RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • OpenStreetMap started in 2004 as a free and editable map of the globe created by a large and growing community of mappers.
  • As the geospatial industry rapidly evolves to power diverse organizations, the use of open data, particularly OpenStreetMap, is growing fast.
  • Making the most of this increasingly powerful and evolving asset requires careful and informed navigation.
  • For organizations that are new to OSM, we have recommended 10 best practices to help navigate the platform.


From mobility and logistics to social networks, telecoms, humanitarian efforts and hospitality, geospatial platforms are being used by a diverse range of organizations and products.

Those platforms increasingly rely on the wealth of data that sources like OpenStreetMap (OSM) provide. Founded in 2004, OSM is a free, editable world map comprised of a large and growing community of mappers that continuously update and refine the map’s contents, including data about roads, buildings, addresses, businesses, points of interest, railways, trails, transit, land use and natural features.

With its open approach, any user can download OSM data directly and create their own map to suit their needs. OSM members span a wide range, from hobbyists to corporate mapping teams, which are increasingly active. The number of registered OSM members keeps on growing, with nearly six million by 2019. And as participation in OSM increases and more people contribute to the map, the better and more useful it becomes.

Graphic depiction of OpenStreetMap membership growth from 2011-2019

Source: OSMstats

Corporate users – large and small – have significantly increased their activity and involvement in OSM over the last five years. For some it represents a key component of their hybrid geospatial platform strategies complementing commercial data and services from organizations like Google, HERE and TomTom. For others, it’s the only base mapping data they use. Critically, many are not just using OSM, they’re actively working to improve it – and that trend is accelerating.

What makes OSM so valuable to SMBs?

For many users of OSM, in certain countries, it is considered the best digital map available. When compared to commercial alternatives, OSM can offer stronger (and constantly improving) coverage of developing markets that will be crucial to serving ‘the next billion’ customers.

What’s more, access to OSM geospatial data can increase the pace of development of new applications, reduce time to market, and provide independence and control to apply the data for specific scenarios and use-cases.

OSM’s evolution

We’re seeing OSM evolve in three key ways. First, the rapidly growing global community of users and editors is extending high-quality maps to areas that have traditionally been underserved by commercial providers. That opens the way to better serving the needs of remote communities.

Second, humans and machines are working together to improve map quality and completeness. Real-world imagery and sensor data are being analyzed by machine learning and computer vision with the results verified by human editors. This human+machine combination helps to speed up and increase the accuracy of map creation.

Third, as more governments contribute to OSM the accuracy and quality of OSM data keeps on improving.

Multiple use-cases

Many different companies are taking advantage of OSM. It’s being used to create the base map for gaming hits like Pokémon Go and Minecraft Earth. Urgent responses to humanitarian crises, like the Ebola epidemic, have used OSM as a valuable piece of health infrastructure, essential for carrying out contact-tracing.

Mobility services like Uber, Lyft and Grab are all active OSM participants, using its raw geospatial data to support services like ETA and journey cost predictions. And many platform providers like Craigslist use OSM as their base-map.

Making OSM work for you

For organizations that are new to OSM or considering using OSM or other open geospatial data, we recommend the following best practices:

1

Understand how and where OSM augments a geospatial strategy.

2

Know where to license the additional geospatial data required to fill gaps.

3

Maintain transparency with the project and engage the community to help make OSM better. Be prepared to work with the community or through a third party who understands the ecosystem.

4

Take a holistic view of the costs and benefits of working with OSM. It is not a like-for-like replacement for commercial services

Getting started with OSM

Accenture’s Geospatial Platforms team has more than ten years of experience working on and with OSM, using OSM in commercial platforms at scale, OSM pipelines, editing operations and machine learning projects, and advising companies on their OSM strategies, products and operations.

Robin Murdoch

Global Industry Lead Software & Platforms


Christian Kelly

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy


Matthew Quinlan

Managing Director – Software & Platforms


Jubal Harpster

Accenture Principal Director – Software & Platforms​

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

Where we are is who we are: Why location matters
Where now? Charting a path in geospatial
Listen to our Podcast Series: On the Platform

Subscription Center
Stay in the Know with Our Newsletter Stay in the Know with Our Newsletter