A new way to draw your own maps

Five years ago I wrote about using Google Fusion Tables to create your own maps. Unfortunately, Fusion Tables will be “turned down” (isn’t that a pleasant euphemism for something that’s going to simply stop working?) on December 3 of this year.

But there’s another option

Fortunately, there is still a relatively easy way to create a map of locations for those of us who aren’t skilled Geographic Information System (GIS) users.

Google offers My Maps, which works much like Fusion Tables by letting you import a list of addresses and populating pins on a Google Map for each address. Follow along to see how easy it is to create a map…

Let’s create a map

Start by creating a CSV (comma-separated values) file or an Excel spreadsheet (it must be an .XLSX file) with the data to be imported and mapped.

In a real-world scenario, you might want to map meter reading routes or all the accounts on the cut-off list. For this example, I didn’t want to compromise a customer’s actual data, so I chose data that is readily available on the internet. I bank with Bank of America and know they have a list of banking locations on their website. I harvested the location data from the bank’s website, and using some of the data manipulation tools I wrote about recently, I converted the data into a pipe-delimited text file:

I then opened this file in Excel and added column headings, which are required by My Maps:

Your file can have the full address in one column (as this file does), or it can have separate columns for Address, City, State, and ZIP Code.

In order to show an address error for illustration purposes, I changed the address for Lynnwood Collection to a PO Box.

Now we’re ready to import the file and create your map. Start by going to Google My Maps – https://www.google.com/mymaps.

Click on CREATE A NEW MAP.

Click on Import.

Drag your Excel spreadsheet or CSV file to the window or click on “Select a file from your device” to import your file with addresses to be mapped:

Click the column (or columns) containing the address. This is what My Maps will use to locate the placemarks on the map:

Choose a column to identify the title of the markers on the map. In a real-world scenario, this might be the service address or name of the account. For my illustration, this is the bank branch name.

Now, click Finish and My Maps will create your map.

Once the file is imported and the map created, if you have any bad addresses (for example, PO Boxes) that can’t be mapped, this message will be displayed:

Click on “Open data table” to correct the addresses. A grid similar to this will be displayed:

The addresses with errors will be listed at the top of the data table. You can correct the error right in the data table, without having to fix your original input file and begin the process all over again.

By default, My Maps will draw the map with all the markers having the same color:

However, you might want to see different color pins on the map for different addresses. For example, different colors based on the services provided, or to distinguish between manual and radio read meters on a meter reading route. In my example, I want to be able to visually see the difference between full-service banks and ATM-only locations.

To do this, click on the Uniform style hyperlink:

From the window that pops up, change Uniform style to the field in your data you want to use to determine the color of the marker. In my sample data, this is the Type field:

Google will randomly assign the colors of the map pins, based on the criteria you specified. If you want to change the colors, click on one of them, then click on the paint bucket icon at the bottom of the window and select your desired color.

I chose purple for full-service banking centers, blue for ATM-only locations, and green for Bank of America Advanced Center, whatever that is!

Congratulations, you’ve created your map!

Now, if you want to share your map with others, you can do so by clicking the share button for your map:

Then select the method you want to use to share the map:

Questions about creating your map?

If you have questions about creating your map, please give me a call at 919-673-4050, or email me at gsanders@edmundsgovtech.com and I’ll be glad to try to assist you.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2019 Gary Sanders

Listservs and other resources

I’ve written in the past about resources I use to stay abreast of trends in the industry and to share my knowledge. I apologize in advance to those readers who aren’t based in North Carolina, because this issue is somewhat North Carolina-centric. North Carolina is where I live and has historically been where most of Logics’ customers are, so it’s the state I’m most familiar with. However, please don’t stop reading if you aren’t from North Carolina, because I’ve got a favor to ask of you later on.

Listservs I follow

If you’re not familiar with a listserv, once you’ve subscribed, you can ask a question of everyone on the listserv by sending an email to the listserv email address. Likewise, questions asked by others end up in your inbox and you can reply so everyone in the listserv sees your response.

Below is a list of the listservs I follow, in order of the most utility billing-related content:

  • NC Water listserv – topics dealing with water utilities, often related to utility billing and customer service.
  • NC Finance Connect – topics related to local government finance, occasionally includes utility billing and customer service.
  • NC City and County Manager’s listserv – topics of interest to city and county managers, rarely includes utility billing and customer service.
  • Virginia GFOA listserv – listserv for government finance professionals in Virginia, but with infrequent utility billing and customer service questions.

Why join a listserv?

I follow these listservs for two reasons. First, to lend my expertise when a question is asked for which I can provide an answer. Secondly, listserv questions are often a good source of ideas for newsletter topics. If someone has a question prompting them to ask how other utilities deal with that issue, it is often something I can elaborate on in a newsletter.

Rates dashboards

Another great resource is rates dashboards from the Environmental Finance Center at the UNC School of Government. The EFC has a series of rates dashboards for 18 states and Canada. To see if they have one for your state, you can check here, or below is a hyperlinked list of states, current as of the date of this newsletter:

You can use these rates dashboards to compare your utility’s rates to other utilities in your area, much like the Utility Fee Survey allows you to compare fees with other utilities.

“The book”

Speaking of resources and the UNC School of Government, Kara Millonzi, an attorney and professor at the School of Government, has written a book entitled Guide to Billing and Collecting Public Enterprise Utility Fees for Water, Wastewater, and Solid Waste Services. Written for utilities in North Carolina, this book answers many questions about what utilities legally can and cannot due. It cites the appropriate General Statute and case law, where applicable, to answer legal questions regarding billing and collecting for utilities in North Carolina.

If you work in utility billing in North Carolina and you don’t recognize this book cover,

do yourself a favor and click on it and order it now!

What resources do you use?

Are there similar resources you use when you need to find the answers to your utility billing questions? I would love to know what resources you use, especially if you are located outside of North Carolina. If there are listservs in your state, please feel free so share them by dropping me an email at gsanders@edmundsgovtech.com. Or, better yet, share them as a comment below so other readers can learn what resources you rely on.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2019 Gary Sanders