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Splitting, Expanding, Maturing, Polarizing …. GIS is Changing

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Splitting, bifurcating, expanding, maturing, polarizing …. GIS is changing.

We are living through a time of transformation in our industry. The advent of cloud and mobile technology has put much focus on location, and technology which is location focused. That’s our technology. Demand is growing from outside our industry for the output from a GIS: mapping, analysis, discovery and more.

But the question has to be asked: are these winds of change internally driven or fueled by this new demand?

Splitting, Expanding, Maturing, Polarizing …. GIS is Changing

The recent blog post I wrote asking the question “Is GIS Splitting?” was met with a large response. Splitting suggests two or more disparate parts. Joe Francica at Directions Magazine in a podcast discussing the question suggested maturing or expanding (note, the term “splitting” was used in the original post to start the conversation. I agree with Joe and most of those who responded, that GIS is actually expanding).

Brian Haslam provided some interesting feedback on this question:

“My viewpoint comes from nearly 25 years of Esri GIS experience with local government. I prefer to put the focus on GIS expanding to meet unique workflow needs where it has not been traditionally used or the use has been marginal. As organizations see their GIS as their most up-to-date authoritative data, which can be rendered as a map (reports, tables, charts, etc.), and can provide spatial analytically tools for decisions support, use of the GIS explodes throughout for specialized and other uses.”

Terminology aside, there is a strong suggestion that two clear-cut communities are evolving: “old and new” (note, though i will use these terms in this post I actually prefer “traditional” and “emerging”). And that the marketplace is driving this divide. The “old” serves predominantly the current user community. While the “new” is focused on the newly emerging user base.

Joe Berry commented as follows:

“My minor contribution to the discussion is two-fold:

1) The root source of the divergence is the level of understanding of the full potential of geotechnology (both in the developer and user communities); and,

2) Geotechnology advances are effectively driven by the marketplace (users, not developers).”

Finding a Common Language

Geospatial, geotechnology, geomatics, Géomatique, mapping ….

We have developed our own language. The language of geospatial. Discussions continue on our somewhat insular vernacular. See this discussion started by Joe Berry on this topic. One respondent I think sums things up nicely:

“All the names and acronyms we use among industry-insiders really don’t work well at all for outsiders. All seem to leave puzzled looks and beg the need for more explanation.”

I’ve never hidden my dislike for the term geospatial. It is off-putting, confusing and to some degree intimidating to those outside the industry. Maybe most importantly it poorly communicates what we do. As the conversation Joe started suggests, old GIS is happy with our current vernacular, while new GIS sees change (additions/updates) as essential to help communicate with, and provide solutions to the new user base.

A new Breed of Geographer

GeoSpatial practitioner, geospatial developer… location specialist

Any GIS client solution is a combination of input from trained geospatial experts, often geographers, and geospatial developers. As Clark Beattie puts it:

“I’ve been in this business for 45 years and seen many changes over that time, most of them for the good. I view GIS as a spectrum which starts with the G part and ends with the IS part. The percentage of spectrum used in a given situation depends on how the geospatial science needs to be applied and the knowledge/capabilities/skills of the practitioner. Some solutions need more G and others more IS. In any given solution one [G nor IS] can’t exist without the other and their appropriate combination makes the GIS work.”

I agree with Clark, this status-quo serves old GIS well. But for new GIS, are we missing a third expert or at least skillset? Those who can understand the challenges faced by the “new” user base. Who can talk a common language and present appropriate understandable approaches and solutions.

Again Joseph Berry:

“The ‘old and new’ paradigm gaps for both the developers and users are at least partially the result of geospatial education’s focus on ‘Specialist’ training with commercial software; and to some degree a movement away from the development of “flagship” software to “business case” solutions”

There is little doubt that GIS practitioners are worried about their future. They see their value as eroding, and wonder if they should become more certified (GISP) or learn programming. Publishing a map is one thing, understanding the data and concepts is quite another. Ever more computer scientists are learning GIS concepts, and applying their IT skills within our industry.

But this proposed third group (I’ll call them location specialists) is rare. There is no training or even widespread recognition of their need. But for new GIS to flourish we need ‘translators’. We need individuals, who understand the challenges faced by the wider ‘non-GIS’ community. Who can bridge the divide, and communicate spatial solutions to a new set of problems, targeted at a new diverse group of users.

One can speculate on the source of these ‘translators’. Maybe from two directions — analytically thinking GIS’ers and spatially thinking domain experts. Since GIS education has not made its way across campus, the latter group remains small. The widespread adoption of SpatialSTEM at the college level, is potentially very important.

Conclusion

There seems little doubt there is a shift underway in our industry. A new very large potential user base has emerged, which is driving change. As an industry we are in the recognition and defining phase. And there is plenty of resistance.

To quote Joseph Berry again:

“Regardless, folks both outside and inside the field need to recognize that digital maps have taken us well “beyond mapping” to entirely new ways to collect, process, analyze and display mapped data and spatial information.”

My opinion is that we will over time see greater recognition of this divergence, and an increasing effort on the part of our industry to bridge the emerging divide. Old GIS continues business as usual. Those focused on new GIS are entering new uncharted territory. Opportunities and challenges abound.

As the saying goes change is good. At the minute two communities have emerged inside our industry: the “old” and “new”. Will they coalesce or remain separate? Only time will tell.

Agree. Disagree. Thoughts?

Let me know matt.sheehan@webmapsolutions.com

Custom Offline Mobile Editing for ArcGIS

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Continuing our series of videos showing custom offline mobile editing for ArcGIS. We have developed a framework which allows us to build very flexible mobile apps for clients providing offline GIS editing. In the demo below we show how users can download and use base maps when offline.

Offline Mobile Editing for ArcGIS

As shown in the video, the workflows have been designed to be simple and intuitive.

Contact us for more information.

Should you Subscribe to a GIS Web App Builder?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

 

There are a number of subscription based GIS Web application builders currently available. In this post we will discuss whether, in today’s rapidly evolving GIS market, you should subscribe to a GIS Web app Builder?

What are GIS Web App Builders?

GIS Web app builders are wizard based tools which allow those without programming skills to quickly stand up sophisticated GIS web applications. If your organization needs a variety of Web applications, maybe executive dashboards, mobile Web apps, or Web apps with a particular purpose, GIS Web app builders provide a quick way to assemble and launch these applications. They often come with a variety of modules which provide custom functionality, often targeted at specific markets; oil and gas, public safety, mining etc.

History

The release of ArcGIS 9 in May 2004 came with few Web applications. A number of companies saw the need to provide easy to use wizards to help GIS and non GIS staff generate Web apps quickly and easily. The goal was to provide simple, easy to use tools to produce Web applications for users across organizations. No need for a team of developers. Though they were expensive, these subscription based wizards became very popular, particularly with the ArcGIS community.

A New world of GIS Web Applications

We are in the midst of dramatic changes in GIS. Mobile and cloud are transforming the world of GIS. We have moved to GIS anywhere anytime. ArcGIS server remains, ArcGIS Online – a cloud based variant of server – is becoming increasingly more popular. Let’s look at the current landscape:

GIS Web application development has never been easier

Changes in technology, particularly with a move towards HTML5, have meant GIS Web application development has never been easier. The cost for developing GIS Web applications is at an all time low.

Free GIS Web apps everywhere

Over the last few years Esri have released a slew of free Web applications, targeting both ArcGIS server and Online. Easy to configure, these application are both general and industry targeted. The Esri local government team, for example, have over 40 free configurable templates available. No knowledge of programming is needed to configure these applications for use in organizations. They are also easy to extend to provide more custom functionality.

Esri’s Web App Builder for ArcGIS

Mobile and Web App Builder for ArcGIS sessions were the most popular at this years Esri user conference in San Diego. The latter is close to full release. It is a free Web application builder. We’ve been testing this new builder. It is very impressive. Easy to use. Simply Launch the builder on your desktop, open new project, set up the styling (colour, banding etc), point at your data, drag and drop in pre-built widgets which provide specific functionality (measure tools etc) and generate. A piece of cake. The beauty of the builder is that the application generated is Javascript. This means it is easy to extend a base application and add new widgets. Like the popular ArcGIS Viewer for Flex one can see that the list of free widgets available with Web App Builder for ArcGIS will grow over time, as the developer community contribute their work.

We have already begun development planning around producing new widgets. Soon after the full release of Web App Builder for ArcGIS we will be launching widgets which provide custom functionality. targeting utilities, transportation and pipeline industries. As an example, we will be launching widgets for use on mobile devices, which will provide mid-stream pipeline companies simple online/offline custom data collection, QA/QC solutions which integrate seamlessly with backend PODS.

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Has Collector helped to put mobile GIS on the map?

Friday, July 25th, 2014


Excuse the pun, but the question need be asked: has Collector helped to put mobile GIS on the map?

We are just back from the Esri user conference in San Diego. A horrible place to go for a conference! As ever a terrific event. And the most popular sessions were ….. anything mobile. The Collector demos were standing room only extending into the corridor. Everybody seems to have mobile and Collector fever. Having been preaching the gospel of mobile GIS and mapping for so many years, this fills our hearts with joy.

From our perspective, this surge in mobile interest has created new client needs. Most notably:

Collector Set up and Training

We’ve been inundated with requests from clients to help set up and train staff on the use of Collector. The app is popular with GIS and non GIS trained staff alike This has necessitated familiarizing these field based workers with the online and offline Collector workflows. Data set up and publishing in ArcGIS Online has also been required. Collector is replacing older pen and paper based methods once used to collect data. Using a smartphone or tablets built-in GPS, users location and the location of features can be automatically set. Feature attributes are stored on the device if offline, locally stored edits or additions are pushed to ArcGIS Online when back online. Images can be attached to features using the mobiles built in camera.
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Flexible Tablet and Smartphone ArcGIS Web Offline Editing Apps

Friday, May 30th, 2014

 

Just to advance the discussion on the work we have been doing with offline editing in the Web browser. We have extended the demo app shown in a previous post to be responsive. In other words to run well on all mobile devices: smartphones, tablets and smablets. The short video shows the same offline ArcGIS editing application running in a browser on a tablet and smartphone.

ArcGIS Web Offline Editing

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It is amazing what is now possible with mobile and cloud GIS

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

 

Let’s keep this mobile and cloud GIS theme moving forward. We’ve spoken in this blog about the realities, as we see them, of GIS in 2014. Chris Cappelli at Esri talks about muscle memory. Its a good analogy. Mobile and cloud GIS remain a tough sell. Do they provide anything new? In many ways no: if you have deep pockets anything is possible. But that is the point, few of us have deep pockets, and all of us are looking to do things better, quicker and cheaper. And that is what we get with mobile and cloud GIS.

You want proof?

Its time for demos I think. Let’s show what is now possible. From data collection, to focused customised, cloud based GIS Web apps to location analytics for business users. (more…)

Lowering Data Collection Costs for Pipeline Companies

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

 

What are the biggest challenges today faced by pipeline companies when it comes to data collection and management?

Cost is maybe number one. Many of the current PODS systems are very expensive. Inefficiency and inaccuracy is a close second. Still paper and pen are an important part of how data is collected in the field. This then has to be collated and input into the central company system when back in the office. Often this can take weeks or even months.

Today using cloud and mobile technology, there are far better and cheaper ways to collect and manage field data. Imagine a real scenario faced by pipeline companies; tracking encroachments. The video below shows an iPad application which dramatically improves on old methods:

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Where does GIS fit into business intelligence?

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

 

We often hear that GIS is moving beyond its traditional user base. Business applications of the technology are a new and exciting area; integration with SAP and Cognos, location analytics and Esri Maps for Office …..

Increasingly more of my time is now spent discussing business location intelligence. These are not your standard GIS conversations. Firstly the term GIS is never used; location technology, location platform, location strategy are all preferred. Second, these are often discussions on what is missing in current business intelligence systems (BI). The short video below steps through a business case for location technology in the outdoor advertising space:

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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…)

Retail and the ArcGIS Platform

Monday, March 31st, 2014

 

We are over-users of the word exciting. But truly these are great times to be working in the location services and GIS fields. Not only is location technology being used more widely and by ever more diverse groups of users, but new sectors and vertical are emerging. Retail in particular presents a fascinating world of opportunity.

Esri have put considerable focus on retail GIS. (more…)

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