The Urgency for Big Data and Analytics in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: June 03, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisBig DataCDCCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicHHS

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights an absence of key big data and analytic solutions within some federal health agencies, who are turning to contractors for the technologies to fill those gaps.

Key Takeaways:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic reveals lapses in data and analytics capabilities at federal health agencies, which are vital to responding and combatting the ongoing virus.
  • The pandemic has caused several federal health agencies to scramble for data synthesizing capabilities, updated analytical solutions, and the hiring of Chief Data Officers.
  • Federal health agencies continue to turn to the contracting community as new needs associated with COVID-19 arise for data and analytics solutions.

Big data and analytics – centerpieces to organizational mission and success – have also taken center stage in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The onset of the pandemic saw the set-up of the CORD-19 platform and use of HPC technologies to aid the scientific community in the mitigation and prevention of the virus. In addition to researchers, health care providers and government leaders need quality, real-time data and analytical solutions for evidence-based decisions on treatment, policy and public safety guidance.

The bottom line - complete and accurate data and analysis are vital in combatting the current pandemic.

Given this, however, some federal health agencies were ill equipped in data and technology investments to sufficiently deal with COVID-19 when it arrived in the U.S.

Data and Analytics Improvements at HHS and CDC

The arrival of COVID-19 immediately called for the collection, synthetization and availability of data from federal, state and local governments, hospitals and health care providers for informed decisions to top U.S. officials on the spread and severity of the pandemic. Ability to coordinate such segregated data sources was lacking at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spurring the creation of the HHS PROTECT platform. With help from Palantir, HHS scurried to build PROTECT to pull together over 200 datasets and provide visualizations to the White House Coronavirus Task Force on the behavior and impact of the virus.  Despite ongoing questions on the reliability of the datasets, grounded information sharing capabilities at the nation’s top federal health agency were notably absent at the onset of the crisis.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a lack in public data sharing tools, updates to analytic tools, and sound data governance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recognizing the need for stronger data management practices by the pandemic, the CDC issued a job posting for a Chief Data Officer (CDO). According to an article by Nextgov, the new CDO will need to tackle outdated data policies and data silos to “advance the agency’s public health data and IT modernization initiatives.”

Furthermore, the CDC is looking to improve its biosurveillance program, specifically the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE), which collects information from hospitals, labs, local public health departments, pharmacies and more to help epidemiologists understand the effects and spread of a disease. Under a new contract agreement, CDC is turning to the system’s developer, APL, to help update the system with additional filters, allowance for machine learning and natural language processing capabilities, an improved interface and cloud infrastructure capabilities.

Continued Needs and Contractor Implications

As the pandemic continues, federal agencies such as GSA, HHS and State are working to make existing datasets public to the private sector to help support research efforts in AI and supply chain logistics, according to Federal CIO Suzette Kent.

In addition to data sharing and the big data and analytical solutions used to research and respond to the virus, federal agencies across the board are facing increased needs in other data and analytics related to COVID-19. The pandemic raises requirements for data in employee/contact tracing, facilities management data tools as agencies begin to reopen, analytical solutions to recover tasks set back by the pandemic, etc. Below is only a sampling of opportunities agencies have issued for data and analytics services related to COVID-19: