IN THESE uncertain times, COVID-19 has fueled an urgency for leaders to rapidly adopt data analytics to protect their people and keep pace with changing consumer demands. Geospatial data, which focuses on location intelligence, is quickly emerging as an important tool. By layering in data with components of time and location such as proximity to a certain store and time of day, geospatial data allows users to visualize patterns and the complex relationships between data sets.

Today, we have unprecedented access to location-based data — 80% of all data has a spatial element, as asserted by Sussman in a 1993 study. A 2019 study by Grand View Research found that by 2025, the geospatial analytics market is expected to be worth $134.48 billion. According to NASA, around 48 petabytes — or 48 million gigabytes — of earth observation data is generated every year by the ever-expanding numbers of GPS-enabled mobile devices, location sensors, and drone technology.

Leaders are also becoming more aware of the potential of this data. In a 2018 CARTO survey of over 200 global executives, 85% noted that they believe that location intelligence will be critical to their organizations’ success.

The opportunity is even more ripe in our region. McKinsey research finds that Asia alone accounts for 16% of global cross-border flows of data. If leveraged carefully and responsibly, Filipino organizations can tap into this resource to reimagine its post-pandemic recovery.

Any pilot or adoption of geospatial analytics must be carried out responsibly. Amid proliferating data security breaches, consumers are becoming increasingly intentional about what types of data they share, and with whom. Government and business leaders looking to harness this data will need dedicated efforts to protect privacy and ensure data security.

When used responsibly, spatial data can help organizations spot trends and patterns, optimize operations and identify gaps to drive profitability. For example, a major food producer with a distribution network in around 25 countries across Europe redesigned its supply chain network using geospatial analytics. By data-mapping its plants and customers, which is the process of migrating and homogenizing multiple data sets into a singular data set, it found savings of €8 million from adjusted distribution routes, and €14 million through shifting production to lower-cost plants.

Spatial data can also help organizations penetrate new markets. When a major Asia-based vaccine manufacturer developed a product launch strategy, it knew the affordability, awareness, and accessibility of this product would need to differ from its existing higher-tier markets. The team deployed an expansion strategy by assessing a range of predictors based on historical performance in pre-established markets, and conducted a grid level business location assessment by defining catchment areas by allocating a “location attractiveness score” to assess potential markets and optimize strategic distribution. The company, through the successful implementation of geospatial analytics, witnessed a 10% growth in market share post-expansion.

Multinational food delivery business Zomato uses location analytics to predict demand and profile customer preferences. In an interview with Geospatial World, Zomato’s Head of Online Ordering in the Philippines shared that time of day, localities, weather patterns, external and internal factors, and historical data are used to allocate resources effectively and customize what customers see on the app.

Past public health crises have highlighted the value of location data for governments to mobilize an optimized response. Geospatial analytics has been employed in various fields to predict viral transmission patterns and enable effective allocation of medical supplies and resources.

In 2015, Brazil set up an Emergency Operations Center to counter the spread of the Zika virus. By developing a geospatial model using machine learning algorithms, they were able to predict transmission patterns over time and quantify risks in specific cities. This informed decisions on where treatment or prevention measures were needed most urgently.

Today, authorities are relying on spatial measures — quarantining, contact tracing, and social distancing — to safeguard their citizens. In South Korea, people relied on the developed Corona Map and Corona 100m apps to avoid higher-risk areas, while in Singapore, quarantine orders are enforced with GPS updates from smartphones. In the Philippines, several geospatially enabled apps have been launched for contact tracing and notification. What is needed now is a robust and thoughtful program to encourage nationwide adoption at scale.

While geospatial analytics presents great potential, many organizations simply don’t have the right talent or systems to extract its value from existing geospatial datasets.

Half of the respondents cited in the same 2018 CARTO survey of over 200 companies revealed that data quality and accessibility are amongst the biggest challenges in adopting location intelligence. Around a third also cited a lack of talent or the right technology to properly conduct data analysis, and only 17% regularly use location data for any kind of spatial analysis.

Our answer to overcoming these challenges is to act across three stages: Select, Set up and Scale.

Select the most pressing issues. Look for ways to connect geospatial investments to the three most critical use cases that reflect your organization’s goals — examples include growing revenue, lowering costs, or improving products and services.

For example, a bank could utilize geospatial data to analyze where small and medium-sized enterprises are underserved, or assess areas where branch services may overlap. Local governments using geospatial analytics could re-focus efforts on ensuring healthcare centers are placed within 30 minutes of all residents in their constituency, or that such centers have sufficient capacity to serve every household within a two kilometer radius.

Set up your team and structures. Establish a dedicated team and clear processes to test the feasibility of each use case. First, find out what data you already have internally, and then determine what’s needed to drive better decisions before identifying the gaps. You may need to trial and iterate your data collection methodologies, and clean up historic data and systems to ensure consistency. For example, can you add GPS sensors to physical assets, or add geocoding to existing data? Pilot a number of use cases, learn what works and what could be improved to guide your execution plan.

Scale and turn insight into action. When it comes to execution, consider the specific business implications — could this information be translated into significant top-line growth? Can it transform your business practice? The best spatial data is dynamic and changes in real-time. To harness its potential, a strong and inherent culture of innovation is needed.

Is your leadership agile enough to respond to the latest insights? Will you need to rethink traditional roles, or change the way the organization makes decisions? It is no longer enough to have the most accurate data; you will need to be able to process that data faster, and generate critical insights in real-time.

New data is constantly emerging, and the crisis will change the way we collect, store, monitor and share it. The application of geospatial analytics and its data will need a clear articulation of the distinct mechanisms and conditions under which the data was obtained, and will require a critical assessment of ethics and privacy prior to the commission of the analyses.

COVID-19 has illustrated that responding quickly to change is of pivotal importance. Leaders who thoughtfully equip themselves and their organizations with the right tools and systems, like that of geospatial analytics, will likely emerge from the crisis in a better position for recovery. While there is still some way to go for the Philippines, the country has the knowledge and a rich pool of local talent to get there.


Kristine Romano is a managing partner of McKinsey Philippines and Oleg Timchenko is a leader in McKinsey Philippines’ telecommunications and financial services practice.