COVID-19 has put a human aspect to a point where location insight has become a critical tool to understand the spread of the virus.”It helps us understand movement patterns during this time and is helpful in making informed decisions – Gladys Kong CEO of UberMedia.
Tell us about Ubermedia’s COVID-19 resource centre?
When COVID first started obviously a lot of our partners and clients were hurt in this environment and we tried to find the best way we could help. So we put together a resource centre for a number of reasons. The first is to help communities that our data can use to save lives or plan better for the city or to help navigate the situation better. So we put up a data centre we think to help the community. Secondly, we put up resources, not just Ubermedia data but other data that can be connected to human movement data to make insights more powerful. So we decided to list a lot of those other insights as well. Thirdly, we started building insights and analytics that we believe can help our partners and customers during this time. Mainly to understand the impact of COVID, to understand how different industries are impacted and just provide data to help them understand what’s going on. And so that’s why we put together the resource centre and then we have been holding regular webinars to share some of the insights that we have gathered and to explain how we have derived some of the datas in case it helps, the use cases help spike some ideas for our partners and customers, including potential customers as well. So we started doing that, the webinars are still going there, we have one coming up soon too, so that’s been something that we have been keeping up with.
How can our location intelligence help optimize resource allocation at the time of pandemic when virtually all supply lines are disrupted?
What we do is to provide human movement data, so if you look at a certain city or an area that is particularly affected then we can look at the patterns of people movement change, or people who have taken certain routes, or certain area has been particularly congested where other areas are more open that could help the city plan rerouting traffic somewhere else or to understand that there are certain areas that are more prone to infection because there are lot of people around and it just provides better landscape of where people are moving around. We also look at how closely devices are being with other devices during this time. If you can imagine, everybody is staying at home, then devices don’t come in very close contact. Most devices don’t come in close contact with other devices and that is a metric that we track. As we look at reopening you can start seeing obviously that distance between the devices have reduced because there is more movement, people are getting closer to each other and there are more activities happening. But it’s still nowhere compared to where it was before COVID. So we track things like that to help put some insights and information in economic planning or city planning decision makers hands.
How can aggregated mobile location data proves tracking and tracing of the virus?
Human movement data can alone not track that. But in conjunction with mobile data we can trace the spread of virus. For instance, if there was a conference in Boston or a nursing home in Seattle, where we later come to know was a COVID. We can look at devices that were there and where they dispersed to which part of cities or which states. It might help understand the spread of the virus and may also help in preventing the spread. The human movement alone can’t do that. Let’s say the John Hopkins data or other data that can be connected with certain affected areas we could do some analytics there and understand how it has spread.
How can use of artificial intelligence tools on location data help health organizations, local authorities for fighting the disease? And further disease modeling for prediction and prevention?
Our data and insights in combination with a lot of the research institutes or even companies that are in modeling aspect can really take the insights and help to see the spreads and how the trends are. For instance one of our new partners during COVID which is a research institute analyzed the movement data. They looked at distance travelled by people from home then how it change over time and how it impacted the spreading of the virus. As we start reopening then obviously there will be more movement, and such model can track how number are changing as human movement pattern changes as after reopening.
The other type of modeling is that all retailers and quick serve restaurants. All their data was completely knocked out by this asteroid that hits our planet few months ago. Once they don’t have any historical data they could rely on in figuring out how to forecast their sales or supplies or people they need to man their stores and things like that. What we can do is provide the data on how devices are moving, how active they are in the community and then the modeling can take that into account and figure out how they can forecast their sales, how much staff they need, and perhaps how much of inventory depending on what type of consumers are moving around more than others so they can do better predictive modeling based on that.
What could be the larger impact of COVID 19 on global business? How would the recovery be and when and what kind of model it is likely to follow?
If you have a global business or a national business in the US, you are looking at reopening but I would say not all stores are the same under the circumstances. If we just look at the US alone. Each state has a different opening policy, each state has a different impact from COVID, so to look at that we have to really look at how each store or each area is performing based on the community activity. You can project that nationally and then globally to look at how each area or community is moving around and so we tracked per sector, how active people are within the sector, grocery probably not affected overtime but we can see that as a trend, you can also look at pop stores, quick serve restaurants, convenient stores, and different categories we tracked activities and in each areas, so we can see activity areas and tae decisions. And the trend is that opening is not going to be the same for every store so you have to make more local decisions both geographically and based on the level of impact and type of consumers you have in an area. We are looking at the whole US as well as globally, as different patterns moving around and you observe that and we have with the modeling by localizing the decision, not making a global decision, I think that is going to be challenging to do in COVID.
The pandemic has also seen the value and benefits of location data and intelligence tools going up like never before, what would be the impact of COVID19 on location and VI industry?
Yes, I think COVID has really helped humanize the location data sets, before more conversation was around privacy. Now that we have privacy laws in place now COVID has put a human aspect to the point where location insights can actually help understand movement patterns during this time and can help save many lives. Many of our interaction in the last few months both with higher education institutions and research institutions was to help them use the data in their modeling, because there is no substitute, during this time you can figure out how people are moving around, there is no historical data there is no trends that you can follow, it’s a new world. So you have to really look at realtime data and that is a great proxy and location data is a great proxy. With COVID I think the general public has started seeing the benefits of location data for decision making not just for businesses, for communities and for governments to help better plan for COVID or plan for the future post COVID. So I do think it certainly helps, a bigger population understands what the data can do.
Among your user industries where do you see the business falling and which areas do you see the demand going up?
Ever since COVID started, our position was always in finding a way to help community and businesses. We have been putting insights and data that help understand how businesses or communities can understand the impact of COVID, how patterns have changed, how behaviors have changed, and how devices are moving, per distance or per event, how close they are with each other. But in this current phase we are helping partners and industries to understand the recovery phase. We are trying to help them understand that how during reopening it change. We are putting out recovery solutions that has 30 different metrics that helps any kind of industry understand as things start opening like for example how are people moving around, how different sectors get affected, being completely shut down to start opening how device movement changes, how events are bringing devices close to each other and where they are. So we look at all the trends to help guide business or communities make decisions that could affect the future of what they do or which stores they open or which stores they don’t. How they staff their stores, how they do sales prediction. We want to make it really simple and helpful and so it is 30 metrics everybody gets the same thing, and we make it affordable so that business of any level can use that. So that is how our way of helping the community as well as businesses in this time.
What would be your advice to businesses to sustain and survive for the road ahead?
I think it’s challenging but the best that we could do is to provide data to help make decisions more informed. And that’s always been our position. So in a case where there is no precedence in what has happened in the past we want to provide data which will help businesses look at it and make the best and most informed decision.
Use of location data for contact tracing for Covid responses has seen a fresh debate around data privacy, what would be done to balance data privacy alongwith effectiveness and how do you see data privacy landscape evolving going forward?
I think we are always in the position of protecting the consumer, respecting their choice. So everything we talk about, it’s really upto the consumers to make a choice of whether they want their data to be shared. All the privacy laws today is to support that. And as a business there is so much data out there, we seek proper consent of the consumer and choose what we use to make our data set and insight so everything that we do is fully consented and has the right to use for decision making that we use it for. I do believe that’s the right way to go. If someone opted out to not want their data to be used in any part it is, we should respect that and that builds trust in a community and that builds trust in the data set. That is continuously going to be the trend. As far as the business like us continue to respect consumer privacy the gap is going to close overtime where consumers get more comfortable if you are being transparent and opting consent before you do what you do.