Posted: 19 May. 2020 5 min. read

Everything else – more than keeping the lights on while facing a crisis

I was with a colleague the other day who said, “We are running at two speeds: one, everything related to COVID-19 and two, everything else”. It got me thinking. Surely by “everything else” they meant more than everything else. It made me stop and consider what I was working on before COVID-19 stuff.

I came to the conclusion that working on everything else means we’re starting to respond and recover. But isn’t working on everything else actually part of the respond and recover process? Maybe I am oversimplifying it – and what we as Australians are all facing is not simple – it’s hard and has huge social, economic, and environmental implications. However, since I heard that line, I’ve realised COVID-19 work is part of that everything else. And we will come out of this crisis quicker by thinking of it that way.

I work in data and analytics. I have for twenty years. I also work in the public sector where everything else is serving citizens day to day. I read a great article from Tom Burton in the AFR that said “If the COVID-19 crisis has done anything, it has awakened the public sector to the true value of data, and in particular real-time data, in formats that data scientists can manipulate and interrogate”. While I don’t want to discuss the merits of data linkage and data sharing platforms right now (that’s definitely a discussion for another day), the ‘awakening’ is what many of us in public sector have been doing as everything else – combining datasets, wrangling data, and generating insight for action to better serve citizens day to day. As we explain in our recent video, Unpacking the Pandemic, in a COVID-19 world, the action is how to better understand transmission and cases, interventions to put in place, and what we can predict as likely to happen. Generating analysis and insight is what many of us have been doing our whole career, or simply just repeating myself – using data and analytics to better serve citizens day to day. This is our everything else.

If COVID-19 allows us to accelerate serving citizens using data and analytics, we’ve received something valuable in this unfortunate crisis. I do see a path to recover that increases investment in data analytics, better access to (real-time) public data sitting in government, and data sharing and open data across the entire public service. The need for better access to public data has been elevated. I keep hearing the saying – “Never waste a good crisis”. Not sure who said it first, but I like it.

I read once that the biggest obstacles to creating data-based governments aren’t technical, they’re cultural. Yes and no. I know I said didn’t want to debate the merits of data sharing platforms… But certainly using the capability of modern tech to standardise the way applications interact and access data from one another (while keeping security and privacy practices tight) are both technical and cultural obstacles we have to overcome to accelerate. It’s more than just a cultural reluctance of government to invest in data and analytics. It’s also about deploying the right technology to distribute data, providing the ability to generate and apply insights at scale, while equally protecting the public interest and being mindful of individual privacy.

Every day, data and analytics teams in the public sector seek out ways to classify data, standardise the array of systems holding public data, build data linkages, and then deploy their firepower to generate insights and action. It’s their ‘everything else’. 

And it’s the one and only speed to respond and recover.

For more on the importance of data analytics through the COVID-19 crisis, watch Alex Burrows and Dr Stephanie Allen on Unpacking the Pandemic – Deloitte’s COVID conversations video series. Find out more about how data modelling can drive COVID-19 recovery here.

More about the author

Alex Burrows

Alex Burrows

Partner, Deloitte Consulting

Alex has more than 20 years analytics experience specialising in Analytics Consulting, Data Management Programs and Data Science. Alex has a proven track record in advising both Health & Public Sector organisations about analytics, big data & Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the implementation of analytical technologies that best fit the needs of the organisation.