Its daunting starting any GIS Web or Mobile project. Where does one begin? In this post we provide a 5 point checklist for any GIS Web or mobile project.
1. Project Requirements
Do you have a clear idea of what the app should do? A detailed list of requirements is essential. If you are still in the ideas phase, flesh it out before you reach out to any external GIS development company. Be prepared to discuss in detail your requirements, and answer any questions posed by prospective development companies. Be clear to describe the purpose of the application. (more…)
One of WebMapSolutions areas of focus is building systems which help to improve the management of disasters. As the frequency and impact of disasters increases, due to phenomena such as global warming, the need for improved tools and systems becomes ever greater. New technologies now available are greatly helping software companies such as WebMapSolutions develop mobile, centralized systems which are improving both disaster relief efforts and disaster recovery. Let’s look at some of the new GIS solutions for disaster management.
This is a coordinated multi-agency response to reduce the impact of a disaster and its long-term results. Relief activities include rescue, relocation, service repair, providing temporary shelter and emergency health care. Time is of the essence in this phase. Disaster agencies are both trying to understand the situation on the ground, and provide immediate assistance and relief to those in the affected area.
We have been interested for some time in using our offline mobile editing app in combination with Esri’s Mobile Collector App to build a storymap. This years Esri UC gave us the perfect opportunity to do just that. More than that our intrepid CEO – who was planning to be in San Diego – was up for the challenge. So we packed him off with instructions to visit two towns in the San Diego area and collect data.
Our goal was to build two storymaps which were focused on the military banners campaign that a number of cities have put in place. These campaigns involve hanging banners in key streets in the city honoring veterans of foreign wars. We chose Escondido and Chino Hills for this work; giving our CEO careful instructions.
We adapted one of the Esri storymaps for this task, following carefully the instructions for the data schema. Once ready we published two hosted feature services to ArcGIS Online; and created web maps for each. In the field our CEO logged into the respective web map with the collector app, and edited away. He moved from one banner to the next, taking photos and recording information about each honoree; notably the name and service. In a number of cases he found Wi-Fi connectivity spotty. In these cases he switched to using our offline mobile ArcGIS Online data editing app. And uploaded the results when back in Wi-Fi range.
As we have discussed before in this blog, mobile enabled GIS cloud technology is are changing how and who uses GIS. As we suggest in the title of this blog the future of GIS is here today. Let’s take a step back and look at the current landscape.
Today’s GIS Requirements and Mobile Enabled GIS Cloud Technology
There are a range of core elements required by our clients which are now provided by leveraging the new technological advances. These include:
1) Centralised data – away from a stove pipe approach to data.
2) Privacy – protecting data remains important
3) Data access from any device – PC, laptop, smartphone and tablet accessibility.
4) Simple targeted applications – no more complex workflows and ‘swiss army knife’ type apps.
So what solutions are now available which leverage cloud technology and target location based data?
As a mobile enabled GIS software development company, our focus is on three key sectors; local government, transportation and forestry. Each utilize geo-technology to varying degrees. The new paradigm that is mobile GIS and cloud computing, offers solutions to business challenges for organisations active in each of these sectors. We are finding some common themes
Local Government – Data Sharing
Sharing information with the general public is a key concern of local governments. This can be as simple as providing information about local amenities such as parks, boating docks, camping areas, and libraries. Visit the Web site of your town or city and you will often discover this simple information is hard to find, and usually presented as a simple text based list. Finding out about local events; where and when, and other local information presents similar challenges. Maps are an easily understood way to present information. New cloud based services allow not only easy publishing of this type of data, but access to this data at any time and place. At the centre of Esri’s cloud based mapping platform; ArcGIS Online is a web map. This is an interactive map containing a collection of relevant published data or layers, which can be embedded in any web page. So maybe the location of local parks. If more sophistication is needed beyond just displayed locations, maybe tools such as ‘Find the nearest park to my house’, the web map can be used within an application. With an iPhone or iPad in hand this query becomes ‘Show me the nearest park to my current location’. Cloud enabled mapping services allows local governments to more easily share important public information. The general public can now access this data anywhere and at any time.
We speak much on this blog about mobile GIS. But the big picture is really what is most important. True we have new mobile and cloud platforms which are helping to transform the niche that was GIS. But at the heart of these new enabling technologies is sharing, collaborating and maybe most importantly presenting data in a new more understandable way.
The cloud gives us access to centralised services and data storage. Mobile provides us with essentially easily portable computers. Together they are very powerful. But they form an important part of a much wider whole. Dare one say holistic. Within corporations it is now possible to provide custom mobile apps to field based workers; often for data collection. Desktop analysts can now access this field data directly, in combination with other datasets. Executives can use Web based applications to visualize this data in real time and make faster more accurate decisions.
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.
We have spent much of the last year focused on ArcGIS Online. Our initial development efforts targeted mobile. Working with the Idaho Transportation Department, we have been building an online/offline mobile editing app. The data itself is part of a hosted feature service in ArcGIS Online. Using these hosted feature services, we have started doing analytic’s in ArcMap 10.1 and building Web apps for office based executives. The demo below shows the mobile, desktop and Web portions of this work.
Disaster management demands rapid response, and careful coordination of workers in the field. Mobile technology has the potential to provide important tools to first responders to help mitigate the effects of disasters. Working with a county in the state of Michigan, we have been investigating the use is iOS and Android devices in combination with ArcGIS Online to help improve disaster management efforts.
Disaster Management Today Relies on Pen and Paper
Over the last few years there have been an increasing number of tornadoes and floods causing considerable damage in Michigan. An important requirement of many county GIS departments, often with help from the Red Cross, is to quickly record damage and report findings to State authorities to then provide funding and assistance. Field workers are sent out to affected areas with parcel maps. Notes are made parcel by parcel on level of damage, often home owners are interviewed. Once back in the office this data is collated and assembled in a spreadsheet and emailed to the State. This represents a labor intensive effort under considerable time pressure.
The Use of Mobile Apps for Disaster Management
Mobile technology in combination with the cloud, have the potential to dramatically improve the efficiency and reduce the effort required in managing disasters. We were asked to investigate the use of tablets as disaster management tools; a mobile ArcGIS Online app which uses both onboard GPS and camera, to collect and report levels of damage. The app needed to work in both connected and disconnected modes.
Disaster Management Mobile App Set Up
We’ve been building a mobile app framework which provides both online and offline functionality. We took this framework and adapted it for the disaster management requirements.
Figure 1: Base Map Layer Package Source in ArcMap 10.1
Our first step was to open ArcMap 10.1 and generate two base map sources:
1) A tile package or TPK for the offline basemap
Figure 2: Tile Package Generation in ArcMap 10.1 for Offline BaseMap
2) A tiled base layer based on a layer package (.lpk file) for an online base map.
Figure 3: ArcGIS Online Hosted Tiled Service Publishing from ArcMap 10.1 for Online BaseMap
Next we published an editable hosted feature service in ArcGIS Online. In our case we made some edits to the attributes of the shapefile and added two field (damage level, and comments) before publishing.
Figure 4: ArcGIS Online Hosted Feature Service Preparation & Publishing from ArcMap 10.1
In each case above the data needed to be in a Web Mercator projection which is the default for ArcGIS Online. Another point worth mention is that ArcGIS Online at present only supports 1000 features, so shapefiles with more than this number of features cannot be published as hosted feature services. We will revisit this topic in due course.
The hosted feature service needs setting up as we describe in the following blog post >a href=”http://www.webmapsolutions.com/hosted-feature-layers-arcgis-online”>http://www.webmapsolutions.com/hosted-feature-layers-arcgis-online
Now our interest is only editing certain attributes. Though we do wish to see all attributes in non-edit mode, when in edit mode it would be nice to only list these editable fields. In ArcGIS Online when we view the hosted feature service, we can open the ‘Configure Pop Ups’ option and set only those attributes we wish to edit as visible. Perfect. But alas not, this filter only applies in the web interface and not what is passed to the mobile app.
Figure 5: ArcGIS Online Hosted Feature Service Configure Pop Ups
After successfully publishing and configuring the services, we then combined the published tiled basemap and hosted feature service as a single web map.
Figure 6: ArcGIS Online Web Map
Offline ArcGIS Online Editing
So good, to summarise we have publshed three services to ArcGIS Online:
1) Hosted Tiled basemap
2) Hosted Feature layer
3) A Web map which combines the above two services.
Next it is time to think about offline. The tpk we generated earlier is in essence a zip file. We need to copy this to the mobile tablet. In the case of Android this is a drag and drop copy operation. For iOS it is done through iTunes. Next we set the configuration file. Given the general theme of this, as with all our mobile work, is to build a mobile app which:
1) Provides focused functionality – here connected/disconnected editing
2) Is configurable meaning the UI can be altered without need for a developer and recompiling.
3) Is flexible such that users can switch the web map loaded and ArcGIS Online account used.
The configuration file is a key element, providing maximum flexibility.
Figure 7: ArcGIS Online Mobile App Configuration File
This file, like the tpk, is copied to the device. And is read each time the application loads.
The 1000 feature limit in ArcGIS Online hosted feature service we mentioned earlier is both a problem and solution for this application. A problem since we often have source geodata containing many more than 1000 features. But we will never need more than 1000 features visible at any one time to edit, plus more than 1000 feature layer features will degrade the performance of the mobile application; zoom and pan will become increasingly more challenging. So what is our best compromise? In this case id we have more 1000 features and an ArcGIS server instance, we publish the full dataset to server, BUT only publish a subset of this data in ArcGIS Online. This subset would be the extent of the data published, so the area and features being edited that day or by that group of field workers.
Mobile ArcGIS Online Editing Conclusion
There are many potential applications of this technology in disaster management and assessment. Mobile apps such a the one described will prove important to local and state governments, the insurance industry and other key sectors and organisations. For more information about our work in this area contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.