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Wednesday, 29 April 2020 18:37

Why COVID-19 has proven the ‘coming of age’ for global data exchanges

Alan Eldridge, VP Sales Engineering Snowflake Alan Eldridge, VP Sales Engineering Snowflake

GUEST OPINION by Alan Eldridge, VP Sales Engineering, Snowflake: As authorities around the world grapple with the COVID-19 viral pandemic, the value of timely and accurate data is becoming clearer by the day.

Needing to focus efforts and resources in the areas where demand is highest, governments and support providers require access to data that can show factors such as the number of infections, rates of spread, and the impact of social distancing rules.

There are many sources of this data and different organisations are using it in very different ways. Some are deploying algorithms to model anticipated changes while others are calculating how much support and resources will be needed in coming weeks and months.

In many cases, obtaining the needed data requires a number of steps. It must be located, downloaded, and then formatted to suit the particular tools and tasks required. Unfortunately, the more touchpoints introduced into this process, the more chance there is for errors to be introduced.

Updates can also be problematic. With many virus-related data sets changing constantly, ensuring the files being used are the very latest can be complex and time consuming. Any failure to base predictions and projections on up-to-date numbers can result in them being inaccurate.

The evolution of the data exchange

Data exchanges have been in use for some time as a means of providing access for users. These users have typically turned to these exchanges to locate required datasets and then download them for local use.

This concept has now evolved. Rather than sourcing and downloading data (and having to check back regularly for updates) users of next-generation data exchanges can establish a connection that automatically delivers updates as they become available.

An example that’s being used as part of the response to COVID-19 has been built by Europe-based data analytics company Starschema. Based on the Snowflake data exchange platform, Starschema’s COVID-19 dataset currently combines feeds from 16 different sources and is updated daily.

Organisations keen to make use of the Starschema COVID-19 dataset can connect to the exchange and thereby have access to a constantly updating stream of data. They can also be confident that the sources used to create that stream have all been rigorously checked and tested to ensure accuracy.

Already there are more than 500 organisations around the world taking advantage of this data feed. They include companies in the retail, energy and banking sectors as well as defence contractors and government agencies.

This type of data exchange is particularly valuable in circumstances such as those currently being faced worldwide. With data changing so rapidly, ensuring those wanting to make use of it have access to the most up-to-date data sets possible is vitally important.

A data sharing future

Starschema’s COVID-19 data service is an example of how the evolution of data exchanges is happening at an ever-increasing rate. Organisations throughout the world are coming to understand the power that comes from being able to source and make use of constantly updated, quality data sets.

These data exchanges are becoming marketplace portals through which interested parties can readily gain access to reliable data in an easy-to-consume form, and the types of data sets being made available is growing by the day.

Examples include New York bikeshare company Citi Bike that makes data about the way their bikes are being used available for analysis. Meanwhile, rideshare company Uber has details of estimated travel times available for download. The times, available for cities around the world, are drawn from real-time trips being undertaken by Uber drivers and so take into account factors such as traffic levels and disruptions.

Short-term accommodation specialist Airbnb also shares data about travel patterns to interest parties who can then track demand and supply changes over time and in different geographic areas.

The core benefit of data exchanges is that they remove the complexity that’s traditionally been a part of using large and constantly changing data sets. They can readily provide consistent, accurate and valuable data to users in real time.

Just as data is helping authorities gain a better understanding of the ramifications of COVID-19, so it will continue to be a valuable resource in all areas of life. With the support of next-generation data exchanges, the world’s knowledge will continue to grow in the months and years ahead.

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