Pandemic Perspectives on the Value of Big Data

Numbers. The stories they tell us are so revealing. The coronavirus crisis is generating a river of data – flowing with everything from evolving economic forecasts to minute-by-minute tallies of coronavirus cases and deaths.

During the launch of Analytics at Wharton in 2019, a merging of research, teaching and resources that shows the business school’s commitment to the exploding field of analytics, Dean Geoff Garrett said, “In the 21st century, leaders will increasingly use data and analytics to develop insights that will help them make better decisions and become better leaders.” Little did he know that analytics would soon become so critical to helping us solve problems during one of the worst business and economic crises of all time.

Eric Bradlow, Wharton’s vice dean of academics, as well as a marketing professor, joined the Wharton Business Daily show on SiriusXM this week to discuss how analytics are impacting our culture right now. Here – in his own words — are three of his top takeaways:

Calculated risk: “Analytics, statistics, projections, testing, random sampling…these are all crucial to making an informed decision,” says Bradlow. “At the end of the day, analytics is a decision-support tool. People who make billion-dollar decisions in industry all the time have to decide what are the risk factors that could make a projection untrue, what are the risk factors that we could end up seeing a larger downside than we’re expecting. I believe that analytics is exactly the right decision-support tool to policy makers, to businesses and to us as individuals about the risks that we may be willing to take or not.”

Customer intel: Small businesses are “going to have to use analytics to understand that all customers are not created equal,” notes Bradlow. “80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. And then the question becomes, which customers? Small businesses are going to be forced to find out very quickly.”

Sports statistics: “If sports are going to start, let’s take advantage of this data opportunity to understand things better,” says Bradlow, a statistician expert who co-hosts the show about sports data on SiriusXM. “Most sports will have no fans or an extraordinarily limited number of fans to start with. We’ve got 50 years of data with fans in the stands. Now we can look at, well, does a pitcher not get as amped up without fans? We can look at pitch speeds. Does a golfer maybe not hit the ball as far or maybe he doesn’t have to worry about hitting the crowd, so he can shoot the shot differently. One of the biggest estimated effects in sports analytics is home-field advantage. Is home field due to rest and being at home or is it due to the fans? Interesting data could emerge from this tragedy that we as analysts will look at for years to come.”

Conversation Starters

Eric Bradlow says, "I believe that analytics is exactly the right decision-support tool." What does he mean by this?

Do you play sports? How would playing a game without fans impact your experience? What other statistics might emerge from this scenario?

Have you become more interested in data analytics during the COVID-19 crisis? For instance, a big part of the policy discussions around reopening the economy and other decisions have been based on forecasts. Forecasts are based on assumptions, often supported by data. Have you found yourself exploring the numbers at all?

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Perspectives on the Value of Big Data

  1. I am a huge hockey fan, and it’s been very sad for me to see the NHL season suspended. Usually, I would have already watched the NHL playoffs, but the coronavirus pandemic has squashed this dream, at least in the traditional way. While there will be playoffs held this summer, there will not be any fans. The games will be broadcasted, unlike the sold-out arenas that usually accompany the games. In my opinion, it is not the same experience, even just watching the game from home. Although I have yet to see one of the July hockey games, I can imagine that the arena will not be nearly as loud when goals are scored and in general. It will feel more empty, even from home. While I do not doubt that many people will still watch these games, I would not be surprised if statistics come out this year to show a lesser satisfaction rate.

  2. The field of analytics and its use of data and numbers to provide insight on making better decisions and becoming better leaders is a positive business trend that more people should adopt. By combining “analytics, statistics, projections, testing, random sampling …,” smarter decisions can be made that will contain the least risks and the highest rewards. For people that make billion-dollar decisions in industries, this will be extremely crucial to ensure the biggest profits while also taking into account legality, political, and environmental issues. The same goes for customer intel; when examining their revenues, small businesses will understand where they receive most of their profits. They then can decide from there whether they would want to change or tailor specific products to specific customers or carry on with what they are doing. Finally, sports statistics can be used to help teams increase their odds of winning, whether it be related to the crowds and their effects on the game or the playing field itself. Analytics as a decision-support tool will ensure that individuals and businesses can reach a better conclusion while still staying aware of all the risk factors.
    The emergence of analytics in businesses shows that people are constantly trying to gain insights on specific aspects they can improve that can benefit both ends of a party in interactions. Businesses will use statistics to minimize the risks and maximize their profits. By making better economic decisions, the market will be less susceptible to periods of decline and crashes. Thus, the odds of another depression period is lowered, which benefits everyone in the world as more money in people’s pockets translates to an overall higher standard of living. For sports enthusiasts and coaches, understanding which variables play a role in whether a team has a higher chance of winning or losing will lead to changes that increase the probability of winning. Analytics will be a major benefit for everyone because it will cause fewer casualties and greater success.
    As a future business leader and a member of Generation Z, I expect that computers will make these analytics for the majority of the time. Human “decision making” can always result in some bias, and oftentimes, their instincts can often clash with what they have concluded. Computers, on the other hand, will not only be able to reach a decision faster but also will reach that which contains the safest or least amount of risks given. Individuals or businesses can then decide on whether they would like to proceed or not. Analytics is highly useful, and by being practical and understanding both the pros and cons, the right conclusion will be made.

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