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The Science of Where: Three Keys to Using Location Intelligence

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By Frode Bjerke, CTO, Unacast

Suffice it to say that as a society, we’re in a period of flux when it comes to our movement patterns. Businesses have reopened, but many of our pre-pandemic habits remain significantly changed. The way we work, shop, play and so on has changed – in some cases, permanently.

These changes can bring opportunity for businesses – but you need a deeper level of analysis to understand the changes and what they mean. Location intelligence can help businesses adapt to and thrive during such change.

The opportunities in migration changes

As we finally come out of the pandemic, things have opened up, and significant changes have been ushered in that also open up new opportunities. We know fewer people are going to the offices, but how is a specific area impacted – or not? And if it is, to what extent? For instance, what’s the demand for lunch spots in a given area with a lot of office workers? How can you know that? And that’s obviously on the cusp of changing again because of several factors: we’re facing a recession and there are still a lot of people working remotely.

Location intelligence, also known as human mobility data, helps organizations know what changes are taking place and how to respond appropriately. This information is frequently used in the public sector to solve long-term initiatives including new neighborhoods, cities and critical infrastructure. Geospatial data is valuable to academic researchers, sustainability specialists and civil engineers because it helps them plan ahead. Additionally, it aids in measuring the results of planned and unplanned changes in mobility, such as a significant weather event.

In the private sector, companies use geospatial analysis for site selection, investment, demand forecasting and competitive intelligence. Geospatial data analytics is frequently used by multinational corporations, software providers and consultants.

It’s necessary to look at these changes through the lens of how people interact with cities and see how those interactions and behaviors change from day to day, from week to week, from month to month. You need to understand that change as it happens so you can turn the risk of, “Are people going to continue to go to these offices or these stores?” into the opportunity of, “We actually know where people are going, so we can now capitalize on that knowledge.”

Geospatial data reveals the where and when of people’s movements. But the reasons for why they move as they do can also be discovered when paired with additional data and studied. All this location intelligence helps support business decisions.

Three keys to using location intelligence

Mobility data helps businesses understand how people move in and use cities and other municipalities. You can use that understanding to inform decisions. Let’s suppose you’re making some kind of investment. It might be that you’re changing the tenant of your store location. It might be that you’re figuring out where to place your next store. It might be that you are a bus operator in a city and are planning on changing the route of a bus line. It could be anything related to the physical realm. You need to have the best possible basis of information to make your decision. That’s the first key to using location intelligence.

The second key is the impact of a change. Any time you make a decision, like selecting a certain tenant for a store, it’s likely because you have a hypothesis of what it’s going to drive revenue, foot traffic, etc. If you’re going to make a better decision the next time about the tenant you choose, you need to understand the impact of your last decision. You need your feedback loop. That’s something that your location data partner can help you measure.

The third key is early detection of change. As behavior changes in terms of how people move around, you need to understand the change as it happens and the magnitude of the change. Even if we know it’s a change, it’s hard to understand the impact of it. We humans always under- or overestimate those types of impacts. Even though you know there’s been a change – knowing the extent of the change or where the change is – you need to gauge the outcome of it to truly turn risk into opportunity. There can be an opportunity from a market point of view or from a logistical point of view where you’re turning risk into opportunity.

Succeeding amid massive change

Business leaders are always looking for ways to make sounder decisions that give them a competitive advantage, increase revenue and reduce financial risk. That’s why geospatial data analysis is a growing area of enterprise interest and investment. As human mobility patterns have shifted due to the pandemic, companies need as much information as possible to keep business moving in the right direction.

This starts with knowing your customer and where they congregate. Multiple factors have shifted where customers, employees, suppliers and organizational ecosystems physically exist. This change in mobility requires location intelligence technology to support a new style of business – one that can succeed in any environment.

Frode Bjerke is the CTO of Unacast, a global location data and analytics firm. He is a technologist who, with Unacast, is focusing on establishing Human Mobility Data as an intuitive and actionable information layer.