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Stay focused on simple

Monday, April 28th, 2014

I like the word simple. Easy is another favourite.


We live in an increasingly complex world. Its confusing. But think about it; complexity is really only simple pieces combined. Like a car engine; a combination of parts which together form a complex system. Working within complexity demands understanding or focusing on the individual pieces which make up the whole.

GIS is complex. Lots of pieces to the pie. With cloud GIS, more pieces have just been added.

How often do you have client conversations which make your head spin? Detailed descriptions of requirements.


Fitting the solution to the problem: changing our GIS mindset

Friday, April 25th, 2014

My wife asked me to put up a shelf over the weekend. To the garage i went to find my tools; drill, screwdriver, level ….. I’m no handyman, but when presented with this problem (new shelf), I had all the pieces (tools) ready to provide a solution.

How often do we grab our tools and wander around the house looking for problems to solve?

Problems require solutions. But without a clearly defined problem, proposing solutions is wasted effort. And yet we are all guilty of throwing around (GIS) solutions without first defining the problem. (more…)

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.


Goodbye to paper maps and pdf’s, hello to cloud enabled GIS

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

You cannot beat a beautiful paper map. Cartographers are talented people. But in today’s fast paced, mobile world, paper maps used for day to day work are no longer practical.


As soon as they are printed paper maps are outdated for one. For two, they are in essence pretty pictures. Pictures which take an age to produce.


Today we all need and want more insight than a paper map can provide. Interactivity and the ability to query and search are ever more essential. In such a fast moving world we need deeper insight 24×7. We need access from anywhere, using any device (PC, tablet, smartphone). We need cloud enabled GIS! (more…)

Bridging the gap between GIS business and technical folk

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Most organization have two distinct camps; those on the technical side and those driving the deals, and planning the organizations future path. Contact and communication between each group is usually limited. Often each have their own jargon, acronyms, and reference points.

Those who can truly boast technical know-how with business acumen are a rare breed (fakers are a plenty). But make no mistake these are valuable people.

These are the folks who bridge the gap between each camp. Translators. These are the people who grasp good technical suggestions and ideas, and can translate them into successful business implementations.


Showing ROI for your GIS

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Return on investment or ROI is a slippery fish.

Think about this. My daughters 6 month old uncomfortable football boots (soccer cleats in US) ripped apart last week. $70 down the drain. No doubt a poor ROI.

My $120 Adidas boots sit gleaming in my closet. Sometimes gracing the field. But chronically underused. A poor ROI?

Here lies our little conundrum. How do we define and measure ROI? If we have an expensive resource and it under-performs, we might suggest a poor ROI (the opposite might also apply in the case of over-performing). But what if we under-use or do not fully utilize a resource? (more…)

Getting data into and out of the field

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


Field data collection has always been challenging. The options have been few: pen and paper or expensive rugged devices loaded with hard to use software. The process was always the same. Send your team out to gather data. At the end of the day pull all the data together (illegible notes, separate shapefiles, collections of digital photos). Collate. Analyse.

The pain Dr Smith!

Today this has been turned on its head. Today we have low cost mobile devices; smartphones and tablets, focused simple to use GIS mobile data collection apps and centrally available (cloud based) data repositories. Teams now collect their data, attach pictures and videos and upload directly to a single shared source or layer. Nothing could be easier. Plus this data is available across the organization in real time. (more…)

GIS today is about doing more with less

Monday, April 14th, 2014

We live in challenging times. As budgets are cut, expectations are we do more with less. We have two options; work harder or work smarter.

Guess which is our preferred approach?

Working smarter means stepping back from your role and daily tasks. Pushing away barriers, both actual and self imposed. We are surrounded by change in GIS; more than that in technology itself. If you stick with tried and trusted methods of getting your work done, you are living in the past. There are better ways. (more…)

Solving the shapefile conundrum: mobile sharing and editing

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

We get this question asked often:

“How do we load a shapefile on our smartphone or tablet, allow our team to edit said shapefile on their respective mobiles, then consolidate all edits back into a single shapefile?”

Ours is a three word answer:

“Use the cloud”

If there is any discussion which best illustrates the power of cloud computing it is this one. Today systems like ArcGIS Online and GISCloud make it easy to publish your shapefiles to a single accessible layer. Now your team can load this single source on their mobile device, make their edits, sync and they are done. Nothing could be easier. (more…)

Avoiding the GIS Nerd Trap

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Being a GIS nerd used to be cool. We’d all get together and talk layers, projections, spatial queries. Good times. Our own language.

But alas things have changed.

Maybe not alas. Sitting in our own GIS corner was beginning to feel a little isolated. GIS is increasingly being used by a much wider group. Many of us now refer to ‘location technology’ in place of GIS. As my wife said when I first introduced the term:

“Now I understand what you do for a living!”


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