The Bounce Back Begins Today

As the UK remains in its third national lockdown, now might seem like an odd time to begin asserting the notion that the ‘Bounce Back’ begins today.

Indeed, anyone looking back on 2020 would see a year characterised by a term first referenced in 1987: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). In this regard, 2021 is already providing a daunting sense of déjà vu. 

Light at the end of the tunnel 

VUCA was most commonly applied as a backdrop to strategic planning, it has now come to the fore to drive the need for real-time strategy and decision-making as planning and operations converge on ever-shorter cycle times. Real-time data is key to unlocking the potential of 2021 and driving forward the ‘Bounce Back’ of the economy. We already have reason to be optimistic about the coming months ahead.

However, we must not sit idly by as the light draws in. Now more than ever, leaders and managers across industry need support from good quality, real-time data to inform their decision-making. The challenge leaders and senior decision makers face is that the data they currently employ is invariably incomplete and more often than not, historic in nature. 

In a steady-state world (one without the volatility caused by COVID-19) historic data served industry well. It enabled us to train models to make predictions of future outcomes, even taking account of a few scenarios in a VUCA future. But the world is no longer steady state. The turmoil of 2020 has demonstrated that we are living in a world characterized by VUCA. Therefore, the past is a poor indicator of the future and there is no steady state in sight. Outliers are no longer the black swans and are now to be expected. 

This has extreme ramifications for sectors such as transport planning, tourism, and logistics. The time is ripe for the accelerated adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and machine learning in particular, to make more informed, data-driven decision making. This could lead to better judgements being made based on modelled scenarios and predicted outcomes in near real-time. Some elements of the decision-making process can be deferred to the machine, alleviating the stress and fatigue of the continuous phases of VUCA. 

Big Data is not the answer 

There will be those who state that Big Data is the answer to 2021’s woes. This is not the case. Big Data is not the answer. Maximum insight from minimum data in the right time is the best practical approach for us at this moment in time. Innovation with data can occur at the intersection of diverse data sources which requires careful selection of sources to provide both measurement and context.  This, together with an agile approach to determining the key features that make the most meaningful impact on business performance, delivers optimal value.

Industry is facing an uphill battle for survival. I say industry in the widest possible terms as I do not believe that any one sector is facing less of a battle than another. Questions about the impact today and forecast impact on the economy in terms of business performance, unemployment, and sector performance all remain unanswered. Now is the time to begin trying to understand what the lead indicators are for recovery and what alternative data sources can tell us about the need for investment / divestment in particular areas of the economy. 

Beyond Big Data 

If we throw our weight behind Big Data, we risk missing opportunities and slowing our recovery. To bounce back we need to focus on moving beyond historical data sets and towards maximum insight from minimum data. 

Our recovery will not happen overnight. We need to look at the data that is currently available and spot the weak signals in the cacophony of noise to identify the early signs of recovery. Once these early signs have been noted we can then begin to act decisively based on the insights provided by predictive analytics. 

There will undoubtedly be an element of risk involved as it is beyond the realms of possibility to predict the future. It is however a far better approach than trying to apply old models (using outdated data) will help us navigate our way through 2021’s own brand of VUCA.

Geoff McGrath is Managing Director at CKDelta. We are CKDelta, a unique 21st Century start-up data innovation company, and a member of one of the largest conglomerates in the world, CK Hutchison Holdings. We design and lab-test bespoke data models for businesses, using diverse anonymised data sets, to both understand what is happening now, and to predict what is coming.

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