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Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Matt holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients solving problems with GIS for over 17 years. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to put innovative, intuitive GIS driven applications into the hands of new and existing users.

Collaborative GIS – Mobile and The Cloud

May 28th, 2013 by Matt Sheehan

Cloud GIS

The world of technology is in a constant state of flux. New terms and acronyms are thrown at us continually; portals, dashboards, cloud computing, HTML5, Rich Internet applications, SAAS. On and on. True advances or simply new fashions are what we often have to ask.
It’s hard to avoid reference to the new phenomena that is cloud computing (an odd term I’ve often thought). What is it? Put simply it takes the need for the purchase and maintenance of expensive computing environments; servers and software, out of the hands of organizations and into third party providers. So for a monthly fee organizations can stay focused on their core business and reduce the demands on the internal IT department. Software as a service or SAAS has become the common acronym. Cloud computing allows new software services to be provided by vendors, and updated on an ongoing basis.

In the GIS world, it is now possible to have own your own instance of ArcGIS Server (given a license) or GeoServer hosted in the cloud. Updates, maintenance, tuning, load bearing, are all others concerns. ArcGIS Online (AGOL) is a new cloud service provided by Esri. AGOL is ArcGIS Server, but friendlier and easier to access and use. Data publishing no longer requires an ArcGIS expert. Esri are rolling out new additions to AGOL continually. No longer are updates a part of the ‘next published release’, as was the case with ArcGIS Server.

Collaborative GIS – Desktop, Mobile and Executive Dashboards

We are in the verge of moving into a brave new GIS world. Historically office and field workers have lacked the ability to collaborate. Desktop GIS has been the bastion of GIS analysts, while managers have lacked a cohesive set of tools which allowed them to view their organizational data and make informed decisions based on real time information. That is all slowly beginning to change. Field workers are discarding their paper and pens and using GIS and mapping apps on their iPads and Android devices. They now have the ability, by connecting to the cloud, to add field data in real time to centralized systems like ArcGIS Online. Those using GIS desktop products in the office, can connect to these same cloud based services and interact with this data. Now they are able to do their analyses against these real time data feeds. Finally, executives are being provided with Web based management tools such as executive dashboards which allow this data to be viewed, searched and queried in many different ways. Cost reduction and improved efficiency is the net result of the adoption of this new approach.

Mobile GIS

As a mobile enabled mobile development company one of our key areas of focus is mobile GIS. It’s the new kid on the block. Done well, mobile GIS development is both challenging and time consuming. But the resulting mobile GIS apps can be huge cost savers. Let’s look for example at offline editing. We took the bull by the horns around 8 months ago and started investigating how we can provide GIS apps which allow offline and online editing. Esri and others have been promising solutions, but offline is a tough nut to crack, particularly across multiple environments. We narrowed our focus to iPads and Android tablets. After a tonne of developments time, we have built a successful solution. More a custom application, rather than generic product. It has proven a very successful first step for a number of our clients; into the world of mobile GIS. Now field data is collected digitally, and stored centrally. This has resulted in dramatic improvements in efficiency and data accuracy. It has also enabled easier collaboration between field workers and office based staff.

Desktop GIS

GIS analysts using tools such as Esri’s ArcMap once worked in isolation. They were part of the IT or GIS departments. Their work once applied to, and impacted only a small part of an organization. Yet with 80% of organizational data containing geo-data, they have a wider role to play. Increasingly analysis of key business data will be done by GIS analysts, and shared across organizations.


Maps are pictures of data. Our brains are wired to understand images rather than words. Imagine a color coded map showing election results by district. Patterns are easy to discern, digging deeper maybe by clicking on a district allows for deeper querying and understanding. Providing data presented as images to executives – maps, pie charts, graphs – in place of spreadsheets, helps to improve the speed and accuracy of business decisions; particularly if this data is near real time, maybe from field data collection.

Changing Times

There is little doubt we are living in rapidly changing times. In some ways it feels like 1996, with the early adoption of the Internet. The cloud and ubiquitous mobile devices, are transforming how we live and work. Given the importance of data with a location, GIS is beginning to come out of the shadows. Now we as a company are developing applications for a far wider audience. We are also building complementary applications for mobile and PC Web, which allow for collaboration and different views of the same data for different audiences.

What are your thoughts? Let me know at

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Categories: ArcGIS Online, cloud GIS, Mobile GIS

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