We speak to lots of companies who are looking to benefit from some location intelligence. But where to start? The locations of customers, contacts, outlets, or sales are commonly only a few clicks away. Many organisations can pull address data from a CRM, a database like Oracle or SAP, or a tool like QuickBooks. If it’s not in a spreadsheet already, the first step is often to export your location data to Excel or a comma-separated table. So what mapping software best practices can help you gain from this location data?

There is a huge range of mapping software available, from simple map viewers to sophisticated enterprise tools. When setting out, we often recommend starting with a simple solution that will give you some quick insights or support a key workflow. As you get more familiar with the solution you can always explore more advanced functions or analysis.


Maps as a business communication tool

This advice applies equally to three different ways of using mapping software. First, there’s the bureau service approach of getting the mapping professionals to do this for you. There’s no need to learn the mapping software, let alone the best practices, so it can be most efficient to use a third party. Your deliverable could be anything from a wall map to a set of map PDFs, an interactive web map to a spreadsheet report with demographic or postcode data. Explain your business requirement to the consultant and they can talk you through the most appropriate mapping solutions.

Next, there’s professional mapping software like Esri’s ArcGIS. This might require a subscription, although not in the case of open source solutions such as QGIS. You’ll certainly need a bit of time to start learning a new desktop software package, and you might need guidance or fees to get suitable mapping data into the package. A bespoke set-up and training package can help you get up to speed as quickly as possible. A GIS software like ArcGIS is hugely powerful and extensible, so if location is key to your organisation, and you have staff who are happy to learn the package, then you might soon find it is used in multiple workflows and contexts.

The quickest way to get started using mapping software in-house may be an online mapping service like Map Business Online. This has a simple interface that helps you do key tasks quickly:

  1. Load in your addresses spreadsheet(s) and visualise your business data in seconds. Style the location markers by your own categories or quantities to really bring it to life.
  2. See drive time or distance zones around particular locations
  3. View your data against postcode or local authority boundaries, or against demographic data – population, age, or socio-economic groups, as counts or densities.
  4. Share your map or save an image of it for a report or presentation
  5. Find optimised routes when visiting multiple locations
  6. Build territories out of postcode or local authority areas, to clearly define ownership by franchises sales or field staff.

Some recent studies of location analytics showed good levels of user satisfaction when location intelligence software supports the business use case. They also showed that most businesses still use spreadsheets to manage location data.

So what are some best practices when starting to use mapping software such as Map Business Online?

  1. Start with a few basic mapping features that are likely to give you good value from your time.
  2. Some people take a “click & see” approach to learning software, but if you have a particular aim in mind then the short help guides or video demonstrations  can walk you through the steps.
  3. Remember that maps are communication tools. It can be tempting to throw all your business data onto one map but this can get messy, so create multiple maps, each for a particular purpose.
  4. It can be well worth spending a little time playing with the styling and labelling options to find the best way to show your data
Styling and labelling options for mapping software

The use of styling and labelling options to best show data

Once you start to benefit from the mapping software, it can be time to move onto advanced functions or consider more advanced GIS software. Even a straightforward tool like Map Business Online has some powerful functionality that lets you do sophisticated spatial analysis.

  1. Once you’ve created business territories, you can use tools to visualise and manage overlaps, or to sum sales/customer data by territory
  2. Alternatively, use the postcode or local authority areas to aggregate your business data, compare it to the demographic data, and potentially export marketing lists
  3. The market analysis tools lets you compare one set of locations against another, such as looking at the relationships between store and customer locations
  4. You could also import or plot more business data, such as customers or prospects, and load that into your maps

That could be the time for further reading on mapping software best practices!