Everything you ever wanted to know before you buy mapping software…
Samples of the types of map you can create from Excel data, using eSpatial cloud-based mapping software
1.Know what you want to map
Mapping is no longer just about drawing boundaries on land masses. It’s about plotting spreadsheet data, relevant to specific locations. That could be as simple as plotting your favourite restaurants on a city map or as complex as working out the optimum distance and routing for your nationwide fleet of delivery trucks. The level of sophistication you require should be top of your mind when you purchase mapping software.
2.Decide whether you want a desktop or cloud-based software
Increasingly, there is a tendency for software to be available as an online service (e.g., Microsoft 365). The advantage of buying a cloud-based mapping software is that it works across platforms and that it is always up-to-date. However, there is plenty of desktop-based mapping software also available, such as MapPoint. The advantage of this type of software is cost – it’s a one-off payment. However, buyer beware…
3.What is the REAL cost of the software?
Costs are not always as clear as they may first seem. For instance, if you opt for a desktop software, the data it contains will immediately start to go out of date. (Last year, The Crimea belonged to Ukraine, now it is part of Russia). To get up to date geographic data, you may have to purchase a new version of the software. Also, consider how many people will need access to the mapping software. You may get a better deal by purchasing online mapping software, where prices reduce, per user, according to the number of users per license. Something else to be aware of is add-on costs. Many mapping software companies charge extra to supply additional boundary datasets ( i.e., geographic regions like counties, zip codes, etc) outside of the basic software package.
4.What levels of support do you require?
Most of us would be able to quickly work out how to plot Excel spreadsheet data on a map, using any reasonable software program. It’s when you go beyond the basics (and you may not need to, ever) that things get a little bit trickier. A good tip is to trial or sample software, before purchase, and try to do something not immediately obvious (or even possible) – go looking for help on how to do that. What’s the result? Are there supporting materials (help pages, videos, etc), or people, available who can help you out when you run up against a brick wall? Is it clear that you can or cannot do something?
5.How much functionality does the software have?
There is a lot of mapping software that is easy-to-use and great at doing basic pin/point maps. That may suit your needs, at least initially. However, you may want to think about what you will need in the future – will you require more functionality once you’ve mastered the basics? Would you need to analyze data using proximity maps (e.g. radius maps) or heat maps, for instance? Do you require routing? The last thing you want to do is purchase a simple, but cheap, mapping program, only to discover that it is so limited in functionality that you have to buy another program – with better functionality – a short time later.