The COVID-19 pandemic has required governments and businesses to respond at unprecedented speeds to support their citizens, customers and the wider economy through one of the deepest recessions on record. Coordinating effective responses has been difficult, due to uncertainty in what is actually happening now, weeks and months before official statistics and data are published.
The responses have seen organisations turn to relatively new or previously unused data sources, called real-time indicators (RTIs). These allow policy makers and business leaders to improve their understanding of what is happening now in the areas most relevant to them, and to tailor their interventions to be as effective as possible. However, it has rapidly been recognised that RTIs can provide real benefit to an organisation’s business-as-usual activities too, providing a new level of insight into their operating environment and customer and user bases. RTIs, such as mobility data, internet searches, job listings and consumer and company spending data have thus generated significant attention:
‘Real-time data show virus hit to global economic activity’
‘Recession in real time: how big data can track the Covid slump’
‘Mapping the economy in real time is almost ‘within our grasp’’
With the number of RTIs available for analysis continuing to grow, governments and businesses must act now to embed real-time data in their decision-making as the global economy recovers from COVID-19 and beyond. The business value from knowing your customer demand in real time is immense, allowing you to meet their needs better than ever before. And for governments, RTIs are a unique opportunity to put data at the heart of policy making, allowing departments to target their services and support to those who need them the most.
What are RTIs?
RTIs are datasets that are continuously updated in real time, or as close to real-time as possible (e.g. daily). However, for RTIs to be truly real-time, the datasets must be collected, delivered and analysed immediately so that end users have timely, actionable insights to support decision making.
A common example of an RTI is Google Trends, where users query a dataset (live internet searches on Google) with specific keywords and regions. The subsequent real-time analysis shows how the search term queried is changing over time.
The business benefit in this example is an understanding of immediate changes in customer demand. For example if a sudden increase in searches for holidays in an area is detected, it could indicate an upswing in tourism and economic activity in that region, enabling a company to increase targeted marketing spend.
During the pandemic, Faculty has worked with clients expressing interest in a range of categories of RTI:
- The mobility of people (e.g. use of public transport, cars, walking)
- Internet searches
- Online discussions (e.g. new media, social media)
- Financial performance
- Employment opportunities
What are the benefits of RTIs?
From working with our clients to embed RTI analysis into their organisation and decision making, we have seen our clients benefit from four recurring benefits:
- The ability to react quickly. With real-time data at your disposal, you’ll be better able to anticipate how external changes will impact your organisation and implement appropriate business actions to counter these changes
- Tracking the metrics that matter to you. By identifying and relating the RTI data sources most relevant to your internal metrics of interest, you’ll have more visibility into how their key metrics are being impacted in real-time
- Knowing when to act. RTI indicators are invaluable when it comes to highlighting anomalous changes to indicators that could indicate an opportunity or a threat
- Driving better decisions. By making real-time information accessible, you can improve decision-making at every level of your organisation
How should RTIs be used?
This new level of insight into customers and citizens is incredibly powerful in both policy and business decision making, and has already had a positive impact on our understanding of the economic impact of the pandemic.
However, to maximise their benefit, RTIs must be used with in specific ways:
- RTIs and basic trend analysis, by themselves, are not enough. While it is useful to understand what is happening in real time, the real power of RTIs can only be unlocked by using AI to understand when a trend requires action to take advantage of new opportunities or to protect your business
- RTIs should support human decision making, not drive it. RTIs are an excellent source of information, but they don’t paint the full picture. A human user has all the contextual information, so RTIs should only only ever support decision making
- RTIs should be used in conjunction with official statistics, other data and other RTIs. RTIs, due to their real-time frequency, can show significant day to day variations. Multiple RTIs should be used to analyse the topic of interest in the broadest possible way and supplemented with official statistics and data averaged over a longer time period
- RTIs are not an excuse for mass data collection or ignoring privacy. With the ever-increasing amount of RTIs available, it is tempting to collect more and more data for analysis. However, when private or personal data is being considered, only the minimum data necessary for analysis should be collected and not stored for longer than necessary. In addition, collecting data in real-time runs the risk of collecting personal data in a manner not compliant with GDPR. Extreme care must be taken to put the protection of personal data at the heart of the RTI process.
Unlock the benefits of RTIs for your business
The use of RTIs is highly specific to your organisation. To maximise the benefits of RTIs, you need a combination of powerful AI software that can be customised to your use case, and a platform to collect, process and analyse the data that matters to you.
Faculty has created and licensed a range of customisable AI engines that will unlock the benefits of RTIs for your organisation. These include an engine to use natural language processing to track the topics and sentiment in RTI data sources over time and to apply powerful forecasting techniques to help you make forward looking decisions. Importantly, all of our engines have built in safeguards (e.g. anonymising private data) to prevent you experiencing the challenges highlighted above.
RTIs are here to stay. Businesses and governments must act now to maximise the benefit of RTIs in a safe and ethical way, and Faculty is perfectly placed to support you on your journey to make better, faster and more targeted decisions.
If you’d like to discuss how RTIs could support your business decisions, do get in touch: just email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting.