Not so long ago, if a business needed a map for their office, then the chances are that a map of the UK would have taken pride of place on the wall – probably covering much more geographical area than was of actual operational relevance to them. Or perhaps several folded maps would be flattened and sellotaped together onto the wall to form an unruly mosaic which between them tried to cover the necessary area of interest, with crude circles and blobs drawn on the map to show locations of relevance to the business.
Until the 1980’s maps occupied a world of fairly rigid constraints. An off the shelf pre–printed paper map of Bristol may have already existed if you wanted one but, as well as the area of coverage being pre-determined, the cartography on the map was likely to be out of date, it may not have fitted the wall space and the map may have been too detailed or just not show the right mix of information.
As well as this, before the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) became commonplace in cartographic circles in the late 80’s/early 90’s, bespoke mapping was manual work that was time consuming and expensive. This resulted in an expense that was a formidable obstacle to businesses in obtaining something that could be a very helpful tool to them.
The automation of map making and progressively wider use of GIS resulted in a cornucopia of personalisation options becoming more available to and more cost effective for map users.
Boundaries could now be easily added to maps from pre existing shape files. Counties, local authorities, postcodes – these boundaries could be easily combined together to form unique sales territories.
All sorts of lines, points & shapes of spatial information could now be added to help companies visualise their data patterns and trends. For instance, Radial circles and drive times could be added to delivery zone maps, being employed to assist swift and accurate decision making.
Another boon to the mapping industry was that pressure for more information to be made available to the public – without copyright restrictions – then led to the introduction of open data mapping, which reduced printing royalty costs and made mapping yet more affordable.
All of this has been of huge benefit in today’s ultra competitive business climate, where businesses have to be optimised to target the right customers, have to know where the customers are and how to reach them efficiently and bespoke mapping has become one of the most important ways to achieve this.
Businesses need to communicate their products or services to their customers, or indeed to other businesses and there are very few channels of information that do this as efficiently as maps.
Indeed, can there be any businesses that don’t use maps in some way whether as an operational tool or to aid decision making?
Estate Agents use street level maps that are at the same time eye catching but also informative and accurate, Fast food companies need delivery zone maps, even the emergency services need mapping help to ensure that they can meet whatever demands are put upon them when an emergency arises.
Mapping aids brand identity as well. Logos are added denoting the locations of branches/offices and maps can be recoloured/restyled to match a company’s corporate colours and brand guidelines.
By looking at a map you can absorb information much more quickly than by reading long winded text or charts. After all, if a company wants to show a customer the areas that can be delivered to then one glance at a map will answer that question.
You can’t have a successful business without a website and because you need your business needs to be locatable, you will need a map on your website. Google maps has been and will continue to be, of course, a powerful player in this respect, but due to copyright restrictions you can’t print from Google Maps and sometimes it just doesn’t give the desired detail.
New businesses or franchises that are in the process of defining their sales region(s) or entering a new market, find that mapping can help to develop a clear strategy or structure for their business. This may be by utilising statistical data to be displayed as heat mapping, or by colour coding areas based on other parameters.
Most recently, online mapping software such as “Map Business Online” (MBO) has appeared that gives the user the flexibility to personally manage, transform & visualise their business data in map form.
It appears that whether the future of mapping in business becomes totally digital rendering printed maps obsolete, or whether we will always need to have something tangible to hold, mapping is likely to remain as important as it ever was.