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.
Let’s step back a little in time. Remember the dot com boom in the 90’s, when the Internet went from being a tool only known to academics to ubiquity. We all began feverishly buying computers, and installing Web browsers to access network based applications. Financially it was a boom and bust period, but the new paradigm that was the Internet was here to stay. The world of GIS was then a world filled with desktop nerds working with ArcInfo, ArcMap and the like. With Esri getting wind of this new shift to networked computing the IMS products were released; we remember fondly MapObjects IMS and ArcIMS. Using the Internet we began to be able to build networked GIS apps which allowed developers to share with everybody interactive maps.
Exciting times indeed. But for those developing Internet GIS apps there were two major frustrations:
1) Geo-data was hard to find; in particular base maps.
2) There were no good API’s or tools for developers to use. Many older developers remember well building Internet GIS applications from scratch in Flash; cool output which took an age to build. For those unfamiliar with API’s, these are the building blocks for developing applications, they make the process easier. In the same way as constructing a car is the process of combining pre-built components; wheels, engine etc, this is the same process developers walk through to build an application. Imagine how long and painful car making would be if you had to build every component – wheel, engine – from scratch!
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 email@example.com.
We’ve been building mobile ArcGIS Online apps for both online and offline editing. One important requirement has been image attachments. But one area we see as being equally as important are audio and video files. So providing richer data and attaching that in ArcGIS Online to a feature. The video below shows attaching in offline mode an mp3 audio and wmv video file to a feature and uploading the data to a hosted feature service in ArcGIS Online.
Feel free to contact us for more information firstname.lastname@example.org
We always like a good challenge. More than once in the last few weeks we have been asked if it is possible to auto generate features – points, lines, polygons – on a mobile device using GPS. So store the path followed using the built in mobile GPS. Then generate a feature from this data. We put our thinking caps on and came up the application you see in the video below
The demo shows the app running on an Android tablet in offline mode. This could just as easily have been an iPad; since we built the app using Mobile Flex which can run on either platform. We first generated a tile package in ArcMap, this forms the offline basemap and is stored on the tablet. Checkboxes in the top left header allow users to select either polygon or line as the final generated feature. Start and stop buttons initiate data collection, and generate the final feature respectively. In the demo we drove around a block; starting and finishing at the same point, so we chose to generate a polygon.
We’ve spent some time on this blog discussing ArcGIS Online. As we have said, we see this new mapping platform as a major step forward. But detailed discussion of the advantages misses the most central point; ArcGIS Online brings simplicity. Users, organisations, developers all will benefit. We thought is worthwhile discussing areas we see ArcGIS Online simplifying:
Organizing, Administering and Sharing Geo-Data with ArcGIS Online within Organizations
1) Groups and users – Online offers a slew of ways to organise data into groups, and share with a specific group of users. If your data is confidential, then host Online behind your firewall.
2) Data Conversion – We are often approached with questions around mobile apps which allow both access to and editing of shapefiles. Sure it can be done, but there is much time and effort needed to achieve, what we often think is a less than perfect solution. With ArcGIS Online shapefiles are converted to interactive feature layers. If these are generated as hosted feature layers, editing is now possible.