This Insights article was contributed by Dr. Stephen Hill, Associate Professor of Analytics at the UNCW Cameron School of Business.
At the time of the writing of this article (early April 2020), the number of confirmed cases of the Coronavirus globally had just passed 1,400,000. Over a quarter of those cases were in the United States, where almost 13,000 deaths were attributed to the virus. Schools and many businesses are closed. Passenger transportation networks, particularly air travel, have ground to a near halt. We are encouraged to stay home and to distance ourselves from others. Despite these hardships, the pandemic has given analytics professionals a unique opportunity to see their work prominently displayed and to see the public take great interest in data, visualization, and modeling related to the pandemic.
One of the first analytics tools that publicly emerged early in the pandemic was the Coronavirus dashboard from Johns Hopkins University (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). Dashboards, whether they be for a pandemic or for a business, are used to provide a glanceable summary of data and often allow users the opportunity to explore data interactively. The Johns Hopkins dashboard provides a frequently updated count of confirmed cases and deaths from around the world. Dozens of other Coronavirus dashboards have since been created. A listing of such dashboards is maintained at: https://bit.ly/CoronaHill. Some of these dashboards are highly effective and carefully leverage appropriate visualizations, color, font, and placement of elements. Others are less successful. The proliferation of Coronavirus dashboards gives any manager or business owner an opportunity to explore dashboard concepts that can be easily used in a business setting.
Data itself has also been a subject of great interest and scrutiny during the pandemic. Consider, for example, the widely reported confirmed case and death totals. There are potential data quality concerns with both measures.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in their daily update available online at: https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/covid19/covid-19-nc-case-count, reports only laboratory confirmed cases. Confirmed cases are certainly not the only cases of the virus present in communities. Quantifying deaths due to the virus is also problematic. If someone exhibiting symptoms dies, but they were not tested due to a lack of test kits, does that death count as a death from the virus? What if deaths in certain parts of the world are being intentionally underreported in an attempt to minimize the lethality of the virus? When potentially problematic data is then used to develop models to predict the spread of the virus, the models become uncertain or unreliable.
We will, eventually, emerge from this pandemic. As a society, there will likely be many lessons learned. One of these lessons is likely to be a deepened understanding of the need to leverage data in decision-making processes. Are you interested in learning more about analytics and how you can use data to add value for your business? There are a variety of opportunities available at UNCW. The Congdon School of Supply Chain, Business Analytics, and Information Systems in the Cameron School of Business offers a fully-online Masters degree program in Business Analytics (https://csb.uncw.edu/msba/index.html). If you are looking for executive education opportunities, the Swain Center at UNCW offers analytics training courses for individuals and organizations. For more information on the Swain Center’s analytics offerings, visit: https://uncw.edu/swain/analytics-and-logistics.html.
Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 60 full-time faculty members and 20 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,000 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 200 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit http://csb.uncw.edu/. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].
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