Virtual Masters Summit 2020: Digital Transformation and Data in a Time of Uncertainty

2020-summit-keynotes-overview-2_715x320Every organization is dealing with a deluge of data and the challenges of uncertainty. Companies are drowning in data but starving for insights in a time of rapid change, both domestically and globally. What’s needed is the ability to easily access, analyze and apply data in real-time to current challenges, while using the information to better plan for and shape the future.

At Virtual Masters Summit 2020, MasterControl’s premier user event held Oct. 20-22, two thought leaders highlighted ways that emerging technology and data can help life sciences organizations move forward during uncertain times. The keynote speakers laid out reasons to rethink old ways of operating and presented real-world examples of innovation in life sciences and health care. Attendees were left with ideas on how to make their companies and the world a safer, smarter place.

Leaning Into Uncertainty

On the first day of the user conference, attendees heard from Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute and professor of strategic foresight at New York University Stern School of Business. As a quantitative futurist versed in artificial intelligence (AI) research and a strategic advisor on emerging technology, Webb discussed how and why companies must prepare for emerging technology.

As life sciences professionals ponder the future of digital transformation and all that entails – adopting new platforms, migrating to the cloud, making better use of data, leveraging AI, thinking about what quality will mean moving forward – they’ll have to contend with many variables both inside and outside their direct purview, according to Webb.

She highlighted three major drivers of change that will underpin much of attendees’ work in 2021:

  • COVID-19 — Beyond the virus and the disease itself looms the challenge of policy uncertainty. “We don’t have absolute certainty in our regulatory frameworks, in how testing and reporting are handled ... and there are likely to be sweeping changes that will affect your work in the years to come,” Webb said.
  • Trust — There will be a vaccine at some point, but will people trust it? “Over time, some of the trust that we have in our systems has started to erode. This tells us something about how important your jobs are to our futures, but also how much trust underpins the work you will do going forward,” Webb said.
  • Data — Many organizations have been fighting digital transformation. “We’re nearing a point where digital transformation is not going to be seen as a luxury or a convenience,” Webb said. “At some point, refusing to modernize, refusing to use digital platforms to collect and make use of health data becomes irresponsible.”

During her keynote, Webb praised quality professionals as “the unsung heroes of this pandemic.”

“It is because of you that we trust in our devices, that we trust in our products, that we trust in our medicines, our health care systems, our institutions,” she said. “Without the work that you do, without quality assurance, without regulatory compliance, without audits, without meticulous documentation, without getting people to adopt new data workflows and new digital systems – basically, without you, we would not be able to move forward. Because of you, we are going to get life-changing solutions faster.”

Lighting Up the Dark With Data

On the second day of the conference, Thomas Goetz, former executive editor of WIRED magazine and co-founder of health technology company Iodine, a digital community combining authentic patient experience with the latest medical research, discussed the importance of “lighting up the dark with data” – or revealing and structuring data to bring us knowledge in the fight against disease. He offered attendees some perspective on the potential of data and encouraged thinking of opportunities and challenges with data.

At the start, Goetz recounted the story of nurse Jean Ward, whose observations helped pave the way for phototherapy treatments. In the mid-1950s, Ward observed that babies exposed to sunlight had reduced jaundice, but it took another 15 years before that knowledge was acted upon and medical practices started to change in the United States. Goetz used this anecdote to illustrate the concept of “dark data,” which is data or knowledge that exists and is known but has not been disseminated.

He also discussed the messy reality of vast, unstructured data. This “dirty data” often needs to be cleaned up. “Behind the shiny gloss of big data, there’s a lot of cleanup that has to be done for it to be meaningful,” he said. “The cleanup is reconciling one data set so that it can communicate with another data set.”

Goetz said bridging the gap between dark, dirty data and credible, validated data is a mapping problem – we have to get the two worlds talking to each other.

“The problem works off many dimensions at once: there are regulatory concerns, security concerns, quality concerns with the data, deliverable concerns, and ultimately financial concerns – all of these are challenges that have to be mapped as we start engaging with data on this level,” Goetz said. “We have to start mapping problems. We have to start thinking about the level of opportunity in a multi-dimensional way, how we can tackle the challenges that face us and how to use whatever data we have as a resource.

“We have to start thinking about data in new ways and using the tools that provide structure and validity to let us move forward and move science forward,” Goetz continued. “Let’s take this data and put it to work.”


David Butcher has covered business and technology trends in life sciences and industrial manufacturing for more than 15 years. Currently a content marketing specialist at MasterControl, he previously served as editor of Thomas Publishing’s Industry Market Trends and as assistant editor for Technology Marketing Corp.’s Customer Interaction Solutions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the State University of New York, Purchase.

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