New advances in technology with cloud and mobile computing offer new and exciting ways for local governments to share information with the general public. WebMapSolutions have been developing a range of apps which run across devices, allowing citizens to discover local information quickly, and intuitively when and where they need it. Below are our favorite 5 new apps for local governments to share information:
The Parks Finder application provides residents and visitors an easy way to find parks and recreation areas near them. Designed with ease of use in mind, search, routing and detailed facility information is provided. Advanced functionality includes the ability to gather comments from citizens on individual facilities.
See a demo here.
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.
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?
After a year of working with ArcGIS Online (AGOL), we had a round table last week among our GIS developers and asked the question “what are the 6 things you most like about ArcGIS Online”. The results of our informal poll are below:
1) Web Maps – we all agreed the use of a single web map to express all map layers was a big deal. In the past too much work was needed by the developer to reach out to different sources for layers, and to deal individually with each layer (projection etc) before it was displayed. The web map has simplified that process, they form form the base for Web and mobile maps and development. They can also be embedded in a web page, rather like a youtube video, see our contact page for an example. Now that is cool.
2) Authentication and Groups – being able to control who has access to your data was often a request our clients had when it came to ArcGIS Server development. It meant we had to develop custom authentication services. The ArcGIS Online Portal has authentication built in. Marvelous. Our code is simpler, and our clients have a greater level of control over data access.
It would seem that indoor GIS, along with 3D, has become all the rage in the GIS focused media. But read anything about indoor GIS and it sounds complex. True, it can be, but mapping the indoors is not rocket science. We will show a demo to illustrate; a simple example of the application of mobile indoor GIS. But first, lets start with the basics. There are many flavors of indoor GIS, these include:
– Indoor mapping: Accurate floorplan mapping and 3D visualization.
– Indoor positioning: Mapping points of interest and static content.
– Indoor locating: Locating mobile devices and other dynamic content.
– Indoor routing and analysis: Indoor routing and the management of business processes with GIS analysis tools.
– Indoor asset tracking: Tracking mobile assets for dispatching and other operational efficiency purposes.
Our immediate interest is indoor mapping. We were recently approached by an insurance industry organization. Their need was to map indoor assets – desks, workshop machinery, photo copiers etc. A tool to collect data was required with a need to store this data in a central, easy to access location. Updates to the data was to be a regular occurrence. Currently this work is done using paper maps and spreadsheets.
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.
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.