No matter how virtualized our businesses become it is hard to avoid dealing with the real world. For one reason or another someone - your customers, suppliers, or just the postman (er, sorry, postperson) - will need to know where you are physically located. And you may well need to know where they are for deliveries or collections.While there are many Geographical Information Systems (GIS) that you can implement in-house the fact is that if these products have any serious power they are guaranteed to be complicated and expensive. And that won't be just expensive to buy; it will also be expensive to run, as you'll probably have to assign an employee to the task.And let me make this even less appealing: If you need to deploy your mapping data to your Web application you could well find that the cost has just gone through the roof.A service I was recently briefed on and was very impressed by is Microsoft's MapPoint Web service (see links below). This product has the appeal that as a Web service it is fairly easy to integrate with and is also reasonably priced.MapPoint Web service offers nine GIS features:\u00a01. The ability to find addresses in 24 countries in North and South America and Europe based on street name combined with any mixture of city, state, postal code, or intersecting street name. The results are returned confidence scores and the service offers "disambiguation technology" to automatically handle common misspellings or nonstandard formats. (Note: I don't think "disambiguation" is a real word but it has a certain geek chic.)2.\u00a0MapPoint can find non-addressable places by searching for cities, postal codes, states, counties, rivers, lakes, airports, landmarks and other structures by name.\u00a03.\u00a0Geographic entities that are associated with a particular coordinate, such as county or designated marketing area can be used, for example, to determine which state or county tax applies to a sales transaction when the customer hasn't entered the tax information.4.\u00a0Address fields can be parsed from a single string making it easy to "clean up" user data entry.5.\u00a0Points of interest retrieved by proximity to a selected point, for example, "Find all ATMs around a hotel." Points of interest along a specified route can also be identified. The MapPoint Web Service "includes a database of more than 15 million listings, and customers can upload their own custom datasets as well."6.\u00a0Customers can geocode and store their own location database with up to 300 searchable attributes (including graphical logos and icons) for each record for use with MapPoint Web Service applications. Customers can include for example types of services and hours of operation that can be used as part of customer searches.7. MapPoint can generate optimized driving directions for any mixture of up to 50 places and addresses and the route can be displayed on a map with step-by-step instructions with an associated map for each step. Microsoft claims "more than 5.5 million miles of roads in the United States and 4.6 million kilometers of roads in Europe."8.\u00a0Twenty nine\u00a0map styles optimized for a wide variety of devices and applications are available.9.\u00a0The Points of Interest database consists of more than 200,000 destinations in North America and Europe, including airports, parks and common landmarks and more than 15 million business listings in the U.S., covering categories such as restaurants, banks, gas stations and hotels.In short, underlying this service is a huge database that most organizations couldn't afford to build and deploy in-house.Access to the MapPoint Web service is via Simple Object Access Protocol and XML but, of course, the software developer kit requires the .Net framework, which makes using the service an implicit commitment to the Microsoft way of doing things.Microsoft also offers the MapPoint Location Server, which provides a real-time location service also via SOAP and XML.Pricing for the MapPoint Web Service is based on two licensing models:1.\u00a0Per transaction (for anonymous users such as a Web based locator solution).2.\u00a0Per user (for known users such as customer call center application).Microsoft notes that "For both licensing models, pricing consists of three elements: platform access, usage (per user and\/or per transaction), and product support. Actual prices are dependent on volume and length of commitment." Expect to pay in the region of $15,000 per year for 1 million transactions.MapPoint Location Server "requires two different agreements: One agreement with Microsoft for MapPoint Web Service and one agreement with Bell Mobility for the location information." Pricing on application.