In a quiet moment last weekend, I listened to a podcast about the pandemic and the history of other pandemics and what we were able to learn from them.
The fascinating thing about this podcast is it was recorded in March 2020, the month when we had our last CFO debate in Fitzrovia, London and it was a total education in what we could of predicted and what we should have done next.
I remember that month very well because we were tracking the news and the communication from the government to decide whether we were going to go ahead with the March Community meet up.
At the time the advice was if you have symptoms (a cough, a fever, something like a flu) stay at home if you don’t have symptoms, carry on as you are, somehow reflecting that great British slogan ‘keep calm and carry on’.
What the expert modellers and forecasters said
But this podcast interview focused what we already know, and it struck me, what if these expert modellers and forecasters were given a voice at that time, would we have behaved differently? would we have been able to save more lives? would we have been able to make more decisive action based on what the data already showed us?
Obviously listening to this podcast today, 18 months after it was recorded gave me hindsight that was not there in March 2020, but what was fascinating about listening to this podcast is that the scientists and forecasters knew so much already before anything had happened in the UK, they know so much based on past events and the data from it.
The experts knew what happened in 1918 with the Spanish flu and in more recent years SARS and Ebola. They knew what to do to limit the spread. They knew the COVID-19 was not a high fatality virus in that most people who contracted it would recover (cira. 80%). Knowing this, they knew the infection would spread widely and quickly as infected people would not die and therefore contain the virus. Perversely, a deadly virus is considered less effective than one that only kills a few and lives on in the population.
Consequently, they knew to stay at home, they knew to stop travel, they knew to wear masks, they knew developing a vaccine was possible and a priority, but on the 20th March 2020 when this podcast was recorded, leadership had done very little to protect the population and it took another week until we were lockdown, with an ill advised statement from the PM that the UK can “turn the tide of coronavirus” in 12 weeks.
Give data a voice
Now, this is not meant to be a critique of the PM or government responses around the world but it does make me wonder if modellers and forecasters around the world and functional data experts in business had more of a voice in their businesses, what it would mean for the performance of their businesses?
It also makes me wonder whether these data analysts and forecasters actually appreciate the value of their skills and knowledge and whether leadership appreciates the power of modelling and now advanced analytics in business.
Unfortunately I see time and time again, at board level a lack of understanding of data, forecasting and advanced analytics, and a low level of data literacy or a dependence on one person who can manage this for them, aka the CIO or CDO (chief data officer).
This needs to change. So is it time we had both top down and bottom up pressure to create a change? is it time that the board acknowledge this skill gap and learn how to communicate and lead digital transformations, data analytics project and create a capability of data analytics? Clearly Communication and leadership are critical.
And is it also time for Generation Z, the new analysts in finance and business who use data, and the modellers and computer science graduates to be given a voice in business to put pressure on the board to first educate and then demonstrate the art of the possible?
Change means changing
Yes! This is a new way of working and a break from the normal hierarchy within business but it is needed.
This is about a community of people taken from traditional silos and hierarchies who can come together to solve problems, to improve their businesses and demonstrate their strength of data and modelling and analytics.
Sure, this will require new leadership, and will not be easy…. In fact it is likely to be stressful, but is it time for people in leadership positions to acknowledge this gap and for new inexperienced team members to have a voice, to give fair challenge to senior leadership?
Can we take it?
I believe a certain level of stress can bring us together and in many many cases bring out the best of all in all of us. The pandemic has showed this, so let’s make digital change happen in business too.