Traditional wisdom holds that you identify certain meaningful data that you want to represent geospatially on a map, and then find a map to pin it to. The map is a constant; the data is not.

Marc Prioleau, head of strategy and business development for Mapbox, an open source mapping platform, sees the process differently. “Mapping should be a dynamic exercise that stylizes itself to the type of data that you are trying to represent, and not the other way around,” he says.

Let’s say, for instance, that you are working in logistics or harbor management and you want analytics on ship traffic. Prioleau says you still want to geospatially represent the shipping information on a map, but the usual data that people think of, like streets, is not relevant here. That data should be suppressed in this scenario.

“You want to see ships, how the ships are moving around or the depths of water at certain points in the harbor. All of this data that you want to see affects how you are going to construct your map because the map, to tell an effective story, should fit the data that will be superimposed on it,” Prioleau explains.

In another example, a truck routing application wants an interactive and dynamic mapping function that operates in near real time and can give a driver making a pickup instantaneous awareness of other potential pickup targets nearby. As the driver moves from point to point, the map is continuously refreshed, which enables the driver to see new pickup points. “Maps today must be responsive and interactive,” Prioleau says. “And increasingly, companies and third-party commercial providers are styling maps so they can be built around the data, and not vice versa.”

Real-time or near-real-time data capability that can be incorporated in these “living” maps makes them fluid and current. This near-real-time capability is value-added in industries like real estate, building and construction, forensics, forestry, agriculture, surveying, mining, and for businesses that use drones.

“In cases where drones are used, the drones collect and transmit real-time imagery and geospatial information,” Prioleau says. “Because we use a cloud-based platform for the collection and the rendering of this data, the data can be immediately captured and moved into a tool chain that renders it and places it into a map.”

The mapping technology can be revolutionary for surveyors, construction and mining site supervisors, precision agriculture practitioners, traffic managers, and others who can benefit from interactive, near-real-time data — and maps that are stylized around this data to bring out the best in the data.

“We see some of this interactive map capability in applications like Snapchat,” Prioleau says. “In that case, you can look at a map, see where your friends are — or you can see where there is a great deal of Snapchat activity, zoom in and get videos.”

This can benefit firms that use maps to both sell and execute projects.

First, you place yourself in a more advantageous position to win a project bid if you have an interactive map that is built around the data you are presenting, and that can help you sell your projects.

Second, an interactive and constantly fluid map that keeps updating itself gives your work crews am important edge in getting their field work done right the first time, without having to stop in at the office to cross-check data.

“We use an openGL graphics platform that enables us to send data to many types of devices, whether they are stationary workstations in an office or mobile devices in the field,” Prioleau says. “From there, the user has the capability to surface the data in his/her browser on a map in the way that he or she wants it to appear.”

There are learning curves that companies have to master to get onboard with this technology, but the payoff is in saving time and effort because you can now sidestep older methods of having to go to a server in the office, then get data rendered so you can get it in usable form, and only then superimpose it on a fixed map.

Best of all, you can build your map around the story you want your data to tell. Form can now fit function, instead of the other way around.