions.

"The coronavirus is unprecedented in its scope, and we're supporting groups on the front lines," she said. "We're making sure the data is accurate and all encompassing."

Tableau's resource page includes over a dozen relevant dashboards with data visualizations showing the number of coronavirus cases both overall and broken down by location, as well as the number of people recovered and the number of deaths from COVID-19.

In addition, the Tableau page has a map of the United States that shows the number of coronavirus cases by state, a dashboard that compares the spread of the coronavirus to the spread of SARS, and provides links to the COVID-19 database from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Johns Hopkins data repository.

The coronavirus is unprecedented in its scope, and we're supporting groups on the front lines. We're making sure the data is accurate and all encompassing.
Julie KaeExecutive director, Qlik.org

Beyond the resource page, Tableau published a blog post titled "Why are data and analytics important for understanding outbreaks?" that delves into the role analytics can play in understanding the behavior of COVID-19, such as symptoms and who is most vulnerable to the virus-borne disease.

Similar to Tableau, SAS has put together a detailed report with maps and bar charts that show the spread of COVID-19 both globally and broken down by location. And it, too, provides a link to the WHO.

The report is aimed at educating a general public but also serves as a starting point for organizations involved in the fight against COVID-19 to get basic information and then dig deeper into the data and do more advanced analytics, according to Lambrecht.

"This is for a general audience and shows basic metrics, but we're being asked by other organizations that want more detailed information about epidemiology, for example," Lambrecht said. "It shows health authorities our capability to help with the response, and they quickly have add-on questions and then we can do more advanced analytics. The start is visibility, to show what is happening."

Examples of more advanced analytics include delving into staffing numbers at hospitals, and working to improve the supply chain for the delivery of tests and key materials like gowns, gloves and masks.

Along with other analytics software vendors, Tableau is providing free resources to help combat the spread of the new coronavirus.
Tableau has developed a free resource page that shows the worldwide spread of COVID-19.

While Tableau and SAS have resource pages up on their websites, Qlik has similar information available to anyone who requests it. Meanwhile, through Qlik.org, the vendor's main focus is on working with health and nonprofit organizations around the world to collect data from various sources, prepare it and make sure the data is as accurate as possible.

"There are a lot of great philanthropic efforts, and we can leverage our strength, which is data blending from different sources very quickly -- that's where we lend value," Kae said.

Qlik is a member of the Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT), a collaboration of companies working with the WHO and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Through the PSRT, Qlik has access to data from other members, including healthcare, pharmaceutical and medical supply companies whose information may be critical to understanding and fighting the spread of COVID-19.

"We can bring in data from past outbreaks, data from the [World Organisation for Animal Health], WHO, CDC and other possible data sets, from private companies like Johnson & Johnson and Merck," Kae said. "We can bring in the data to truly address and stop the pandemic and then build up with health systems to teach for the future."

Tableau, SAS and Qlik are not the only analytics vendors contributing resources related to COVID-19.

Splunk, for example, made a dashboard available to any individual or organization without installation, and Kaggle, a subsidiary of Google, provides an information page similar to those from Tableau and SAS. Meanwhile, TigerGraph, a graph database vendor, is making its services available for free to anyone or any organization taking part in the fight against COVID-19.

Despite the efforts of analytics software vendors, analysts are skeptical about what role they can play in actually slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Vendors can educate with how they display information, but the rear-facing nature of data visualizations -- telling what has already happened -- limit what the vendors can do proactively for organizations they aren't already working with on a deeper, predictive modeling level, noted David Menninger, analyst at Ventana Research.

"I suspect the best that analytics and BI vendors can do is make data available to the 'non-researching' public in a way that helps educate and inform a broader set of the population," Menninger said. "Their efforts might also make researchers aware of more data sources that they didn't know about previously, but in the end, anyone doing serious research already has a set of tools."

Similarly, Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research, said that slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19 requires data science more than data visualizations that show what has already happened.

He added, however, that one area where technology vendors can play a forward-thinking role is in helping businesses understand the potential impacts of the coronavirus.

Financial planning software -- corporate performance management or enterprise performance management tools -- could prove critical in helping businesses as they attempt to navigate potentially severe revenue declines in the coming weeks.

"The alternative to these sorts of systems has always been siloed spreadsheets and chaotic and cumbersome collaboration via email," Henschen said. "This incumbent approach obviously invites data entry errors and version-control hell. It's also a notoriously slow and painful manual approach that organizations avoid more than quarterly and annually, if at all possible."

While the level of impact analytics software vendors can have on the current pandemic is unclear, what is clear is that their efforts now can play a role in how the world responds to future potential virus outbreaks.

Data that is collected and modeled for analysis will help governments learn, and better prepare.

"This will end and we will learn from this and hopefully we will do better from this," Kae said. "I find comfort in data that life will return to normal, and also that we will find a new normal."

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