How to Bring Location Services to Your Company and Customers

Author: Todd Slind, VP, Technology
Locana can help you take advantage of Open Street data in a way that saves money while improving quality

Consumers want more maps

For over two decades, companies have built better products and services using location data in their offerings. Indeed, everything from simple navigation to fleet management, delivery, store finders, proximity marketing, social networking, and more have benefited from location-based technology. And that momentum has gathered steam in recent years, with companies like Waze, Google Maps, Lyft, Uber, and WhatsApp bringing maps as a service to the masses.

And consumer demand continues to grow. The global location-based services market increased from $70.27 billion in 2022 to $88.42 billion in 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.8%. It’s expected to increase to $226.16 billion in 2027 at a CAGR of 26.5%.

As more businesses look to join the location services ranks, the challenge becomes how to do it effectively. For many, OpenStreetMap (OSM) offers the promise of delivering the required data that enables “maps in apps.” Yet challenges around data quality, complexity, usability, and security give pause even to experienced, mature high-tech companies.

But today’s OSM overcomes these concerns with greater flexibility and capability than ever. OpenStreetMap includes data about roads, buildings, addresses, shops and businesses, points of interest, railways, trails, transit, land use, natural features, and much more. Companies can leverage OSM using the latest tools and techniques to provide the geospatial data and services consumers want. All of this while taking advantage of the active community of eight million contributors.

OpenStreetMap for the masses

For years, companies have been licensing data from retail map service providers to produce maps and location-based solutions. This often involved spending a lot of money on data that might not provide the currency and completeness needed. That’s where OSM came in, providing map data updated by a global community of millions.

Conceived in 2004, OSM consists of a digital map database of the world built through crowdsourced volunteered geographic information (VGI). The data is freely available for visualization, query, download, and modification under open licenses. It works in style similar to Wikipedia, in which virtually all features are open to editing by any member of the user community.

Today’s OSM is more complete, with more tools than ever. Thanks to years of concerted effort by its community, OSM is in many ways the best available source for specific types of map data. This includes land footprints, roads, centerlines, and areas of interest like parks and water bodies. In addition, more functionality using different analytic methods is available to interrogate the data to answer specific questions and provide valuable insights. Businesses can calculate routes in OSM for turn-by-turn direction, determine travel time, and more.

Still, some companies struggle to use the open platform, even with an increased community of contributors, better licensing agreements, and more tools and functionality. They often lack the knowledge and experience to work with location-based software, data, and services.

Maximizing OSM for business

As OSM becomes more complete, interest across multiple industries grows in how to effectively consume and use the data as part of a map service. One of the key drivers of this interest is OSM’s relatively new routing capabilities. This is valuable for a business that provides product delivery services or frequently moves assets from one place to another.

Think about recent supply chain issues. Market pressures and workforce continuity affect the cost and flow of goods, services, and raw materials. At the same time, customer and business partner expectations of supply chain traceability and predictability have continued to increase. The data and tools in OSM enable managers to proactively adjust to real-time market conditions and disruptions through supply chain visualization of fixed and mobile assets and transportation hubs. This location intelligence provides supply chain transparency for risk mitigation, optimal service delivery, compliance, and long-term sustainable development.

As OSM has evolved, proprietary software companies like Esri have embraced their data and actively built tools to help people bring OSM into their software to make maps and update OSM data. Esri is proactive in the OSM ecosystem to help remove barriers to use OSM data in mainstream GIS software.

Locana has successfully worked with companies of all sizes to employ Esri software and open technology using OSM data. Decades of client services have enabled Locana to take advantage of this open resource, along with other proprietary data sources.

These projects have often included large-scale data sets that require downloading a subset of OSM data from the appropriate region or country. To assure accuracy, Locana runs OSM data through a series of quality checks to identify if any issues exist. Examples could include missing links, a miscoding of names or tags, or any other topological errors. This could consist of lines that don’t connect or one-way streets that are mischaracterized and run into each other instead of creating a continuous one-way route.

Locana’s programmatic approach includes using custom software code that detects and flags problems that require repair. When editing requires human intervention, tools like Map Roulette or Tasking Manager are used. Edits are performed and submitted to the OSM database to reflect data fixes.

More maps for many uses

Many public and private organizations now use OSM. Until recently, delivering map services to businesses has been costly and required aggregating data from different sources. OSM helps overcome that challenge with more comprehensive, timely, accurate, and up-to-date data at a lower price. The result is more maps and location data to provide information products that support a broader range of workflow requirements.

Government — Government agencies can use OSM and add their own data sets to provide various applications and map products for the public. Crowdsourced data can be combined with OSM base maps for a variety of scenarios, such as closed roads due to maintenance, locations of various government services, zoning, new construction developments, and much more.

Commercial business — Commercial businesses can meet the demands of consumers for map services that make apps and other digital products more intuitive and elegant in design. You can bring location-based products for everything from retail to real estate, insurance, high tech, telecommunications, and more. You can reimagine business models, launch captivating digital experiences, and use location analytics to determine your new business location, customer locations, and competitor markets.

Non-profit — Deploy data-driven stories that illustrate how the organization is meeting its mission. You can use OSM to help build location services that improve funding, stakeholder engagement, and regulatory compliance. And you can create data-rich maps to maximize resources, enhance communication, and promote transparency. You can integrate spreadsheets and other non-spatial data with OSM global datasets to provide better context and visualization of your data assets.

Climate change — Perform climate risk analytics, modeling, and reporting that is intuitive and easy for people and stakeholders to understand. You can determine where to invest and allocate resources, track climate change goals, and monitor progress. You can also leverage OSM maps by performing analysis to influence policy, advocate for behavioral change, and communicate new regulations to the public.

How to begin

For those interested in OSM for business purposes, you need to take the proper initial steps and ask the right questions. Here are five recommended questions you can use to begin your OSM journey.

1. Figure out what’s there and what you want — Maybe you’re developing a consumer app that requires US-based road networks. Or perhaps you’re creating an online service for finding the nearest park. Whatever your use case, determine the questions you want to answer and the data needed to meet your objectives. Maybe it’s building blueprints, road centerlines, or other location data. Perhaps it’s only for the US, Western Europe, Asia, and beyond. Figuring out the geography, the data you need, and what’s available in OSM will ensure you’re headed in the right direction.

2. Understand how OSM is put together — In technical terms, you’ll want to explore the OSM data model and schema to understand how the data is organized within the relational database. You’ll want to examine any logical constraints, such as table names, fields, data types, and their relationships. Schemas commonly use visual representations to communicate the architecture of the database, becoming the foundation for an organization’s data management discipline. Becoming familiar with this data schema will enable you to save time and better understand how to design your application.

3. Determine if what you want is fit-for-purpose — Once you identify what you want your application to do, review the data sets and data models within OSM to determine if the data matches your application’s needs. This allows you to identify where gaps exist or if there are quality issues. This will enable you to determine if the base maps within OSM are adequate or if you need to do some data fine-tuning.

4. Develop the proper data governance — Perhaps most important, you’ll need to build data currency and maintenance requirements, as well as procedures to ensure it meets the requirements of your application. The advantage of OSM is the updates and additions provided and refined from an active community.

5. Get a legal opinion — OSM is a global dataset used by millions today. But when it comes to using external data, you should also get your legal team (even if it’s a team of one) involved. This ensures no unforeseen restrictions and confirms when you use the data correctly.

If you are unsure about any of these questions, the good news today is there is enough adoption and use of OSM that you have resources available in the market to help you and your particular use case.

Organizations like Locana have worked with customers worldwide to help them in their OSM journey. We have deep experience and technical expertise working with the data to understand:

  • How OSM can be programmatically manipulated
  • How OSM can be programmatically improved
  • How OSM can be adapted to your specific requirements


Interested in learning more? Contact us or visit our services page.

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