Politicians and business people like to say they’re led by the data, but what happens when things are changing faster than data can be collected? Anthony Scriffignano has some advice.

If you program a camera to take a snapshot of the same spot every minute, you will be able to see what’s happening at that spot over time. What you won’t see is what’s happened in between those snapshots.

The importance of those unseen moments will depend on how fast the situation is changing in front of your lens.

For example, if you’re snapping a tortoise every minute, not much is likely to have happened in between your snapshots, so your view of the tortoise’s activity is nearly full. But things change. Sometimes when we aren’t looking.

Right now, the market environment is shifting so rapidly, with multiple simultaneous drivers of change, that it’s like trying to capture the movements of a pack of cheetahs running in different directions. A snapshot every minute doesn’t begin to cover it – the environment is changing much faster than the data which describes it.

If businesses continue capturing and synthesizing data at their usual rate, they won’t see many of the risks they need to understand if they’re to remain competitive and responsive to their changing environment. This could have serious consequences.

To assess hyper-disruption in the real world, we need to take more regular snapshots of the market to see every threat and opportunity. We need to consider alternative sources of data that move at different rates. We also need to carefully consider what impact ‘missingness’ in data could have on our conclusions.

Disruption is everywhere

Dun & Bradstreet’s COVID-19 Commerce Disruption Tracker highlights the impact COVID-19 has had: 96.75% of all UK businesses have been disrupted this year, with 98.35% of sales and 97.79% of employees impacted by the pandemic. The magnitude of this disruption is only a part of a much more complex perspective on the challenges businesses are currently facing.

Pandemic aside, there are many other sources of disruption: new governments point to new directions for business, regulators consider new treatments for data privacy, constantly emerging cyberthreats challenge the business environment. The combined hyper-disruption is a massive challenge.

And disruption evolves. For example, hand-in-hand with electoral changes are trade renegotiations. Brexit has raised questions about how businesses need to change their operations to contend with a new market environment, as well as who will be trading with the UK.

As the current disruption makes for a largely unpredictable environment, businesses need to be able to identify threats and opportunities quickly and clearly, and to translate data into an understanding of what it means for individual regions and industries, and future growth. There is indeed great risk, but also great opportunity.

To this end, data needs to be as robust, complete and current as possible, Decision-makers need the ability to combine traditional sources of information with new and more up-to-date signals. Adopting a broader and deeper analytic frame of analysis, decision-makers can position themselves better to be as proactive as they can be when facing the unpredictable. They can shift their posture from reaction to mitigation of risk and increasing competitive edge.

A call for increased data governance and ethics

One aspect of business operations that has changed as a result of COVID-19 is how attention is being paid to data privacy and provenance. For example, working from home has increased reliance on digital services to manage finances, make purchases, and carry out most of our day-to-day lives. This shift in location has expanded the demands to collect new and more nuanced data to aid businesses’ views of the market.

As a result of the increase in variety and focus on curation of more dynamic data, additional attention must be paid to data quality and completeness. It is imperative for decision-makers to understand where the data comes from, how it may be used, what bias it may contain, and other aspects of dynamic data in the context of new analytic challenges. The question is often not only what can be done, but what should be done with new types of data.

Casting a critical eye over your data discovery, curation, and synthesis should be central to your data management approach. Since new data is being continuously collected, laws across the globe must be continuously monitored to ensure compliance. New data must always be vetted in the context of the changing regulatory environments and expectations of permissible use.

Decision-makers must also consider sometimes contradictory customer expectations. For example, many users want increased customization and increased privacy, which are actually opposite things to want.

Find the sweet spot

Adopting a posture that carefully considers requirements and expectations is imperative. The skills of the past are necessary but not sufficient – continuous learning and introspection is needed to be able to respond to the modern environment for decision-making. There will be an ongoing and increasingly complex juxtaposition of compliance, customer needs, and other business priorities.

As complex as the current environment is, it will never be easier than it is today to address the challenge. Without a doubt, if we improve our ability to see the right data at the right rate in the right context, we will be better positioned to address the challenges and opportunities ahead.