For 30 years, I have been helping clients navigate the business climate using spatial and data analysis to make decisions. I thought I had seen it all: Black Monday, the dot-com/telecom crash, the housing market collapse. . . then came COVID-19. This is different. It is a game changer. COVID-19 is a forcing function.
While I realize the greater issue with COVID-19 is health, I am not a doctor; I look at the business implications, and clients have asked me for help as they navigate these uncharted waters. During past business challenges I would have recommended they use mapping and spatial analysis to perform functions such as:
- Consolidation/Reducing their footprint: Use spatial analysis to eliminate unnecessary locations for both retail locations and business operation locations.
- Re-evaluating sales territories based on changes in business focus, employees and market potential.
- Merger and acquisition opportunities: Are you a candidate for acquisition, or able to acquire another? Are you a financial group looking for opportunities?
- Balancing the use of virtual and physical locations: Where does each make sense?
- Cooperative sharing of physical locations.
While the above tasks will help many as we move forward, my advice to all companies now is different. Much of this current business environment will be short lived, but some aspects will not return to how they were, whether because companies and employees want to be safe, the fact they now know telecommuting can work, or just as a result of the reduction in disposable income.
We were forced to embrace technology that will now be integral to the new normal. People used to talk about the cloud but not use it to its full potential; the use of remote computing for many was “a nice to have.” Now it is a requirement. We need to make sure remote solutions, going forward, address potential cyber security issues and have the bandwidth required for many GIS applications.
There will be the immediate needs such as:
- Determining from where employees come, and how working remotely and other possible changes in commuting patterns, affect operations. I recently had a client ask me to provide all office addresses in Manhattan that are within walking distance of Penn Station or Grand Central Station. Employees may tolerate riding on a commuter railroad, but they are concerned with subway travel.
- Choosing between employees and consultants. Do you need in-house staff to perform the analysis or can you farm it out? Right now, companies are looking to use existing employees to perform spatial and analytical tasks partially due to the fact they want to avoid laying off people, and partially due to the fact that much of the federal bailout money is earmarked toward maintaining employees. As funding evaporates, companies must become more efficient with resources to accomplish necessary tasks.
Companies should take this opportunity to get their data housekeeping done. It is a challenge for all businesses regardless of how they are affected by COVID-19. Here are some areas that can always use improvement:
- Spend time reviewing corporate data quality and governance now so your data is good enough to make decisions with it.
- Your real-time data will be your best asset as business increases.
- Companies must analyze their own data as they emerge from COVID-19, as it will take some time before trends start to emerge from business or consumer reported data.
- Depending on your market, historical information such as consumer expenditure and market potential will be problematic due to changes in spending habits and commuting patterns. Internal corporate data will be more important than historical consumer data.
- Are you adding the necessary location intelligence to your data?
- Enhance your data where possible. I had a cable company come to me years ago wanting some data about their customers. I asked them why they didn’t ask their customers directly. They had almost 75% market penetration, which is much better than any survey information. They offered a dollar off a pay-per-view to survey respondents and spent less than the cost to have a data append done, with more relevant information.
- Businesses should use this time to look at their analytics platforms to make sure they are ready for the heavy lifting to come.
- Are all your systems integrated?
- Spend the time to make sure you have spatially enabled your enterprise so the entire company can leverage the asset.
- Can you get real-time information out and make data-driven decisions?
- Is your modeling approach still valid or do you need to add some information?
- Minimize seat of the pants reactions and gut feelings.
Now, while companies are determining the impact of COVID-19, waiting for their markets to open and trying to understand federal bailout money, they can increase the chances of making correct, timely decisions going forward.
Also, do not forget to do a postmortem on your response to COVID-19 over the last few months and use the knowledge gained as part of your business continuity plan going forward. This will not only prepare you for post COVID-19 but will have you ready for the next major business disruption.