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COVID-19 pandemic making GIS data an enterprise analytics staple

GIS data has been critical to tracking the COVID-19 pandemic and now will be applied to other business cases.
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Written by Larry Dignan on

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a watershed moment for geographic information system (GIS) software and enterprises are likely to find more business use cases in the future, according to a panel of geospatial analysts.

"COVID-19 forces you to rethink the future and GIS. COVID is a business case, and we'll be taking geospatial analytics and morphing it to new business cases," said Brian Smith, vice president of commercial sales and delivery for GeoDecisions, a division of Gannett Fleming.

Smith was talking on a panel for Esri's 2020 virtual user conference. Esri is a dominant player in GIS analytics via its ArcGIS software. Many COVID-19 tracking sites are built with Esri software, notably the Johns Hopkins dashboard. Esri was a strong software provider for enterprises and government agencies before COVID-19, but now it's mapping, and geospatial analytics are familiar to all.

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Dr. Este Geraghty, Chief Medical Officer of Esri, said location intelligence has been evolving quickly and customers are using it for everything from crisis management and continuity to supply chain to employee tracking. "The pandemic is changing the ways we are thinking about a lot of things," said Geraghty.

GIS data is increasingly playing a role in analyzing food insecurity, economic changes and the risks with reopening economies. Zach Robinson, GIS analyst for the City of Santa Monica, said his city began using GIS data in March when its emergency operations center activated.

Robinson said the use of GIS data has evolved almost weekly starting with cases, daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and morphing to field models and tracking staff. "Our use of GIS has promoted the value of location intelligence to our other organizations," said Robinson.

Nikki Paripovich Stifle, GIS Manager at Kohler, said location data was critical to the company's global supply chain to track restrictions, infections and impact to partners.

Ultimately, GIS data will be used for not only COVID-19 waves but for all the secondary impacts to society such as food insecurity and economic damage, said Dr. Dora Barilla, vice president of community health investment, Providence St. Joseph Health.

Barilla said GIS data will be at the center of connecting to other health departments, figuring out the relationships between communities and thinking through new modeling.

According to Andrew Shroeder, vice president of research and analysis for Direct Relief, an organization that aims to get supplies to health centers, GIS data has been helpful since COVID-19 is a global and local issue at the same time.

Today, GIS data is being used to highlight how populations are moving and changing. "This event has made it so we can look at meaningful population movement data for policy," said Shroeder. 

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