Are Google Maps the new productivity tool?October 22, 2013: 11:00 AM ET
Map Engine Pro permits easy creation of maps for businesses.
By Michal Lev-Ram, writer
FORTUNE -- Google wants everyone to become a cartographer -- and pay for it. On Monday the search company launched Map Engine Pro, a new offering that enables employees to easily turn datasets into interactive, shareable maps. The latest addition to Google Apps for Business, the company's online suite of productivity tools for corporate customers, is designed to sit alongside other workplace applications like documents and spreadsheets.
The technology itself is nothing new. Google (GOOG) has long offered both a free, consumer-facing version of its mapping software and much pricier, heavy-duty mapping services for enterprises that want to plot large amounts of data (at a cost of at least $10,000 a year). Map Engine Pro sits somewhere between those two offerings, and will cost a monthly $5 per user. In effect, it's not so much a new product as a new pricing model for existing technology.
Why would employees (and their employers) want to create maps? According to Google, it can be an effective way of visualizing and analyzing data like customer addresses and employee locations -- basically anything that has a geographic element. For example, a company could plot the locations most customer service calls are coming from in an effort to better utilize their resources. Or map out geographic data of sales leads in an effort to better understand their market. The idea, according to Google, is to make its mapping software as easy and basic a tool as document creating and editing. Users can port data from multiple file formats onto a map interface, then add up to 10 "layers" of information.
"By providing better ways to easily integrate maps into your organization's operations, businesses now have the ability to use powerful mapping technologies that were once only available to the mapping experts," Brian McClendon, Google's VP of maps and earth, wrote in a blog post announcing the new product.
On the consumer end, the Internet has spawned a mapmaking renaissance of sorts (just scroll through your Facebook (FB) feed for a sampling of the latest viral -- and often, politically incorrect -- maps). So maybe cartography will also find some popularity in the workplace, though it's not clear how many companies would be willing to pay, however affordable, for mapmaking capabilities. Still, it's a smart and easy move for the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant -- arguably one of the best (if not the best) mapping companies in the world -- as it tries to compete with the likes of Microsoft (MSFT) and smaller players in the productivity software market.
For companies interested in test-driving Google's mapping capabilities, Google is now offering a free, limited, introductory account that lets users play around with their "geospatial infrastructure." At least corporate customers can play around with the features before deciding whether or not cartography is a necessary tool or just a fun distraction for employees.