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Spatially Enabling Customer Relations

Alistair Dickinson is the CEO and CMO of Mapsimise. While it may be a relatively new technology platform, Alistair been around the tech industry for over 20 years and spent the last decade building geo solutions. Mapsimise was born out of all those years of experimenting with a simple but powerful aim to solve business problems.

Alistair started off as a software engineer and went on to consulting before niching down to providing business solutions software.  The first product his company came out with was called GeoMap, and it was a customer response management (CRM) system, predominantly Microsoft Dynamics.  It used Bing maps, and it was a marketing tool against the CRM data. In 2016 the time came to rethink GeoMap, and after a complete overview and rewrite as well as moving over to Google, Mapsimise was born.

What is CRM?

It’s a customer database that records information about your customers and projects. It manages your sales, marketing, and service teams’ activities. 20 years ago, it was all about Salesforce automation and embedding sales opportunities, tasks, and emails into a database. A lot has changed since then.

Why is it important to spatially enable customer data?

One of our customers wanted to understand their customers by location, and it looked like a good idea.  We built a map with data on it and then segmented the data by location and created marketing lists. That’s where it all started, and only then we thought about other things people could do with this outside of the core CRM. Like identifying regions with data, and segmenting sales and opportunity data so that management could understand where the hotspots were for sales and which sales teams performed better or worse.

Segmenting is really big at the moment, and it’s no longer just about the location of buildings.  For example, we’ve loaded all the London Underground data into a map to see how those service lines are performing. How is the system running?  Are there any delays?  How are those affecting the commuters, and how many of them?  The data will let you segment your commuting customers, and based on the information, you can send them an email saying, “Appreciate you’ve had a stressful morning because of the strike.” It’s not just about the location; it’s also about the activity that’s happening at any one time.

Why Did You Move Away from Bing?

We initially used Bing because our customer had a Bing license we could use, and this seemed like the sensible thing to do because we focused on Microsoft technology.

In 2016, when we had a rethink, we looked at other foundations such as Google, OpenStreetMap, Mapbox, and Bing to see how they compared.  It’s critical to understand licensing and fee structures and pick the best for the project.  You may get so much for a fixed fee, but then any additional service you need will work out expensive.  At the time, Bing changed its licensing fee, and some of their services didn’t perform in the way we needed them to. It was time to see if we could get better results from other platforms. The analysis lasted around six months, and we tried many alternatives.  Google came out on top because it gave us everything we wanted.

One of the crucial aspects of our project was to integrate company data by location, outside of what’s held on someone’s CRM.  In our previous product, we used Factual, the world’s biggest database of company information, and linked it with Bing Maps. A salesperson traveling to a business park for an appointment could see all other businesses in that vicinity and start prospecting there and then.

Going over to Google, we also found a way to link CRM and Google My Business to maximize data from someone’s CRM to see an overview, a layer of customer or prospect data, and additional organizations in that area. The service is based on Google Maps, so the decision was made to migrate over to Google.

We use the different APIs from Google, other systems we’ve connected, and then build the markers and the radius searches as part of the solution that we put together.

As a word of caution, I would like to mention that if you want to integrate data services with Google and expect them to work flawlessly, always make sure you abide by the rules, regulations, and what is covered in your license.

What is Google My Business (GMB)?

The data for GMB comes from different databases that Google purchased.

As an individual business, you apply for a GMB account, and if someone puts your address into the search bar, you’ll appear on Google Maps by default.  People can see all your posts and videos linked to that GMB account.  It’s excellent for SEO as it combines shares across social media, Tweets, and posts on LinkedIn. Think of it as a repository of your data about your business. But it’s not just a pin on the map. It supplies prospects with information about your business and gives your location. A simple search on GMB will bring up this user-generated content that companies can create about their services.

What Other Services Are You Using? How Do They Work Together?

We use several external services and others within Google, such as auto-routing and replying.  Location credits allow us to validate searches.  If you put a postcode or the name of a type of business, it helps with the search and then links that back to the results of Google My Business.

We selected OpenCage for geocoding.  The terms and conditions of Google’s geocoding didn’t quite fit our project, but OpenCage fitted perfectly. Our development team is also looking into using GraphHopper to do multiple vehicle auto-routing.

Analytic services like HotJarLucky Orange, and Google Analytics together give us an edge on data that’s otherwise not as insightful as it can be.  For example, Google Analytics alone will provide you with visitor stats based on the country, but it doesn’t go into further details on smaller areas or cities.

Why Should I Invest in a CRM?

These systems have been around for about 25 years now.  Salesforce and MS Dynamics are leading the way in the current market.  Salesforce recently acquired a geo platform last year, and that means location intelligence and geo type services are coming into the forefront.  Businesses need not only business intelligence but location intelligence to make better decisions and expand into broader markets.  A CRM can enable you to see where your interactions are happening, where your customers are engaging with your message, and how you can tailor the customer data or understand where the customer data location is.

But it doesn’t stop there.  It’s not just about putting data on a map.

You can take data from your CRM, combine it with your financial data, Google Analytics, and MailChimp. You can understand your customers better.  They might be in your CRM and have open invoices in your finance system.  They visited your website because Google Analytics told you so, and you’ve sent them three rounds of emails through MailChimp. How are they engaging?  The only way to tell is with Connected Data.

The term Big Data was coined in around 2005. From it, Connected Data was born. Instead of putting all your data in one repository, you connect various systems and link their data together, like in the example above, where you linked a CRM, a finance system, an Excel sheet, and a marketing tool via an intelligent location platform.  It’s more than just representing data from a single system. You bring those systems together in business.

The goal is not to spatially enable every data source you have but to use the map as a blank canvas and put data on the map. The source stays where it is, and the datasets are brought together.  They are updated with latitude and longitude then workflow and other business functions are added.  Not all of these aspects are available yet, but there is a roadmap for the Mapsimise project, and you’ll be able to do one thing in one system, pass that data around, see how it updates by location and then pass it off to another system.

You might need to identify a region that experienced flooding.  You highlight the area and send all your customers in that area a message of wellbeing or support through your mail marketing tool that may not be directly connected to your CRM.  Only by using an intelligent platform can you do that.

Why Doesn’t This Functionality Already Exist in CRM Systems?

Business systems (ERP, CRM, finance) have been around for longer than business intelligence and location intelligence.  The leading manufacturers of these never considered, until now, that people want to visualize data this way. Larger organizations may have done so in the past, but small-medium businesses are only beginning to see the benefits now.

The US is slightly ahead of Europe and the UK in being able to consume a product that is a commodity and say, “Yes, I want to do this with my data, share it, analyze it, run charts off multiple datasets.”

Now is the time to be involved with location intelligence and related apps, and Salesforce has recognized that by acquiring a geo platform last year. They’ll probably be the first one to take a mapping platform and add it to their core offering.

What Trends Can You See for Geo Enabling CRMs?

Location intelligence will be more relevant to business applications.

The GIS market in 2018 was worth around$ 18 billion globally.  It’s predicted to grow to $180 billion by 2028. Organizations are already using business intelligence (BI) tools such as Tableau and Power BI to analyze data. Users will want to look at data by location, and some of the BI companies have already added mapping and location intelligence capability into their solutions.

Predominantly, these are still business intelligence tools.  They are not mapping, and they’re not trending the data by location.  Mapsimise can trend data and then put it on the map.  The reporting tools were designed so that as you move around your map, all the charts and the analytics are changing, unlike so many BI tools that are static.  We’ve taken your primary data, combined it with other datasets, and put it on a map so you can start.

Is This Going to Replace GIS?

Absolutely no.

GIS will always remain at the nucleus.  This entire market is about to grow in a big way and build on the GIS core concept. It’s already happening with location intelligence, geographical data systems, Connected Data, Big Data, data intelligence, and the Internet of Things.

If you drew a diagram and put GIS in the middle, you’d have lots of bubbles and variants around it. All those can sit in that same market comfortably.  GIS will still be at the core, and it will be around forever.  In the next decade, we’ll see more and more tools emerging that combine elements of this and that.

What Skill Sets Do We Need to Continue the Rebranding of GIS?

We need people who understand business problems.  Businesses drive data and come up with what they need. It’s easy to think GIS is data-driven, but you’ll see in the next few years that businesses and customers will come up with use cases that need to be solved with location intelligence or geosystems. People working in the current GIS type environmental location intelligence roles will have to think about business problems more so than they do today.  What value can you give to a business?  What will people pay for? What’s the demand of the market?

Whenever the market changes, it’s driven by demand.  We’ve all seen it happen repeatedly. The boom, SaaS, and cloud computing, just to name but a few.  What’s next apart from location intelligence?

Probably commodity software.  Business owners, especially younger ones, will not be investing tens of thousands of dollars in software.  Software providers and vendors will have to come in at a price point where they have to give the basic product away for free.  If customers want the bells, the whistles, and the premium features, they’ll have to pay extra. People will not be paying hundreds or thousands of dollars every month per user into systems —  $10 to $15 per user per month, at the most.

Just look at Slack or Zoom with their millions of users.  They have a free basic service and some premium features that corporations want and are prepared to pay a nominal fee of around $8 to $10 per user.  I think that’s the future.  Software companies will get a venture, investor, or angel funding to grow these platforms because there is an enormous development cost upfront.  It’s going to be about volume sales and who will get a million users first.

Did you go and look at Google My Business just to see what’s available on your company?  Did you even know you can feed all your social media shares into it?  I didn’t. So much to learn, and Alistair, like some of our previous guests on the show, also advocates that GIS people will need to step up to be businessmen as well as data experts. Are you ready for that?

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.

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