COVID-19 has dramatically changed business around the world, especially small business. It has touched all of our lives in some way or another: from the daily anxiety of how it might affect you or your loved ones, to how your job might be affected, to future issues of what will happen in a prolonged state of emergency. Thankfully at Service Objects, despite a few major adjustments, it has largely been business as usual.
Moving to remote
Service Objects has always had a mix of in-office and remote staff, with a strong, tightly-knit core group working out of our beautiful Santa Barbara office. By mid-March, like many businesses in Santa Barbara and around the world, we shut down our office to all but a few essential office staff, while the rest of the team went 100% remote.
Even before the pandemic hit the United States, Service Objects had started practicing remote policies, alternating days where staff who were normally in the office would work remotely. By the time our area officially closed down, we were long ready to do all of our jobs remotely, even the ones who were not normally used to it. We had positioned ourselves well to operate in this climate.
We are fortunate. The need for online data validation has never been more important as more companies go online, and more shopping is done digitally. Service Objects remains strong and ready to help our clients become more efficient and able to face their online challenges. Despite things being mostly business as usual, the pandemic still greatly affects us. We miss lunch with colleagues and the togetherness our office provided.
What we are doing to help
Our team had a strong desire to devote time to figuring out how we can help. In addition to finding ways to support to our clients in these challenging times, we were seeing many opportunities to help government officials and researchers with improved data in order to better fight COVID-19. This article takes a look at some of these efforts.
Johns Hopkins Data
The idea to use our data and strengths to help researchers fight COVID-19 with better data was enthusiastically met by our tech teams, and pretty much everyone was on board to dive right in and see how we could help. When we came across the Johns Hopkins case data for COVID-19, we noticed gaps in their data and its quality and looked for ways we could use our expertise to help.
Johns Hopkins’ Center for System Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE) produces a daily file of COVID-19 total cases, deaths, and recoveries that is openly available to everyone looking to help. There is an active community using this data to help research and track COVID-19. Many people contribute daily to improving this data and identifying needs and issues. This COVID-19 GitHub page contains active lists of issues with the data. We decided to start our research here, looking at requests for changes to see if there was anything we could help with. It was obvious looking through the lists that there were inconsistencies in the county data and requests for new data points that we could easily help build.
Building the COVID-19 Enhanced Dataset
We started with the base data set. It was full of missing data points: missing county names, latitude/longitude values and most importantly counties themselves. The dataset only tracked counties with active cases in them, but the larger community wanted the full picture, which includes areas with no current cases. At the time in late March, over 1000 counties were missing from the list. We were able to clean up all inconsistencies as well as adding the missing counties.
Next up, we added demographics data, mostly courtesy of the United States Census Bureau. This data contains county-level demographics on income levels, ethnicity, education, age, commute method and length, and many more data points. Since case numbers alone do not tell the whole story, we also added some helper values for cases and deaths by population and land area: after all, 1000 cases in an area that is twice as populated is not equivalent.
Finally, using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we added temperature data to the file, hoping researchers might be able to use the data to make predictions on the virus based on temperature.
Back in April, we built an automated process to pick up the JHU data each day, clean it up, enhance it, and then post it back to a link that everyone is welcome to download daily. We wanted to make this data is as up-to-date as possible, readily available, and free to use in the hopes that researchers and others might use it to help fight this pandemic!
Nothing would make us happier than to hear that this was used for a good cause!
What else can we do?
Service Objects provides services and APIs that validate data, clean up customer lists, and make companies more efficient. Most of our services line up naturally with helping companies through times like these. But in the last few months, it has definitely been on our minds to try and align what we are building with needs that best help companies navigate COVID-19. Ultimately, we believe we can make great services that will help companies now with COVID-19 related issues as well as continue to add value in the future.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about our services, questions about how we might be able to help you solve a data problem, or just to let us know how our free dataset is being used.
We would love to hear your stories!