When people think about an indoor map, usually a flat drawing on a piece of paper or a floor plan posted near a stairwell come to mind. However, much like outdoor maps, indoor mapping and wayfinding solutions have made significant advancements in the last few years. Now it is possible to offer building occupants and visitors digital maps and interactive directions to help them get from point A to point B.
Unlike outdoor maps which are readily available in popular apps like Waze and Google Maps, indoor maps must be created for each building. The benefit of this is that you can create a map which fits your needs, however narrow or broad these might be. To help you make the most of your indoor mapping experience, we’ve provided ten key points you should consider when choosing a mapping platform and making your design decisions.
1 - Understanding the key terminology: Indoor Mapping vs Indoor Positioning
Before you get started on creating your indoor map, it is important to understand the key terminology. A common point of confusion is on the difference between indoor mapping and indoor positioning. Indoor mapping is the process of creating a map of your space, including directions on the best routes to use to get between points of interest. Indoor positioning is what is commonly known as the blinking blue dot, which shows the map user exactly where they are in the building.
Indoor mapping is typically sufficient for most needs, as indoor spaces include a number of visual cues which the user can rely upon to figure out where they are. Indoor maps can be deployed on a number of devices and used before, during, and after a visit. Indoor positioning, instead, can be very costly to implement. It relies upon having a mesh network of devices installed to detect where each user is standing, and would require a proprietary app to use effectively.
You may find that a searchable place index and direction tool are more than enough to meet your needs, particularly if the map provider also offers a direction mode. Users can zoom in or out as needed, and follow along with step-by-step instructions on how to get where they are going, even if it requires changing floors or moving between buildings.
2 - Playing well with others: integrating with other tools and software
Indoor maps can offer additional uses beyond simply finding your way around a location. For example, they can be used with data visualization tools to facilitate faster management data analysis. They can also be integrated into typical office software tools like Teams and Outlook, and with Google Agenda (Link YouTube video calendar Synch), helping building occupants find people, rooms, and other points of interest near them.
Your indoor map can also connect with your facilities management software, asset tracking database, or even IoT devices to provide real-time data through beacons, sensors, and other similar devices.
Ideally, you should select a vendor who can offer off-the-shelf integration options with tools and third-party software you find useful. This will save you from having to take additional steps or pay extra for custom coding to do this in the future.
3 - User interface: Mobile & Responsive
Much like outdoor maps, you will want your indoor mapping solution to work on as many devices as possible, ranging from websites to intranets, laptops and tablets, kiosks and mobile phones. Choose a SaaS indoor mapping expert who offers secure access anytime and a device agnostic interface. Your map should also be responsive to screen-size, automatically adjusting to fit the constraints of a large onsite kiosk or a small mobile phone.
Depending on your deployment plan, you may want to choose a map which offers a developer toolkit so you can integrate into your company apps and customize the experience.
4 - Try before you buy
Before making the final decision of which indoor map and wayfinding software to use, check whether you can test the product. Trying the software before buying can help you understand whether the interface is indeed easy to use and will meet your needs.
When testing the mapping tool in advance, you should consider both the creation process and the end user experience. When thinking about the admin user platform, check the ease of use of the tool and if any assistance is offered, such as through tutorials and support with an FAQ. On the end-user side, you should ensure that the interface looks similar to the usual outdoor navigation applications and that it is possible to change languages.
You may want to create a test map and share it with a few others to see what they think. This can also be a good way to get buy-in from other key stakeholders.
5 - Ease of updating and enhancing
Your interactive map needs to be a living document which can be updated as often as needed. For example, you don’t want to have to recode your entire map every time you shuffle seating arrangements or a retail space changes hands. You will also want the ability to enrich your map with more information as time goes on, particularly if you plan to integrate with any third-party applications. Before picking a solution, make sure your map will be easy to update in-house. As long as someone is familiar with the software, updates should be as simple as a few clicks.
6 - Scalability: Size, Scope, and Users
Although your current needs might be limited to a specific purpose or single site, scalability should still be a key concern when choosing your indoor mapping expert. The first consideration is in terms of size. Can you add additional floors or rooms in a building or other locations, and make it easy for users to search and navigate between them? The solution you choose should support updates and enhancements as your space and utilization changes.
The second consideration is in features offered. Is the mapping expert continuing to invest in their solution, adding new features and offering new benefits to their customer base? You don’t want to find yourself left behind in a few years.
The last point for consideration when it comes to scalability is in the number of users. This is particularly important if you want your indoor map to be used by external visitors. If you deploy your map to your website, is there a limit to how many people can interact with it? Similarly with offering it on personal devices, you want your map to be accessible to everyone who needs it. Offline viewing may also be a key concern, particularly if mobile coverage is limited at your site.
7 - Level of customization of your maps
Indoor maps are by nature specific to your organization, and should naturally allow for a deep level of customization. From a top-level, you should pick a solution which allows you to brand the app with your logo and brand color palette. You should also be able to choose from a variety of points of interest types, to find something which suits your needs. If you are an office-based business, you might want to highlight meeting and break rooms, locations of printers, and directions to individual workstations. A public space like a shopping center, airport, or hospital would have a very different set of needs. For a mixed use space, you might need some of both.
You might want to have temporary maps for a specific event like an Open Day at a university campus, a map for the management team (indicating management-only floors or rooms) in an office building. You can also create specific maps for maintenance and security teams showing where fire equipment and emergency doors are, and more. Be sure to check all these options when choosing an interactive map provider.
8 - Profile management for your maps
A key benefit to indoor maps is the ability to create different user profiles and customize which information can be seen. For example, you might want a general visitor profile which only provides directions around common areas. For building occupants, you would need to offer more information. Security and facility teams may require a completely different level of information, including sensitive data which you might not want to share broadly.
Choose an indoor mapping expert who allows you to set user profiles and select which information is available to them for viewing. This way, you can create one master map and deploy updates in one go, yet still keep private information safe. Otherwise, you could be left with needing to create dozens of separate maps, making updating and amending a time-consuming process.
9 - Security considerations
Security considerations for indoor maps are two-fold: protection of the data used to make your map, as well as safe viewing on user devices. Choose a provider who uses strong access keys to protect your back-end information from being hacked. This is particularly critical if your map will include any sensitive security information or private data.
You will need to think about providing logins or private viewing abilities if you plan to offer different viewing access levels. You can make things easier by integrating with existing user login tools such as Single Sign On (SSO). This would let you set access levels for each individual user profile, and update them as often as needed.
10 - Customer support and ongoing map updates
Even the most user-friendly software can sometimes leave the user with questions. Regardless of how great the map design process looks, or how easy the maps are to use, you will still want to know that you can get customer support if you need it. Will your chosen indoor map provider be available to answer questions or resolve any problems which might arise? If they won’t, or if contacting them will incur significant additional costs, they might not be the right provider for you.
You should also look for a map and wayfinding expert who is continuing to update their software in line with changes to device software, device design, new security protocols, and user feedback. Your mapping expert should be keeping on top of the latest hardware, operating system, and security advances, and using them to keep their maps working perfectly over the long term.
These ten key points will help you identify the right indoor map and wayfinding expert for your business needs, and avoid the pitfalls which can lead to issues in the short and longer term. Once you have selected your indoor map provider, you are ready to begin the planning process. For more information on this next stage in the process, check out our blog post on how to make an indoor wayfinding map.