A business map extrapolates strategic intelligence from location-based business data. Often, the resulting maps are simply a business data visualization of customers, patients, donors, members – you decide – against a map. This map visualization reveals patterns and trends in your business data otherwise invisible to human analysis. To get to the point where the business map user is able to view their data against a map involves much preparation on the part of the software provider and a little prep for the map user as well.
Business Maps Are An Amalgamation
Consider a business mapping application. We usually see a business mapping software as a whole thing, but the tool is really made up of an array of component applications.
A basic and critical component for a business map is the base map. The accurate background map is created by map data providers who collect and compile the geographic data in a variety of ways. In some cases they drive the streets of the world taking pictures and collecting data that helps make the street topologies accurate, connected and informative. These maps are formed by overlaying a variety of imagery and vector layers and then deciding how the layers and lines fit together and how they interact. The zoom in and out capabilities of a web map are made possible by hierarchical databases that store certain information in certain data layers and serve them up to you the viewer, in just the right way and at just the right time. For instance, the map service makes sure the zip code labels display in an organized and uncluttered fashion no matter what zoom level you are at. Imagine what a USA map would look like if all the zip code labels were turned on at the nationwide view. Spoiler alert – it’s a wicked mess that’s barely readable.
Base maps cover a lot of ground – like, all of it – and base map data is always changing so updates are critical. MapPoint users know this only too well because Microsoft abandoned map updates years before they canceled their business mapping product and user started searching for a MapPoint replacement. Street and highway data requires constant massaging so that the optimized routing functionality, often included in a business map, can function in a way that drives operational efficiencies. One-ways and two-ways, bridges, turn restrictions, speed limits, and accurate road classifications all impact the ability of a vehicle routing tool to actually lower fuel costs or improve route times.
Over the base map layer business maps usually include administrative layers like zip codes, counties, cities and the like. These administrative layers are often managed by third party data providers that assure accuracy and provide data feeds into your business mapping software. One of the most common business mapping customer requests is for a zip code map.
What about the ability to place your spreadsheets on the map? The process of importing your location based data is called geocoding and it’s usually a web service provided by geocoding providers. Geocoding is what makes those visualizations of your business data so powerful by assuring accurate placement based on addressing or lat/lon coordinate placements. Geocoding services depend on constant data updates because addresses change, road names change, and new roads are always coming into being. Geocoding enables a map side data presentation in spreadsheet form, which can enable a variety of map filtering operations useful for data segmentation into usable chunks; for sales visits, marketing campaigns, and various types of business analysis.
Such services provide the basis for a working business map, but there’s so much more required to support effective map use. The application requires map file management tools, printing and sharing functionality, map symbology options so you can color code your data, a routing engine and a help library. And never forget the value of drawing random shapes and objects on the map for territory development, area analysis, and data segmentation by geography.
Is It Easy-to-Use?
A business mapping application must combine all this functionality in such a way as to be relatively easy-to-use by the typical business person. And guess what? Not everyone learns or uses the software in exactly the same way. What is wicked-easy to most, may be brutally difficult for some users. And as it is with democracy, so it is with mapping tools, you simply can’t please everyone all the time. All business mapping software attempts to be easy-to-use. Some are better than others. It’s a personal preference thing, and a personal capability thing. As with all things technical, patience helps. Take your time and use the help tools.
Preparing Your Business Data
With your business map prepared and purchased, the business map user must also prepare. You should come to the business mapping application with an orderly dataset of business data. It should reflect accurate addressing or lat/lon coordinates, but any location placement such as zip code or state centroid points will work. Your spreadsheet should be clean with no superfluous commentary or title info in sections above the data. For best results, import only column headings and data to the mapping application.
Open Your Mind
You should bring both an open mind and a list of questions related to the geography of your business. Questions like:
- What is our current area of business operations or sales coverage?
- What is the value of our sales when measured by territory or area of interest?
- What’s your ratio of customers to sales people or patients to clinicians?
Or perhaps consider conducting an exercise like this: Import your sales records to the map. Color code zip codes to reflect Census median income levels by zip code. Determine your sweet spot for sales by median income per zip code. Now determine how many zip codes exist with your sweet spot median income value that show minimal or zero sales from your company. Ask yourself, “Why?” How can we grow sales in those sparse areas with high income?
Keeping an open mind allows the map visualizations to inform you in ways you might not expect. Imagine you came to your mapping session looking only for areas where you were selling less than or more than the competition. That’s a valid analysis. But if you have an open mind, you might notices areas where you and the competition are not selling at all.
Try a variety of approaches to building your business map:
- View your business by zip code, county and Census tract. Which one best represents your business?
- Perhaps a county or zip code based demographic analysis by commuter, renter, or occupation Census data might reveal something new about your business? Try different categories.
- Do you subscribe to industry groups that might share or sell industry related location-based data? Get a sample of the data and import it into your map, sit back and think about what you see.
Business mapping applications were not developed overnight. These map applications have undergone years of iterations and adjustments as location technologies have been developed since the 1980’s. Today they’ve become web-based and more affordable. Take the time to learn how to use your business map. Try different approaches. Explore various map backgrounds, demographic data categories, and geographic districts until you feel you understand your business more completely than you did before you used a business map.
Because considering a business map is really about considering your business and that deserves a considerable amount of consideration.
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Contact: Geoffrey Ives firstname.lastname@example.org (800) 425-9035, (207) 939-6866