Partner POV: Using GIS Data in Data Science
In this months “Partner Point of View (POV)” we asked each of the Northwestern Analytics Partners how they see Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data being used in analytics.
Michael Purvis. GIS data can and should be used in data analytics. Addressing problems requires actionable intelligence. Identifying actionable information is a primary reason for using data analytics in general, and GIS images contain data. Better yet, GIS data shows information across a specific region in the world, and a series of images of the same region over time can be processed and used in predictive analytics.
GIS data can be used to track pandemic outbreaks, monitor impacts on climate change such as deforestation and the melting of the polar ice caps, counteract gerrymandering so that the voices of specific groups aren’t deliberately silenced at the polls, and even aid us in identifying problems we didn’t realize we had. There are seemingly endless possibilities of the kinds of problems companies, nonprofits, and governments may elect to help solve by incorporating GIS data. However, as models are only as good as the data they are trained on, efforts should begin right away to ensure new GIS analysts know how to find the right data to help inform on issues of their concern.
Training in GIS modeling fundamentals should be freely available to anyone. This training must include both the technical steps in the process for identifying the right GIS images to use and also the questions to pose when evaluating potential bias in images identified for use. What was the original purpose of the image? In what context should an image be considered?
Next, images should be easily and freely accessible to everyone interested in doing some GIS modeling or analytics informed by GIS. Groups currently undertaking efforts like these must coordinate and collaborate as much as possible so multiple parties aren’t trying to reinvent the same wheel. These needs combined with the ever expanding list of problems GIS data can be used to solve make up a wealth of opportunities for companies, nonprofits, and government organizations alike.
Brennen Chadburn: Risk analysis is becoming more essential for businesses dealing with a global pandemic as well as those impacted by environmental hazards such as fires and hurricanes which have been increasing in frequency for several decades. Moreover, a globalizing economy requires better understanding the world around us and the complex interactions that have a tangible effect on business decisions.
GIS analytics provide a means for companies to utilize geographical information to inform risk analysis, understand regional trends, and even capture information about the society and culture. Using GIS information can allow non-profits and companies to gain a more holistic perspective – utilizing information about trends in surrounding regions to evaluate the current state of affairs as well as inform predictive modeling of future states.
Organizations that use GIS analytics will have a strategic advantage for resource planning, risk management, and capitalizing on untapped market value.
Tony Tran: GIS and Human Resources aren’t usually thought of as related fields. However, Human Resources Professionals are asked to assist with workforce planning, recruitment, and disaster planning and GIS can be used to assist with those processes.
Workforce planning is the process of planning for future staffing based on cost and headcount. GIS can be used to map out your current workforce in this process. A geospatial representation of the workforce by location will provide rich information that cannot be conveyed with a simple data table. Additionally, a map of hypotheticals to show potential future workforce states can also be very beneficial to executives involved in the planning process.
Another crucial HR process that can benefit from GIS is recruitment and community involvement. Recruitment involves strategies to attract new talent into the company. GIS can help to strategically identify future facilities that can be built that are close to target universities for their new graduate hiring program. Additionally, GIS can help identify the location of community centers and clients so that they understand how to better staff each facility and partner with them.
Finally, GIS can be very beneficial in disaster planning. Human Resources professionals are often asked to provide assistance in the event of a disaster. For example, if there was a natural disaster occurring, HR needs to identify all of the employees that may be impacted by it and provide timely information. With the help of GIS, a map that shows the impacted locations and employees can quickly help the HR professional complete their process.
Andrew D’Amico: Geographic information systems (GIS) data is important for analyzing the macro effects the human species has on our environment, both at a local level (for instance in crop analysis) as well as a global level. Recently, GIS data has been integral in helping us understand the nature of pandemics such as the Covid-19 outbreak, making “statistical model” a household name.
Geospatial predictive modeling combines location data with advanced modeling techniques to analyze and predict patterns found in spatial, geological, and geographical features.
GIS data allows data scientists to perform advanced analysis of phenomena which have both a geological dimension (i.e., the analysis of flora or fauna in the oceans), a geographical dimension (i.e., an analysis of education level based on the proximity of schools to public transportation), or combined geological/geographical dimensions (i.e., the effect of local government policy on river pollution).
Due to physical (and often political) constraints GIS data can give us unique insights into socio-political habits of humans, as well as other biological and geological features.