Microsoft Excel Power Map Gains Custom Regions

Sometimes zip codes aren't enough. Users can now map data to custom areas, opening up new ways of visualizing geospatial information with Excel.

Power Map for Excel

Microsoft has added bring-your-own-region support to Power Map for Excel as part of the May 2015 update for Office 365. Power Map, formerly GeoFlow, enables users of the popular spreadsheet application to visually overlay data over 2D and 3D maps provided by Bing Maps.

Custom Regions "allows data to be mapped to the regions that matter most to you, even if they are not the traditional zip code, county, state or country regions," Igor Peev and Daniel Witriol, Microsoft Power Map program managers, wrote in a company blog posting. Effectively, the feature allows users to translate their data into map-based visualizations that may not fit into the borders of predefined areas.

"Custom regions are useful for scenarios involving sales districts, school districts, congressional districts, land lot development, crop rotation, geological analysis, and anything else using custom-defined polygons," Peev and Witriol wrote.

The feature relies on custom polygons from imported Keyhole Markup Language (KML) or Shapefile (SHP) files, both of which can be used to define geographical areas. The latter must adhere to the WGS 84 standard coordinate system projection for Custom Regions to work, they wrote. "Once imported, you can use custom regions in the same manner as you would use standard regions such as zip codes."

After importing the data, Power Map allows users to apply a friendly name to custom regions. "This is helpful when working with more than one set of custom regions. In the case of SHP files, there is also a drop-down allowing you to specify which field in the SHP file contains the names of your region," they noted.

The Power Map update also includes new customization options that help users emphasize important information.

"You can now customize the formatting of your legends. Simply right-click the legend and choose Edit," instructed Peev and Witriol. "You can also customize the background color of text boxes, date/time boxes, legends, and annotations to create emphasis or have it blend in."

Microsoft also made it easier for users to label and fine-tune the display of their Power Map data. The company has done away with "the extra green bar chrome you saw when you hovered over text boxes, date/time boxes, legends, and 2-D charts," they reported. "Now it's easier to line these boxes up or position them in corners. Click anywhere on the box to drag it around and then double-click or right-click to edit, or right-click to remove."

Organizations are increasingly turning to the insights provided by geospatially enabled technology solutions to help solve problems, improve business outcomes and overcome the challenges of serving a global marketplace.

Geographic information system (GIS) solutions, like those from smart mapping specialist solutions provider Esri, are enabling companies like Starbucks to grow in targeted and sustainable ways. GIS mapping is also helping to halt the spread of Ebola, create efficient transportation infrastructures and help drive STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...