Why Big Data Is The Secret To Managing COVID-19

We need numbers to fight COVID-19. Big, fat, thick, juicy numbers. But how do we get them digitally and what happens if we don't have Big Data as a weapon?

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Carrefour, you must have had to wear a mask that isn’t a knotted bandana or scarf. Alongside that, handed a medium-sized pair of disposable rubber gloves that are hell to snap on post-sanitising. And the pièce de résistance, have a temperature gun pointed at your temple. This temperature gun is of particular interest because what points at your face should ideally be Big Data.

Peter Akech, founder, Mensa Analytics, worries about this. “Cases of COVID-19 in Africa are 27,385 out of a population of over 1.3 billion. This figure is low. This could be either because of low infection numbers or fewer tests. Are we sure the numbers are this low, or are we not testing enough?” As at this afternoon, cases in Kenya stand at 343 with 14 deaths, but, again, the percentage is also deficient. Yet “it is these numbers that are to be used to measure the occupancy of ICU beds.”

“How sure are we that what we are doing confirms the number of cases that we actually have? Do we have analysed data? And on that note how do we prevent the cases from increasing?”

The question to ask ourselves, Peter points out, is this. How sure are we that what we are doing confirms the number of cases that we have? Do we have analysed data? And on that note, how do we prevent the instances from increasing? And how do we optimise testing and optimise kits, capturing cases early enough?

When the first test points with temperature guns are the first test and point of contact, it makes for valuable information. It would help in knowing how many people have and do not have the virus. That is why there are so many places taking temperatures. Not logging them creates a vortex outside of which nothing is getting logged somewhere no matter how crucial it is. There is no way this unavailable data is relayable to give agency to prioritise an individual for a test.

Say you have a higher than average temperature for whatever reason. Keeping in mind this is the most instantaneously measurable unit. What could the security guard do except turn you away? If you were positive, there is no medical intervention, and you go out and about and infect others. Here is the frightening part. If the person ahead of you had a fever, would you like to know? Same thing with the person behind you. But they went with that data so now how do you cover fever data? How do you optimise this first line of defence?

“Here is the frightening part. If the person ahead of you had a fever, would you like to know? Same thing with the person behind you. But they went with that data so now how do you cover fever data?”

What is needed to conquer the COVID-19 beast is intelligent healthcare. Data being collected at entry points and in quarantine sectors, sadly, however, noted down in booklets and no such analysis can get done. To employ Big Data, they need to be in a digital format. Except that is not all that there is to it. The temperature guns currently in use were specially designed just for personal home use. They record on average ten times, then reset. It is an instrument incapable of registering massive amounts of information that can later be analysed.

The process of collecting data this way has limitations. Ben Mann, COO, IBM says, “Data collection security has challenges when it comes to getting them digitally, and how do you protect what can be shared so easily? It is the balance to be struck between the need for data and the rights of the individual. It comes down to data privacy laws.” Side note: IBM provided feedback on the Data Protection Act 2019. “At the same time, you have to correlate data. To do so, we need a mechanism to identify the individual.”

Here is where IBM’s platform needs to be married with the data fed into the temperature guns. “With this kind of data we can tell where fevers will be high, can predict areas that need more monitoring or more services, and all this data can help with the distribution of resources,” says Mann.

“We have found that many organisations find their staff are not productive when WFH. With our staff, 99% are staying productive because work is also good for mental health.”

While this can sound a whole lot like Big Data – GOOD, No Data – BAD!, remember that time in the mall when you were possibly sandwiched between two fevered carriers? For the temperature guns to be capable, they need to be able to collect vast chunks of data at a time, in digitalised format, and send it to IBM. Who would then analyse this information and share it with the government, who would then take the appropriate interventions? “The main tool here is to hide information anyone could access to identify an individual internally, so people and information have to be protected as this information is shared.” It requires unique identifiers such as a phone number.

“There needs to be a way in which people can be both identified and left to their privacy in such a way identified persons proves unmatchable. It is this key technique that connects the two. It is called obfuscation (hiding individual identities, contacts, and information, only giving it to organisations that have a need and a right to know. It calls for collaboration, which is why telcos are working with the government when it comes to tracking down potential carriers. “And there are tools that can do it automatically when data is getting shared between data scientists,” he clarifies.

It counts because any business needs and wants to engage with its customers, and the government and citizen social contract is no exception. Any government, yes, including ours, wants to know what our needs are so that they can meet us where we are. By identifying people who are at risk, get in contact with them, filter then share with authorities who can then follow up—case in point, the Mbagathi break-out.

“Any government, yes, including ours, wants to know what our needs are so that they can meet us where we are. By identifying people who are at risk, get in contact with them, filter then share with authorities who can then follow up. Case in point, the Mbagathi break-out.”

You know how you keep asking yourself and other brilliant people what next? Big Data is what. All that structured or unstructured data has answers in it. Projections are e made, and businesses can plan, taking what Ben refers to as “austerity measures.” Data used to examine supply chains, review data networks, understand suppliers to make sure they work effectively, use data to distribute food and medicine via blockchains to track end to end business, right down to indicating which products to import or export. All this to have a fair grasp on what is consumed and safe.

To digress a smidge, that team of remote workers, could be monitored without it being creepy and overbearing. “We have found that many organisations find their staff are not productive when WFH. With our staff, 99% are staying productive because work is also good for mental health. What is needed is smart management of devices and figuring out, how can you roll out the management of devices without touching them? We are also able to analyse data and traffic so that staff can remain productive. By looking at patterns, user behaviour and anomalies, the system will pick up on what is looking very strange. Big Data can address cybersecurity risks, too.” So, people can be supported. Life endures. Because future behaviour is indicative of past behaviour and anomalies, they will be recorded and can be understood.

But, my pretties, do not despair. Peter has designed a digital temperature-taking device. One can monitor up to 1,000 people in a day, and record the figures. He offers up a prototype. It is easy to use, and the information transmitted to a server or a base and analytics can be applied. That way, cases are prioritised clearly as to who needs to testing and where. Its advantage, a zero learning curve, and a unique identifier logged.

“We can TEST over 10,000 people a day, which is 10 million people per month, a fifth of the population. It would take five months using 1,000 such devices.”

Analytics can be applied, allowing scientists to narrow down on existing cases. Say the fever is positive. One who would have been a risk is captured early, which prevents the spread. “People are not sure about their symptoms. We are testing less than 1,000 people per day. If we can narrow down before it is a full-blown case, we will be good.” With this new gun, “We can test over 10,000 people a day, which is 10 million people per month, a fifth of the population. It would take five months using 1,000 such devices. That is how to determine the cost.”

Is there a business that does not ask itself how it can engage with customers using data? Ben offers insight. “Engage digitally, use Big Data analytics to understand their demands, patterns, and trends. There is no substitute for using a chatbot even on people with good skills. These virtual agents know when to search data sources to answer more complex queries. Organisations are trying to understand themselves and their clients better. Now during COVID-19, businesses realise there is a big gap when they communicate digitally. Here is where unconfirmed data is e used to draw insights. Patterns that predict behaviour can e used to improve operations.”

“Here lies the hot mess that is quarantine. There is no digital data and not only that, there is no follow-up once one is in quarantine, so all this juicy information that could help fight COVID-19 disappears in a puff of smoke.”

Here lies the hot mess that is quarantine. There is no digital data and not only is there is no follow-up once one is in quarantine, so all this juicy information that could help fight COVID-19 disappears in a puff of smoke. Peter’s new tool intends to correct that by allowing for accurate monitoring at the quarantine entry point. Daily monitoring will then no longer be such a headache, and because it can record multiple people’s data, trends are established. It is the only way to know if the curve is spiking or flattening.

Instead of a personal identifier, Peter affirms, “it uses barcodes or RFID (radio-frequency identification), preventing third parties from accessing these unique identifiers.” The gun is pure weaponry. India is considering reopening itself, but it is doing so on condition that they can use temperature guns that record data. It is compulsory. Germany fast-tracked the lowering of their body count by testing over 330,000 people per week. The need for digital data becomes more explicit. It narrows down where test kits can be optimised, hotspots, reduction in infections and what we need most, clarity.

 

The next webinar, Leading In A Time Of Crisis, will be conducted with Louis Onyango Otieno, Chairman of the Board at Absa Asset Management Ltd. and Sera Africa, Non-Executive Director at Barclays Bank Kenya and Nation Media Group, and Lanre Onasanya, Managing Director at H.C. Bonum Limited. Register here.

 

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