Why has the importance of location analytics risen amid pandemic?
COVID-19 is a horrifying reality against which human civilization is racing around the clock to saves lives, businesses, economy and employment. At the time this article was written, the world had already lost, 1,506,251 lives due to the pandemic. Most of the governments worldwide are trying their best to spread awareness, while researchers are working on speeding up the drug discovery processes, and pharmaceutical companies are carrying the clinical trials for the vaccines. So, one can assume that massive data is required for the efficient execution of all the mentioned activities. Though surveillance cameras are doing their part and robots are either busy sanitizing public spaces, or dispersing crowds, contact tracing based on location analytics have also proved to be immensely helpful amid this crisis.
Governments have proposed and implemented applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track contacts. Most of the contact tracing apps rely on Bluetooth to track people who test positive for COVID-19 and those they’ve been near. Data collected from these apps are used to restrict the spread of infection and arrange for a rapid response to those who might be newly infected. The main idea behind these apps is to prevent the onward spread of the virus by timely detecting and isolating potentially infectious people.
This process is basically a form of location analytics where insights are generated from extracted data, along with an additional layer of geo-location information. In other words, it is a visual method of interpreting and analyzing the information represented by the data when used in conjunction with a geographical information system. In the business domain, location analytics helps department heads contextualize specific figures pertaining to sales, logistics and supply chain, and measure location-wise success rates of marketing campaigns. The latter allows brands to discover regional preferences, devise effective sales strategies, and identify peak purchasing periods to plan their global efforts better. And in a supply chain network, location analytics helps logistics companies find optimal travel routes for the supplies by comparing the efficiency of existing chains with alternate routes.
It also helps in disaster planning and preparedness. For instance, historical data can be visualized in a map to show which areas are generally affected by flooding or tropical storms and to concentrate anti-flooding efforts to those areas.
Apart from contact tracing, location analytics will help in distributing vaccines when used along with geographic information system (GIS), mapping software and location intelligence. This will help in making predictions and decisions about which geographic region and age group candidates will receive vaccinations on priority and what are the other risk groups that need medical assistance, against COVID-19. Moreover, location analytics will provide demographics that can aid in identifying, tracking and forecasting future outbreaks.
Currently, industries like retail, real estate, healthcare, education, oil & petroleum are already leveraging location analytics. So, governments leveraging location analytics via contact tracing apps is not surprising. However, the problem is that many privacy advocacy groups claim that these apps interfere with the privacy rights of the citizens. There is a fine line between tracing the suspected COVID-19 patient and breach of privacy. Further, questions also arise about the future uses of such apps once the pandemic fizzles always.
To address such concerns, Acquired Data Solutions (ADS) and Kiana Analytics have developed a digital contact tracing platform that uses existing private Wi-Fi networks instead of apps to allow government agencies and other organizations to map and track contacts within their buildings or campuses. Nader Fathi, CEO of Kiana Analytics, says this tracing platform taps into dark data and converting it into actionable information. The dark data refers to the signals a device, like a smartphone or a laptop, sends to a building’s Wi-Fi access points. This data has three components viz., a device ID number or MAC address, which is a unique identifier on all Wi-Fi equipment; the time of the ping; and the location of the ping. Insights from such data help in tracking a person’s movements and dwell time — or how long he remains in one area, inside the building.
According to ADS President Steven Seiden, the device ID is similar to a driver’s license number, which enables it to act as employee data. Moreover, this digital contact tracing platform allows agency managers to identify which areas of the building require thorough or surgical cleaning, the zones and floors where the COVID-19 infected person spent most of the time. The solution can also create a heat map that shows where people tend to cluster in the building so concerned managers can rearrange those spaces to promote distancing and decrease viral spread.