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Why Covid-19 means data sharing is more important than ever

Fri Jul 24, 2020
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The changes prompted by Covid-19 have had a widespread impact on businesses, demonstrating the need for organisations to be resilient in order to withstand the crisis. Stuart Coleman, ODI’s Business Development Director, explains more

The changes prompted by Covid-19 have had a widespread impact on businesses, demonstrating the need for organisations to be resilient in order to withstand the crisis.  Stuart Coleman, ODI’s Business Development Director, explains more

Even before the pandemic, the range of benefits companies could derive from sharing data was evident. Our research at the Open Data Institute has shown that sharing data can encourage innovation, increase market reach, optimise supply chains and help solve sector-wide challenges, amongst other benefits. Yet, a recent YouGov Survey – conducted in March with more than 2,000 senior leaders in a wide range of UK businesses – showed that just 27% of them, including microbusinesses, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and large organisations, are sharing data.

In times of intense upheaval, the need to be adaptable and innovate rapidly is even more vital.

In times of intense upheaval, the need to be adaptable and innovate rapidly is even more vital. I recently chaired an event at virtual CogX on why data sharing matters for business in the context of Covid-19, discussing the impact of the crisis on businesses and exploring how data can be harnessed to mitigate this.

An experienced panel of innovators – Volker Buscher, Chief Data Officer at Arup, Sonia Cooper, Senior Patent Attorney, IP Policy and Strategy at Microsoft and Di Mayze, Global Head of Data and AI at WPP – examined new ways of working in a changing environment. They also discussed how organisations can come together and develop the structure to make this happen and bring about positive change, not just by creating shareholder value, but by recognising their roles in society.

As Sonia Cooper noted, today, ‘we are generating a massive amount of data, more than we’ve ever generated’ in the past. There is a huge opportunity to use this for societal and economic benefit while simultaneously addressing business issues such as supply chain disruption, cashflow issues, home working and isolation, and the need to adjust to a new and changing environment.

The challenges are still evolving and some businesses will find it easier to adapt than others

The panel reflected that many companies have undergone huge transformation in recent months, but the challenges are still evolving and some businesses will find it easier to adapt than others. We also need to address the growing data divide, and ensure that more than just a handful of organisations benefit from better flows of data, for the good of the wider economy. Some businesses could consider having data sharing catalogues to make data sharing easier so that it is not hoarded or held.

We need to focus on the value we want to create from data, and the results we want to achieve

Additionally, as Volker Buscher pointed out in the panel, ‘the power is not in the data itself, the magic happens in the insights’ derived from the information. We need to focus on the value we want to create from data, and the results we want to achieve.

As Sonia Cooper said, ‘the future that emerges from Covid-19 is likely to look very different.’ Reduction in office based working, for example, has an impact on transport systems, air quality, noise levels and biodiversity, and as we return to a more social way of life, some of these changed practices may remain.

The future that emerges from Covid-19 is likely to look very different

The panel particularly highlighted that as the pandemic will change the whole area of transport infrastructure in cities, access to data is crucial in informing choices and decisions that are critical to the future of our cities, communities and businesses. In order to create meaningful new models for working, companies need to agree how to share data.

The panel discussed how, by being inclusive and creating platforms for people to come together and collaborate, positive change is possible. Furthermore, large companies could help smaller ones, by sharing information about sourcing essential materials for supply chains, and in turn, agile startup companies could help larger organisations innovate and create value from data.

People are more willing to trust organisations when they are transparent on how they use the data

It is equally important for companies to maintain trust while sharing data, as it will inevitably facilitate the process and help them get more value. People are more willing to trust organisations when they are transparent on how they use the data. “If you are clear about what you are doing, the value of data sharing is greater,” says Di Mayze.

Covid-19 has created a unique set of circumstances, which have been challenging but have also brought about changes we may have never imagined in terms of carbon and noise reduction, and an increase in air quality and biodiversity.

The pandemic has demonstrated how businesses need to work together to share data to help them innovate quickly, achieve efficiencies, build resilience and ultimately recover

It has also highlighted the need for access to data in order to help society as a whole tackle its impacts and plan for the future. The pandemic has demonstrated how businesses need to work together to share data to help them innovate quickly, achieve efficiencies, build resilience and ultimately recover.

Through our tools, training, research and consultancy, we can help businesses to discover the benefits data sharing can bring to them as well as how they can achieve efficiencies.