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Archive for April 22nd, 2014

ArcGIS Online DeMystified

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014


We’ve been working with ArcGIS Online since its inception; indeed this is where the majority of our work is now centred. We recently gauged the sentiment of users with a short Q&A. The responses were excellent. After collating and digesting the feedback, we thought it worth sharing some of our thoughts and reflections. And to clear up some misconceptions.

The list below is organised by theme based on the responses.

ArcGIS Online DeMystified

1) Useage

Getting our heads wrapped around what ArcGIS Online offered was initially a challenge. Much of that was changing our mindset. We spent time learning how to set up our account, understanding users and groups, web maps versus hosted services. Now we have moved past that initial learning curve, we have found working with ArcGIS Online pleasurably easy. Our ArcGIS server folk suggest too easy and have voiced their concerns over their usefulness (they remain essential).

Esri are still working out kinks, but overall we have liked how user friendly we have found ArcGIS Online.

2) Templates

Over the years Esri have released many free apps which support/add value to their server based solutions. We still remember well the ArcIMS Javascript template. Many still use the Flex viewer for ArcGIS. We’ve been surprised by how many configurable, free apps Esri have launched over the last year (I think over 40 have been released by the local govt team alone). They are not all perfect, but have made it much easier to stand up a focused app quickly. Most are configurable, so a tweek here and there will alter functionality look and feel. Many, but not all, are ArcGIS Online focused.

One respondent mentioned not liking the map viewer. We use that largely for admin purposes; publishing, styling etc. Customized templates is what we provide to our users.

Its true in some case you’ll need somebody who can code to step in. But often we have found if you have accessible data, it’s quick and easy to configure one of these templates. Having more autonomy, without the need for development expertise, we see as a big deal.

3) Credits

We found the credit model confusing when ArcGIS Online was launched. Thanks to feedback Esri have simplified. It remains a pay as you go model. Certain tasks and service will consume credits: map tiling, GeoEnrichment etc. Overall we have found we have used very few credits in our day to day map publishing and use (and we are heavy users, yet in 2013 we only used around 150 credits).

The credit model has taken us a while to understand. Its different to how we used to work; with an ArcGIS server license. But we seem to be able to do much with little credit use-age, which we like.

4) Pricing model

It was interesting to read that a number of respondents saw ArcGIS Online as expensive. A couple of people mentioned free and freeware. Ultimately ArcGIS Online is a subscription based model, which has a built in pay as you go element (credits). A developer account is free and provides more limited functionality. Base subscription pricing starts in the low $2k. From a subscription account, maps can be published as public or private. The base price of a subscription is tied to private or named user accounts.

We have viewed pricing as low versus the need to buy a server license. True the more you do and more private users you want, the more you will pay. But what you get for relatively little money down – that is relative to what we used to get – is considerable.

5) Functionality

At its core we use ArcGIS Online for publishing and sharing maps. We often mash up ArcGIS server layers, with other data sources. This was something we once had to do inside an application using code and configuration files. Users are now empowered to style and publish maps easily and quickly. Back-end processing still applies, and new custom functionality can be added to Web and mobile apps through application development (clever GIS developers still have gainful employment).

One other thing worth mentioning is that folks can publish their data in whichever projection they choose. You are not stuck with Web Mercator.

6) Integration

Stepping back one thing we see is now the ability to integrate each of the GIS pieces (we call it the GIS revolution in our blog). The emergence of mobile and cloud technology have helped drive this change. Esri’s place in this universe is their ArcGIS platform; ArcGIS Online is one piece of this bigger whole. In many ways it serves as the glue (Esri may not like me calling it that but I’m gonna stick with it). Rather than abandon other pieces, in favour of ArcGIS Online (and it may look that way), Esri are firing on many complementary fronts and pulling all together under the platform.

A long post. I’ve tried to avoid a sermon/bias, and give our thoughts on not just the path we think we see Esri following, but demystify some misconceptions. We also tried to give a little wider perspective. We live in a rapidly changing world. Location and location technology are no longer a niche. We see releases like ArcGIS Online as enabling technologies. Never before could we provide complimentary location-centric (GIS) solutions to field staff, executives, analysts, and non-GIS folk.

These are exciting times.


Teledyne Optech

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