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Summary

Countries have been forced to shutter businesses and enforce social distancing practices among their citizens to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the middle of this global crisis, technology vendors and enterprise data practitioners are taking action, supporting remote working and facilitating research into the coronavirus itself.

A call to arms for both vendors and data scientists

Data and analytics practitioners need not settle for a temporary escape into video games, films, books, and the like, at least not 100% of the time. They can take direct, meaningful action. Even in the smallest measure, their participation could make a huge difference in terms of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and curbing future outbreaks.

The last few weeks have shown a tremendous willingness by the technology vendor community to commit valuable resources to the important task of supporting remote working. Communications vendors Cisco, Avaya, Zoom, Microsoft, and others have offered free collaborative services for workers forced to self-isolate. Technology firms are also putting their domain expertise to good use, with Microsoft launching a COVID-19 tracker, Nvidia calling on its customers to donate graphical processing unit (GPU) cycles to the [email protected] project, and many corporations pledging and delivering significant funds to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Fund appeal.

Corporations are not alone in donating time, energy, and money. Take the sudden transformation of data and analytics industry practitioners. On the popular data science competition website Kaggle, data scientists and data enthusiasts have been actively contributing predictive models for the virus. Interestingly, what started back in January as a purely intellectual exercise has quickly evolved into a more pressing effort, as evidenced on March 16, when The White House called on “Kagglers” to actively engage with scientists across the globe in answering some specific questions posted on Kaggle.

Many other similar opportunities are available for citizen data scientists and analysts to participate in combating this global menace. Omdia would like to call specific attention to the supportive effort put forward by graph database vendor TigerGraph, which is opening up free use of its database. This might not sound very impactful but there’s a lot of work needed beyond the text-mining operations going on at Kaggle.

First, scientists need to build a clear understanding of the way in which the virus spreads throughout a given group of people. This information could greatly assist government and community leaders in managing best practices for the crisis on a community-by-community basis. The best way to do this is to employ graph analysis, which looks directly at the relationship and distance between two or more data points, be they friends in a social network or COVID-19 sufferers in a given community.

TigerGraph hopes its users can help to identify clusters of virus infection, isolate super-spreading events, and define the shortest path to understanding the origin and the overall impact of transmission within a particular area or community. To help with this work, the company has created an information and idea cleaning house on Discord, and it intends to deliver several TigerGraph Cloud Starter Kits specific to these questions to help both professional and amateur practitioners to get up to speed quickly.

Why will this kind of analysis help? Unlike earthquakes and storms, pandemics work slowly. And given the nature of COVID-19, it is possible that we will find ourselves fighting outbreaks for some time to come and for that we’ll need a means of tracing and isolating any flare-ups.

Of course, we’re a long way from tackling long-term pandemic problems. For now, however, these efforts are important because they trumpet the extremely important message that we’re in this together, and together we can rise to the challenge of protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our 7.7 billion cohabitants that make up this pale blue dot known as earth.

[Update, March 23, 2020: We’re also seeing analytics vendors pitching in, with data visualization and discovery leader Tableau opening a Covid19 Data Resource Hub, a ready-to-use dashboard built on the JHU data stream. Tableau hopes that employers and other business entities can make use of this dashboard and data feed to check outbreaks against employee location data, track clinical supplies, and so on.]

Appendix

Further reading

“Recent world events highlight the need for a robust approach to business continuity and remote working,” ENS001-000100 (March 2020)

Microsoft COVID-19 tracker. Available from https://www.bing.com/covid [Accessed March 19, 2020]

NVIDIA [email protected] project. Available from https://foldingathome.org/2020/03/10/covid19-update/ [Accessed March 19, 2020]

World Health Organization COVID-19 Fund appeal. Available from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/donors-and-partners [Accessed March 19, 2020]

“Call to Action to the Tech Community on New Machine Readable COVID-19 Dataset.” Available from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/call-action-tech-community-new-machine-readable-covid-19-dataset/ [Accessed March 19, 2020]

Kaggle COVID-19 Challenge. Available from https://www.kaggle.com/allen-institute-for-ai/CORD-19-research-challenge [Accessed March 19, 2020]

“TigerGraph Stands Ready to Stop Coronavirus.” Available from https://www.tigergraph.com/stopcoronavirus/ [Accessed March 19, 2020]

TigerGraph COVID-19 Discord Channel. Available from https://discordapp.com/channels/640707678297128980/684450512141287596 [Accessed March 19, 2020]

Tableau COVID-19 Free Resource Hub. Available from https://www.tableau.com/covid-19-coronavirus-data-resources [Accessed March 19, 2020]

Author

Bradley Shimmin, Distinguished Analyst, Data Management and Analytics

[email protected]

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