COVID-19 is different from prior disasters in that the pandemic struck every function of government, throwing traditional response plans out the window and demanding creative, rapid-fire solutions to unthinkable challenges.
In practice, the pandemic served as a universal trial of agencies’ preparedness and modernization. The verdict? While no agency was totally ready, the ones quickest to their feet had widespread data literacy and readymade use cases.
“If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that data really has taken center stage,” said Heather Gittings, Global Public Sector Director at Qlik, a data software provider for government.
Gittings shared with GovLoop the stories and lessons of several agencies that responded effectively to the pandemic.
Data Should Always Drive Decisions.
Unsurprisingly, success stories early on came from agencies that were advanced in their analytics journey.
Early in the pandemic, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) partnered with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense-Comptroller (OUSD-C) to support governmentwide response efforts with the Defense Department (DoD) supply chain. Using the advanced analytics ADVANA platform, DoD identified surpluses of personal protective equipment – including 20 million N95 respirators – to send to front-line agencies.
“They were able to act fast because both DLA and OUSD-C were already quite advanced in using data to deliver on their mission. They had access to the data, and the analytic capability to gain insight from that data,” Gittings said.
Employees Should Understand Data.
Data-involved decisions often reconcile many different factors. Schools faced this challenge when transitioning to distance learning.
Loudoun County, Virginia, anticipated some of the difficulties that would come with distance learning. One such issue was making sure that disadvantaged students had the internet access they needed to attend online class.
The county found it had enough money to purchase and distribute 1,500 Wi-Fi hotspots, Gittings said. Instead of using one factor to determine who should get the resources, however, the county took a triage approach, using a matrix of grade, income and number of students in the household to maximize utility.
“There is a component of how to understand the data, how to read the data, how to argue with the data,” Gittings said.
Agencies Should Learn From Others.
The examples of heroic government responses are endless.
The National Health Service in the United Kingdom used population health data to track who was most at risk and where bed capacity was perilously low. The Waitematā District Health Board in New Zealand used contact mapping to limit community spread.
The point is, the model for success is out there, Gittings said. Now, agencies need to create the structures internally to apply the lessons others learned.
Industry partners like Qlik, which in addition to analytics offers data integration solutions, can help agencies get their data in a place to replicate these use cases. Now is the ideal time to make the transformation, Gittings said.
“If you’re working to solve a problem, the chances are you’re not alone. The more we can share across governments, the more we can foster success,” Gittings said.