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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

The Impact of COVID-19 on Data and Analytics Professionals

Results of a new TDWI survey show the impact COVID-19 is having on the work of data and analytics professionals in the U.S.

COVID-19 has swept through the world, bringing upheaval with it. The virus has impacted lives, employment, and how we behave day to day -- as well as how we conduct business. It has certainly been painful for many.

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AI's Impact on Coronavirus

As part of our research, TDWI wanted to examine the specific impact of COVID-19 on data and analytics professionals. We wanted to understand how the virus has affected data and analytics jobs as well as the way these professionals work and the kind of work they perform.

We sent a survey to TDWI's audience and received over 200 responses. About half of the responses (n=115) were from the U.S., the rest were from other parts of the world. This piece examines the impact of COVID-19 in the U.S. A preliminary review indicates that many of the results for U.S. respondents apply to the rest of the world as well.

Furloughs and layoffs. No profession is immune from COVID-19. In this survey, 13% of data and analytics professionals cited that their companies were either furloughing (8%) or laying off (5%) data and analytics professionals. This was the case across industries and company sizes.

The majority (slightly over 50%) of respondents were concerned about their own jobs, as well. As one respondent said, "I believe the 'return to normal' time-frame will be years, not months. The impact of this economic crisis has just begun to be felt."

The rest of the respondents (over 40%) felt that their employers needed them now more than ever. In terms of hiring, 40% of respondents stated that there was a freeze on hiring data and analytics professionals; just 5% were hiring new staff during this crisis.

In addition to staffing, we asked respondents what has changed for them, aside from working from home. The top answer was travel; 76% stated that they were being asked not to travel for at least six months. Although only 20% of respondents reported that analytics or data initiatives had been cancelled, about a third said that new purchases for software or services around data and analytics had been frozen. In other words, it appears that the majority of organizations are moving forward with planned initiatives, although some companies will not be moving forward with newer projects.

The nature of work is changing. We also asked respondents whether the kind of work that they are doing has changed. Over half of respondents said that they are being asked to answer new kinds of questions based on the economic impact of COVID-19 on the company. About a third of respondents said they need to update their models and other analytics to deal with changing customer behaviors (e.g., retraining models or recasting customer segments). The external climate has changed dramatically; it is only natural that there should be new questions asked.

In addition to answering new questions, about a third of the respondents said that they were being asked to bring new data sources into the organization for analytics as well as new attributes and features for this analysis. They were also being asked to run analytics more frequently. As one respondent said, "Plainly stated, we are asked/expected to do more."

Although data and analytics professionals may be working harder, another respondent in the transportation industry noted that the team was getting more visibility, "Data and analytics has become more high profile across the company in helping to assist in making business decisions in a fast-changing environment."

Working from home is harder for some. We asked if working from home had any impact on respondents' ability to do their jobs. About 40% said that it had no impact; many already worked remotely, others stated that it was fine. According to one respondent, "Not at all. I have been working from home for over 10 years and was shocked that my life style was termed quarantine."

About a quarter of the respondents said that it was harder to collaborate with colleagues. Yet, for those who already worked from home, some felt that there was "more collaboration with everyone working from home versus being split (some staff in office and some remote)." In other words, it evened the playing field for collaboration when everyone was working at home. A small percent (about 10%) of respondents noted that there were issues setting up VPNs, issues with bandwidth, and/or that analytics was running slower because of reductions in workforce.

The Need for Analytics

I would agree that analytics is more important than ever during these unprecedented times. As a society, we've seen how important even basic line graphs, bar charts, and heat maps are to understanding the spread of the virus. We've heard a lot about various models in terms of predicting deaths associated with COVID-19. Many people want to see the data and understand the facts in this rapidly changing environment. The public has even heard about how AI is being used to help triage patients and develop vaccines. As awful as this pandemic is (and it is terrible), it has driven home the need for data and analysis.

Organizations dealing with constantly changing conditions will need to understand where they are now and plan how to move forward in a dynamic environment. This includes gaining insights into customer behaviors, which impact products and pricing, optimizing supply chains, and continually updating revenue forecasts. All of this is the bread and butter of analytics. As organizations plan for the "new normal," they will also examine current workforce, production, and services strategies and how to come out of COVID-19 stronger and more agile. Change will be a given. Adaptability will be a must. Analytics will play a key role here.

As John F. Kennedy said, "Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

About the Author

Fern Halper, Ph.D., is well known in the analytics community, having published hundreds of articles, research reports, speeches, webinars, and more on data mining and information technology over the past 20 years. Halper is also co-author of several “Dummies” books on cloud computing, hybrid cloud, and big data. She is VP and senior research director, advanced analytics at TDWI Research, focusing on predictive analytics, social media analysis, text analytics, cloud computing, and “big data” analytics approaches. She has been a partner at industry analyst firm Hurwitz & Associates and a lead analyst for Bell Labs. Her Ph.D. is from Texas A&M University. You can reach her at fhalper@tdwi.org, on Twitter @fhalper, and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/fbhalper.


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