Geospatial Technologies: Beyond Mapping COVID-19 and Looking Into the New “Normal”

April 13, 2020

Geospatial Technologies: Beyond Mapping COVID-19 and Looking Into the New “Normal”

The coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a public health emergency, affecting the majority of the world’s population. Despite the fact that healthcare workers and policy makers are working diligently to restore health to those affected and to ensure the continued functioning of our societies, many people have already seen the effects of economic uncertainty caused by the outbreak. Each person is now called to offer what they can to help their communities and to look forward to the actions that might be needed tomorrow.

While no one could have predicted this situation and no guide exists to help navigate these troubled waters, this article is intended to provide business leaders with a perspective on how geospatial data and technologies can improve business resiliency and help leaders navigate to the post-viral era.


Not Another Mapping Dashboard?

While COVID-19 continues to affect people across the globe, impacting some locations more than others, government and health agencies are using maps and geospatial technologies to communicate amongst stakeholders and make the best decisions.

There is a long history of geospatial data and epidemics. One of the fathers of public hygiene and epidemiology, John Snow, is credited with using his geospatial analysis, to isolate the source of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London to the public water pump on Broad Street. From there he persuaded the local council to disable the well pump, ending the outbreak.

Today, geospatial companies such as HERE, Google, Carto and others are widely sharing mapping resources to inform the population about the spread of the epidemic, addressing population concerns in an open and transparent manner to engage and reassure them.


Although these maps and dashboards help address immediate challenges and build resilience, they fail to help reimagine the “new normal”, and how businesses can reinvent themselves in the post-coronavirus world. Here’s how resilient companies are using geospatial technologies beyond mapping and what the future holds for them.


Telecommunications to Continue Upgrading Broadband Infrastructure

Countless individuals and businesses in North America are following the advice of public health experts and moving daily life online. Everything from meetings at the office to happy hours with friends are all now occurring in the digital space.

Meanwhile, telecom operators are recording new traffic records almost every day, creating a new reality where historical peaks have become the new average. The shift is serving as a massive technological experiment, putting more pressure on our broadband infrastructure and testing bandwidth network capacities like never before.

So far, telco companies have been able to sustain this massive transition, mostly because they have been using geospatial data and technology to assess existing bandwidth, managing their network in real time and optimizing their return on investment for network and infrastructure upgrades.

As the effects of the coronavirus on telecom networks and the wider economy are starting to emerge, a bigger question is whether the pandemic will put 5G deployment on hold. While companies are being forced to prioritize projects to improve resilience in existing networks, what companies fail to recognize is that previous investments in network upgrades have paid off because customers are now demanding broadband at a rate that old networks just couldn’t handle. But optimizing and upgrading networks isn’t just about rolling out new technologies such as 5G. Decision makers in telecommunications need to consider deployment objectives, their long-term network planning and marketing strategy, which all require geospatial data and technology.

COVID-19 is putting the spotlight on these issues. If it wasn’t obvious before this crisis, it is now crystal clear that broadband is a necessity for every aspect of personal and commercial life.


Geospatial: The Last Mile of Retail

While the retail industry has used geospatial data and technologies for decades for site selection and physical network optimization, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force stores to close, signaling an unprecedented disruption of commerce.

Even before the pandemic, the most profound behavioral change in commerce was the shift to digital shopping. As consumers are being asked to practice social distancing, e-commerce orders for groceries and other retailers are reaching new heights all across North America.

One example of geospatial technology at work occurs when retailers need to ensure address information is entered correctly when first-time customers enter their shipping address. A wrong address can lead to cart abandonment or undeliverable and unserved locations. Geospatial technology is providing some of the answers, as retailers not only look for the most accurate and up-to-date address validation engine, but also seek the most optimal transportation routes.

A positive customer experience is only possible when goods are successfully delivered. With the fulfillment and delivery experience now being the golden standard, last mile delivery is now being pushed front and center. On the latter, geospatial technologies not only save time, mileage and vehicle wear, they allow fleet operators to see exactly where the driver is, providing turn-by-turn navigation, with real-time information on traffic flow and incidents, as well as proof of delivery to meet customer demand.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the inevitable digitalization of commerce. Some retailers and brands will be more ingrained in their consumers’ lives than ever before. Retail will look and feel very different, but that is not a bad thing.


Overnight Digital Transformation for Insurers

Even before the novel coronavirus outbreak, insurers were struggling to keep up with increased severity, frequency, and uncertainty of natural catastrophes, while dealing with rapidly changing customer expectations and behaviors.

The insurance industry’s transition towards a digital model has been a hot topic in the last decade. The concept of going digital has often been associated with artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain, while insurance leaders held fast to paper and people, and the belief that they would always be available. However, in a world vulnerable to pandemics and social distancing, this assumption can no longer be taken for granted.

Some formerly optional projects, like digitally reengineering underwriting and claims or fully digitizing company operations, will become mandatory for survival in the post-COVID-19 era. Geospatial technologies allow large and small insurers to see the big picture and enhance underwriting capabilities by providing a faster and deeper understanding of risk exposure. By incorporating data from internal and external sources, as well as real-time monitoring of catastrophic impacts, infection rates and prevention methods, insurers are able to compute adequate premium rates for their clients, improving the customers’ experience.

As home and auto insurers are offering economic relief to their customers during the outbreak of COVID-19, including premium or risk profile adjustments, temporary coverage extension and additional coverage, geospatial technology is crucial in helping insurance companies gain actionable insights as the volume of data explodes. Geospatial can help companies monitor and mitigate large-scale events as they unfold; and develop business intelligence in real time on emerging risks. 


Utilities: Keeping the Lights on With Geospatial

As hospitals fill up and public places empty, the utility industry is more important than ever before. More people work from home, conduct meetings online and otherwise rely on data and electricity to get the job done.

The coronavirus outbreak has made a moderate impact on the demand for power so far. However, most industry leaders expect a load reduction due to dampened demand for power, gas and water from the commercial and industrial sectors.

While utilities are experienced at dealing with different seasonal usage patterns, they are not used to large proportions of the population working remotely and spending almost all their time at home. Usage patterns may well be less predictable than regular weekends, making it harder for utilities to balance the grid.

Utilities that use geospatial technologies to gather real-time data from a variety of sources and can apply geospatial and advanced analytics to gather insights will find the challenge of more volatile energy usage patterns easier to deal with.

Although utilities are prepared for managing and responding to emergencies, it’s hard to fully address the fast-moving and unknown economic variables of an outbreak like COVID-19.

Many business owners find themselves subject to the year-to-year-tax jurisdiction changes, and in the wake of the coronavirus, many local, state and federal governments have adjusted the tax rate or put in place an agile tax rate for businesses in order to provide help to businesses.

Geospatial data and technologies make it easy to standardize addresses and append accurate jurisdiction information to your records, so you can keep up with the changing tax jurisdictions and avoid over or under-payments, improving financial reporting. 


Looking Ahead: Laying the Foundations for the Future

Even though the length and how exactly this crisis ends is still unclear, the repercussions will be felt for years to come, changing our personal and professional behaviors.

It’s easy to imagine that 40 years from now, it will be our turn to answer the same questions we asked our parents and grandparents about world-changing events, ‘’What was it like during the coronavirus?’’ In this context, it’s easy to lose sight of the actions that might be needed in the coming weeks and months. However, companies and industries will need to reinvent themselves quickly using nimble and innovative technology, such as geospatial, building resilience and adapting to this new reality.

While these are uncertain times, we are staying in the eye of the storm to help serve our business partners and customers. Helping business leaders see opportunity ensures that our economy stays strong and that our communities are taken care of in the long run.

There is a rainbow after every storm, and the sun shines brighter still. But until then, stay safe, and stay at home.

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