Understanding Your Place of Business

It is a widely accepted axiom that our economy will not revive until we get our arms around the current pandemic. It is also believed that something quite different will emerge on the other side of this crisis—a new normal in which many enterprises, systems, and even entire industries may disappear, and the ones that survive may operate very differently from before. We have seen, too, that businesses, governments, and institutions that succeed in embracing digital capabilities are more likely to be sustainable and prevail over competitors that do not.

Let me add a fourth axiom: success in business will depend on not simply going digital but embracing the technologies, methods, and skill sets of location intelligence and geospatial thinking. 


View of a retail shop window in an indoor shopping center


Location, broadly understood, has always been key to every business. We forgot that fact a generation ago, seduced by the fantasy that the internet had made brick-and-mortar sites obsolete. It wasn't true then, and it isn't now.

In other words, you need to understand your place of business. 

This starts with your most tangible place, your real estate facilities—the selection, construction, and management of which are being transformed by location analytics. Not only does location intelligence help determine where and how to build new facilities, but also smart 3D maps—digital twins—allow facilities, real estate, and business managers to plug into Internet of Things systems to understand where different assets are as well as their status and condition, from room temperature to the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

As valuable as location intelligence is to real estate decisions, its greatest benefit may be in helping retailers get closer with their customers. Companies as varied as Fruit of the Loom, Chick-fil-A, and Starbucks are building loyalty programs with a tremendous amount of granularity and hyperlocal analysis, down to the block level. And retail winners are monitoring how the pandemic itself is changing consumers' attitudes and behaviors, which vary with location.


Map of San Francisco showing blue and red dots


It is not only the demand side but also the supply side of retail being transformed by location intelligence—in particular, rising demand for traceability of products and services. Leaders like UPS and FedEx are providing transparency into the way they run their business—essential for brand health, legal compliance, and operational logistics. Location is the thread linking all elements across a supply chain—from component supplier to factory or farm to container to trucker to store. 

Finally, new forms of location-specific data and analysis—including artificial intelligence (AI)-based halo forecasting hosted in the Geospatial Cloud—are helping retailers, banks, restaurants, and consumer packaged goods companies get a detailed read on potential markets. Halo forecasting calculates the revenue a company can expect from any potential individual or series of markets.


Woman delivery driver checking a package with an app


Smart retail practices such as these, which were adopted by market innovators in times when "disruption" primarily meant "new digital channels," have become even more critical during a global lockdown of much commercial activity; mass unemployment; and radical shifts in consumers' physical activities, including shopping. To succeed in the new normal of commerce, companies must apply location intelligence to capture the potential of the place of business in the world. They must do the following:

Apply sophisticated analysis of human movement data; online customer behavior; and local conditions around each store, restaurant, or shopping center—including the ebb and flow of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Redesign their stores and training and work routines to accommodate social distancing, testing, density analysis, and frequent disinfection. Retail architecture has always aimed to extend customers' time in stores and provide maximum product interaction. Now, not so much.

Shift from just-in-time inventories to resilient supply chain planning. Reshoring and global supply volatility require geographically distributed redundancy. That said, there are important lessons in agility that all consumer-based businesses can learn from on-demand innovators.

Shift to home delivery; buy-online, pickup-in-store (BOPIS) practices; or curbside pickup. BOPIS activity was up 208 percent in the US in early April of this year, and 56 percent of consumers say they plan to continue it after the pandemic. 

Finally, all businesses must embrace another axiom: the adjective "sustainable" does not apply only to the natural environment. Most businesses today recognize their responsibility to help protect our shared planetary home. The virus, whatever else it has done, has reminded us of that. But it has also shown us that businesses need sustainable customer relationships, supply chains, workforce cultures, and markets. Only businesses with that kind of holistic grounding can succeed in a world where disruption—from politics, technology, climate, and even a global pandemic—is the new normal.

Whatever the future holds, it belongs to enterprises with a clear-eyed sense of place.

By Cindy Elliott, a thought leader in how geospatial information drives business transformation for Esri.