Willis Re, one of the world's largest reinsurance providers, makes it its business to understand risk from all angles. In a new post, Jesse Stanchak spoke with Nigel Davis, executive director of product development at Willis Re, who described how geographic/geospatial information systems (GIS) and social media were converging to provide insurers a more 360-degree view of what may be happening on the ground with policyholders.

Davis described his company's employment of GIS, which includes desktop analysis tools, server applications, mobile/Web browsers, 3D viewers and more. “GIS is at the very heart of our work,” he says. “Many of the problems that we are trying to solve in insurance are spatial ones, e.g., 'Which Japanese properties fell within the recent tsunami inundation zone?'”

GIS is a key part of efforts to expand the insurance industry’s knowledge of the world's issues. Willis launched the Willis Research Network, a collaboration of more than 50 universities and public science organizations, to develop better risk models for major events.

According to Davis, there is a strong social media element to Willis' GIS approach as well: “Social media allows us to find pictures, videos and text during or after an event, and this might give an insurer a better understanding of the actual local conditions. If imagery from satellites and planes is called 'remote sensing,' we might think of this as 'near sensing' or perhaps 'community sensing.'”

While Davis adds that Willis is still in the exploratory stages of fitting social media data into an overall GIS picture, this channel adds a new dimension to risk management.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

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