How Ordnance Survey Data is Guiding the UK’s COVID-19 Recovery
Lisa Allen, Head of Data and Analytical Services at UK mapping agency Ordnance Survey, reveals how its data is helping the government respond to COVID-19
Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s state-owned mapping agency, has a data culture that stretches back to its founding nearly 230 years ago. It supplies geospatial data and services to hundreds of customers from insurance companies to the police and local councils.
Innovation and data science are at the heart of everything Ordnance Survey does, as Ordnance Survey Head of Data and Analytical Services Lisa Allen says in this week’s episode of the Business of Data podcast.
“We manage one of the key national data assets for Great Britain,” Allen says. “The original purpose of [Ordnance Survey] was to collect [data] for cartographic purposes. But actually, now we want it to for analytical purposes.”
“The [Ordnance] Survey has been supplying data during the outbreak and we’ve been in great demand,” she continues. “We’ve really seen [the agency] come into its own.”
The Data Informing the UK’s COVID-19 Response
Thanks to its long heritage, Ordnance Survey boasts a world-class approach to geospatial data science. Its data stores contain more than 500 million geographical features and are updated 20,000 times a day.
Keeping such a crucial dataset up to date a huge responsibility and requires close collaboration between data scientists and surveyors, as well as the use of third-party data and machine learning techniques.
The events of 2020 have underscored how vital this work is. Thanks to the data at its fingertips, Ordnance Survey has been able to provide the British government with data and insights throughout the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has really shown the importance of data,” Allen remarks. “This epidemic is about, ‘Where are the outbreaks?’ And all the information you need to know is based on location.”
“What I’ve really seen during the epidemic is the OS come into its own,” she adds. “We’ve been asked questions about our mapping. We’ve been asked, ‘Where are the care homes? Where are the supermarkets? Where are the GP surgeries?’”
“During an emergency we’re available 24 hours a day, every day of the year at no cost”Lisa Allen, Head of Data and Analytics Services, Ordnance Survey
Ordnance Survey has a contract with the British government that sees it provide geospatial data and location data to public services organizations. It also provides services ranging from providing basic maps and identifying ‘points of interest’ on them to data matching.
“This is especially important for things like addressing,” says Allen. “So, during the pandemic, making sure the letters went out to the vulnerable [and] making sure those addresses were right.”
Following the news that the British government has become the first to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for use, an end to the pandemic may be on the horizon. But the Ordnance Survey’s work is far from over. The agency will continue providing world-class data-driven services long after the crisis is over, just as it has for hundreds of years.