Whether it’s a stand-alone unit or built into a smartphone, GPS navigation can be a reliable tool to help get from point A to point B without getting lost. For a mobile businessperson, a GPS unit could mean the difference between getting to an important meeting on time or sauntering in 30 minutes late and blowing the deal before you shake hands.

Many of us already know the advantage GPS technology brings: voice and visual turn-by-turn instructions, built-in maps for all of North America, and the ability to immediately get you back on track towards your destination in case you veer off-course.

But what you might not appreciate are the millions of “points of interest” (POIs) (pronounced “poys,” which rhymes with “boys”), which includes access to surrounding establishments such as restaurants, hotels, bank machines, gas stations, and the like. Every GPS offers these POIs, regardless of the manufacturer and model.

Not just for consumers

POIs can help a mobile worker find relevant locations with the push of a button. “GPS points of interest have long allowed drivers to more easily navigate to their favorite restaurants or shopping outlets, but now POIs are becoming increasingly valuable for business use,” says Tom Murray, vice president of market development for TomTom, the maker of GPS navigation systems.

Say, for example, the client you’re entertaining says she has a hankering for Thai food for your lunch meeting. Many GPS units not only show nearby eateries but they’re often broken down into nationality or food type (such as vegetarian).

Carly Baltes, spokesperson for Garmin International, another GPS manufacturer, says POIs can help cut travel time and save your business money. “Our devices come preloaded with more than six million points of interest, so whether a user is looking for the closest gas station, a new restaurant downtown or an airport in another city, our hefty POI database... helps drivers reach their destination effortlessly,” she says.

Nathan Dyer, senior analyst for enterprise mobility at the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group, says POIs can also help provide a level of familiarity and comfort for the traveler. “The business traveler might feel isolated from the new city they’re in world, but smartphones and GPS devices can help limit that feeling,” says Dyer. “Location-based services can help you plan itineraries, get from one meeting to another, find your favorite coffee shop or look up the address of an old friend -- basically making you feel connected to the world while in a new environment.”

Advanced features

GPS unit manufacturers are taking POIs one step further by letting you customize and share relevant points of interest.

“TomTom’s proprietary Map Share feature empowers drivers to create their own customized POIs dedicated to everything from a business partner’s headquarters to the site of an upcoming industry tradeshow,” explains Murray. “In fact, Map Share lets road warriors generate POIs and make them available to others online via TomTom Home. This ability to share customized POIs with colleagues is tremendously valuable when many workers need to reach the same destination.”

On a related note, Garmin offers something called “POI Loader.” “This free software for your computer allows users to update their compatible Garmin device with the latest restaurants, retail outlets and more, plus users can also configure proximity alerts that will provide visual and audio alerts when you’re within a certain distance of a POI,” says Baltes.

Business opportunities, too

On the flipside, POIs can also help a budding business to become “seen” by millions of GPS units.

 “So long as you proactively and dynamically maintain a relationship with POI data owners, and update your info often, you can take advantage of GPS technology to help your business,” says Carmi Levy of AR Communications, a Toronto technology marketing communications firm.

“Creating a POI for your business makes it easier to connect with people who are in your neighborhood and can take advantage of your services or products,” Levy says. “Basically, the more you can communicate with people nearby the more likely they’ll come to your store.”