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5 Reasons Your App Needs a (Good) Map

With location services becoming ubiquitous in apps today, businesses that take a geographic approach to developing their technology can gain an edge.

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There may have been an era when close enough was good enough for finding one's way. But today, we need to know exactly where we are or where we need to be relative to most everything else. Customers and businesses demand it.

That urgency will only grow. A geographic approach that integrates accurate locations can assist with everything from knowing what local traffic conditions are to seeing where the next global crisis is brewing. Here we look at five innovative ways organizations can add maps to their apps.

Related: 4 Ways Smart Maps Can Help Your Business Keep Its Social Promises

1. Seeing where risks are growing

If you were constantly observing 6.8 million unique sources of location-based information about world events, you might have seen the pandemic coming, too. Keeping one's eye on outside incidents, especially a global disease outbreak, may offer just enough time to pivot to stay in business.

One company's intelligence-driven technology platform, for example, offers assessments for businesses and organizations, showing risks on a map layered with data on trending problems by region — including disease outbreaks, terrorism activity and logistics logjams. Leaders use this geographic insight to better prepare staffing levels and evacuation plans based on where risks are, or reroute goods and services to safer paths.

2. Creating highways in the sky for drones

Rerouting goods may one day mean taking them airborne in pilotless drones. While we may not have autonomous air taxis yet, forward-looking entrepreneurs are already putting the pieces in place for more automated airspace activity and helping regulate our current world of piloted drones. By referencing detailed municipal maps from a geographic information system (GIS), one company is even helping guide low-flying vehicles so that they're protected from each other and don't pose a risk to the city below, similarly to how traditional air traffic controllers maintain the air space for commercial aircraft.

A map-based aerial management system is also being tested in car-heavy Detroit. For drones to be trusted at scale, operators need to know exactly where the drones are in relation to the world around them. And the public needs to be assured that drones are getting the best information. It is not unlike drivers on the ground navigating routes and roads to get where they need to go and reacting to hazards along the way.

Related: The Geolocation Revolution

3. Keeping one's head above water

Climate change threats are inspiring more companies to develop solutions. For residents of coastal cities, hazards have included high tides regularly flooding roads. Elected leaders and entrepreneurs are taking a proactive approach to making coastlines more resilient to sea level rise by using sensors to monitor water levels in real time. Sensor data and satellite imagery come together on a map, with machine learning models trained to study the behaviors of rising water. The technology can be packaged into an app that informs residents of flooded streets so that they can steer clear, fortify their homes or seek higher ground.

In the past, predicting where flooding may occur often relied on modeling water's gravity-pulled path based on physics — yet rising waters have still caught people unaware and ill prepared. This latest app-based approach aims to warn people about rising water as it's happening. A precise "where" is essential to a service of this kind.

4. Knowing where the power is out

Prompt customer service goes a long way for maintaining loyalty in most cases, and in the case of large-scale power outages, it involves giving customers a real-time picture of where an outage extends. This includes zooming down to the neighborhood level and determining what may have been the factors causing the outage. One company, for example, monitors the last mile of the U.S. power grid, using hundreds of thousands of sensors to make assessments every five minutes for real-time situational awareness.

Knowing precisely where power is and isn't available, especially in a disaster-response scenario, can be key to sustaining vulnerable populations and facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes. Seeing the information on a map helps prioritize actions and inform high-stakes decisions.

Related: 3 Ways to Use Geolocation to Increase Revenue

5. Navigating while keeping track of everyone's location

Not all situations come with the highest of stakes, but that doesn't lessen the need for location accuracy in an app. One need only get separated from friends in a crowded or remote area to realize the relief that location-aware apps can bring. Travelers at nearly 20 ski resorts across the U.S. and Canada this past season were able to keep track of their fellow skiers and snowboarders with a detailed 2D and 3D view of the slopes and icons showing where a group's members were in real time. No exchanging frantic "where are you?" texts, no coordinating a meeting place, no wondering where everyone is or fearing they've inadvertently ended up on a black diamond hill as a beginner. It says it right there, on the map.

Customers have come to expect live location information, and they want to know they can trust that it's reliable and accurate. Precise mapping technology working behind the scenes in an app can mean many things: escaping a flood versus being caught unawares; knowing why and where the power is out versus simply waiting for the lights to flicker back on; keeping track of family or friends; and seeing risks with time to prepare. The map can make the difference between app users getting lost — losing time, money or the whereabouts of their friends and family — and getting what they need.

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