After 8 years of working in GIS within Microsoft and Bing Maps with some of the leading brands in the industry and a few smaller ones as well as a few start-ups you tend to find that the discussion points, pain points and needs of the many tend to follow a certain theme.
These themes, for me have formulated into or have evolved into a set of trends that I use to define the use of location intelligence within the corporate and consumer space which I am now going to share with you.
I must highlight that this is by no means a confirmed list of industry trends but more an observation on the key factors that impact the use of mapping or are factors that, in my experience, have been considered when integrating a GIS platform within an application be it mobile or web based.
1. Evolution from a single location
The most popular use of web mapping has been within store locator type of applications. Typically these applications only required the need to provide a single location as a reference point. Where is my local store, where is my local station, where is my local restaurant? These are the type of questions that were answered by these applications. However, consumers are now no longer satisfied with just finding their local store or restaurant, they need more information regarding their search or context to their search results. Be it the opening times, is there a pharmacy etc. at my local store or an image of the property, potential costs for purchasing the property, local transport facilities etc. If searching for a potential property. Our need for information has become far greater than before and as a result has provided companies with an opportunity to share more information.
2. Location to Location intelligence
With this shift or evolution from a single location companies now have a greater opportunity to share data and information relevant to the search results. The basis of this information is not only to inform but to add value to the end users search experience. People now wish to see:
· Location data
· Local attractions, attributes, destination data relevant to the application
· Travel information
· BI data
Integration of maps into web applications is becoming ever more challenging as the demand to see more is becoming greater. We are seeing traditional GIS players such as ESRI, Ordnance Survey, MapInfo etc., providing their customers with the opportunities to integrate their content and data with the more dynamic interactive maps of today.
The dependency on maps is growing at a faster rate as the desire to see more increases.
Big Data and the Cloud presents another twist to the movement of Location to Location Intelligence. It presents an even greater opportunity for companies to manage their data and GIS tools provide the medium by which content and data can be presented in a meaningful to the end user.
But what we are also seeing is more and more organisation becoming content generators and distributors, providing data such as census data, purchasing behaviour, social behavioural data etc. with a geographic relevance for organisations to ingest and present to their users.
3. Desire to see more
Organisations are now starting to pay attention to the information they present either internally or their workers or externally to consumers. Too much information can be overload and too little can lead to end users dis-satisfaction. British Airways use of mapping, within their Avios application, is an ideal application demonstrating the “not too much, not to little” concept. The application allows its users to search for a holiday destination based on their points balance, the information presented allows them to see the number of destination choices available, the destination and the number of points required. The value here is allowing the end user to make a decision, a choice, without distorting the selection process with other unnecessary information. We can say that the content itself now has a currency for the site holder. The currency of the content will only retain its value if it fulfils the requirements of the user.
We must also be mindful that the desire to see more is not only confined to the content integrated. Basic features of any interactive mapping platform is also a key requirement and as such Better Geocoding, Clarity and Accuracy of Aerial, Satellite imagery is also imperative. Maintenance and regular updates will ensure that the content retains its currency to the end user.
4. The Social Scene
The use of Social Media tools over the last decade has increased beyond comprehension. There was a time where our daily activities; what we do, where we dine, where we stay, our vacation destination etc. is ours, private, well in this world of check-ins, tags our everyday experiences are now known to the world be it through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Myspace or Foursquare. This increase in Social media has provided an ideal platform for marketers to gain an insight into our behavioural patterns – where we shop, where we dine or go on holiday, how we interact with their products and brands. Understanding our location in these instances provides an important role in supporting how a marketer can gear a campaign. An active Social check in endorses your social activity and location as well as providing an ideal opportunity for organisations to target their services to you. At present this is pretty much untouched but does present an untapped opportunity for brands to provide targeted time based incentives.
Foursquare have begun to test this in markets such as the US. Check-in to a certain location or venue a user is then presented with an opportunity to take advantage of an offer in the nearby vicinity or encourage multiple check-ins in the same location to benefit from a future saving.
Facebook presents an open opportunity for SME’s to encourage their customers to check-in and share their location and experience with their friends – and incentivise this exchange for their troubles, an ideal way to promote a brand.
The London 2012 Olympic Games was classed as the most digitally connected event during Social Media Week in London 2012. The BBC and LOCOG were able to determine the success of the Torch relay by mapping Tweets from spectators, Sponsors such as Samsung, GE, Coca Cola ,were able to collate valuable data based on the events that they were connected to, athletes shared their experiences of London, the games as well as the facilities provided for the games. As social listening tools become more and more intelligent we will see an increase in their adoption as key tools in driving marketing behaviours and devising campaigns and offers based on location.
5. Make it Mine
Over the years the desire to make maps a part of the look and feel of a website has become a key factor in differentiation for many organisations. It’s the small changes, the subtle differences that make the greatest impact, a branded pushpin, mirroring corporate colours within the borders or pop up box, changing the navigation controls for your own user base, the personalisation of maps has grown to provide the consumer with a better user experience but has also become a key component for organisations in enhancing their brand awareness.
Many organisations spend considerable time and budget on customisation of the mapping integration and in some cases involve design agencies to add that little extra.
Take the image above under “Desire to see more”. The map forms part of the Avios experience to the British Airways Executive Club Member. The look and feel, navigation controls, information boxes, pushpins etc. all represent the corporate image and therefore provide a complete user experience in line with the rest of the site.
But this does not just end on here. The ability to integrate data specific to your application and specific to the needs of the end users is another form of personalisation as is the presentation of that information.
There is an abundance of different technologies available for companies to invest in and the investment decision is based on a multiple factors; business needs, budgets, suitability, functionality etc. The need to and ability to integrate mapping tools with other technologies has become ever more important. As a result these technologies need to provide the flexibility and the ease to integrate within their current environment technology. Additionally many companies invest in more than one mapping platform to fulfil a given a task as the capabilities of the platforms can differ. Even in this scenario there is sometimes a need to integrate.
Whatever the need may be organisations need to consider the following when developing an application that integrates a mapping interface:
· mobile technologies
· Cloud solutions
· Browser independencies
· corporate infrastructure
· Incumbent investment in Technology
· Flexibility of integration
· Roadmap of the platform
Whether it be the map styles, data or even just how the maps are integrated, mapping tools need to be flexible to allow for easier integration of data whether the solutions are internally focused or external. The ability to create a unique experience for the end user can be the deciding factor sometimes on the success of the application.
7. Maps in Apps
Finally, no trend would be complete without the mention of mobile. My reference to mobile encompasses not just cellular devices but also tablets and smart devices. With the growth in these devices presenting apps over the last decade maps have become one of the key factors in app development. Maps in Apps provides companies with providing a different representation of their service, allows organisations to add greater context to data. Mapping providers, as a result are changing the way maps are made available to developers.
Subtle changes such as making the overall map control lighter for mobile devices, providing offline capability in mobile applications, incorporation of augmented reality are just some examples where either individual components or complete functionality is made available to organisations and the development community to benefit from and utilise.
With the apps currently in the various market places or stores, irrespective of operator, we can say that many of the mobile apps incorporate some if not all of the above 5 trends.
With a wide array of mapping platform choices available to organisation the decision as to which is the most suitable is not an easy one when developing an application for your customers or for your own use. However by having access to the right tools, documentation and support in delivering a platform that ticks all the boxes is of paramount importance. Bing Maps provides a wealth of resource to its customers and to the development community through the availability of an interactive SDK, API’s to suit yo9ur application requirement, Enterprise Support Team, technical documentation available via MSDN as well as local technical support via your Bing Maps specialist who you can reach via firstname.lastname@example.org.