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Posts Tagged ‘tablet GIS’

Mobile Geospatial Solutions – Transforming the Work Place

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

This article was originally planned to be titled ‘Mobiles in The Work Place – The End of Pen & Paper?”. A little narrow we thought, let’s broaden the focus and discuss more generally the potential impact of mobile in the work place. Examples will be taken from the engineering sector.

Mobile computing is not new, the likes of Garmin and Trimble have been in the mobile marketplace for years. Their emphasis is geographic; so mobile maps and Geographic Information systems (GIS). ESRI’s ArcPad has been one of the more popular mobile software packages running on these mobile devices; Windows the most widely used mobile platform. The standard work flow had been wait for Windows XP on your Trimble abc to load, open ArcPad and off you go. A handful of companies once controlled the mobile market. Costs were as a result high; $500+ for software, and $1000’s for the hardware. But those days may soon be over. With the advent of the so called ‘mobile revolution’, mobile costs have fallen dramatically. The launch of the IPhone and IPad have heralded a new era of mobile availability; hardware, platforms and apps. Smartphones and tablets have become very popular. In many ways 2012 resembles 1996 with the Internet. Consumer led, and over-hyped, yet with the potential to change how we live and work.

The geospatial sector has always been a niche. Mention that you develop or work with GIS apps, and you will get a blank stare. Geospatial has always been on the edge of main stream computing. With the popularity of the Internet, geospatial software tools moved from the PC to the Web. Google gave us widely available Web maps in 2006, plus so called API’s for developers to build their own geo-focused apps. Traditional GIS vendors like ESRI moved their offerings forward. The release of ArcGIS was an important milestone. Many others jumped into the mix; Yahoo, Bing. We’ve moved from famine to a feast of potential geospatial solutions. The boundaries between the geo-solution providers has become confusing. These boundaries will increasingly blur, thanks to mobile.

Geo-Mobile Solutions

So a new computing revolution seems to be upon us. Just as the Internet changed our world, mobile may have a similar impact. Mobiles increasing popularity moves geospatial from computing’s periphery, to front and center. Applications running on mobile devices which know where we are, and can discover and display what is around us are proving to be very popular. So where is mobile in early 2012; consumer led, with business’ slow to follow. The games category in each of the mobile app stores remains the most populated and popular. This will change. Widespread business adoption will transform the mobile landscape we know today.

As a geo-focused mobile application development company, we spend most of our time applying mobile technology in the work place. From this work, a number of common themes have surfaced; simplifying work flows, accurate and efficient data collection, on site search and discovery, organization and collaboration. It is worth spending time discussing each of these areas.

Mobile GIS – Simplifying Work flows

As we have said, there are some excellent mobile software packages available. They each provide mobile workers a plethora of tools to get their jobs done. Too many tools, some say. How so? One client said:

“We train our staff to use specific functionality in ArcPad. It takes a while to learn. Losing staff, and having to train new hires is both frustrating and expensive. If only we had a simpler mobile app which provided a work flow designed for our need”

Let’s expand on this and look at an example in the pipeline industry. When pipes are buried, an area or easement, is set aside a fixed distance on each side of the pipe. The easement has to be inspected/surveyed at set time intervals for encroachment. Building and vegetation growth are most common. When undertaking this type of work pipeline companies have been faced with a number of choices:

1) Customize existing mobile software solutions.
2) Adapt new software packages.

One company we spoke to use Trimble mobile devices with a highly customized version of CartoPack for their field work. They needed easement inspection functionality and looked at extending further CartoPack, but were put off by the added complexity and considerable cost. After much discussion they decided to adapt ArcPad to provide the required functionality. The final solution worked, but the process of getting there proved challenging. Their reflections were:

1) Having a single tool which provided just the required functionality would have been the preferred solution
2) ArcPad worked but the work flow is complex. The software has too many menus and input areas. Staff need to be trained to navigate this complexity.
3) The process is expensive. The Trimble GeoXH costs around $6000, plus customizing ArcPad took longer and cost more than anticipated. There were many unexpected roadblocks extending the software.
4) Accuracy is an important part of this process. Sub meter readings are needed. Devices like the Trimble GeoXH provide this level of accuracy. Ideally we would like to use cheaper hardware which provides high level of accuracy, with a custom, functionally focused mobile app.

An additional part the companies easement inspection process is a second inspection. This serves to both verify the first inspection and add additional data; including new attributes and photos. The second inspection currently uses different software tools and is not integrated with the central data store from the first inspection. Time has to be spent combining the two data sets. They mentioned if they could use a single mobile app for the first and second inspections and automatically update a centralized data source, they would save much time and cost.

Another example of complex work flows is provided by Gateway Mapping in Utah, who offer excellent geo-software used by engineering companies. But the difficulties using their software, sometimes requiring 18 fields to be populated before tasks can be completed, is both frustrating and time consuming for users.

The new mobile revolution gives us the ability to build light-weight custom mobile apps which provide the required work flows without overhead. Easy to learn and easy to use. The days of few companies controlling the mobile space will soon be over.

Tablet & SmartPhone GIS – Collaboration & Sharing

The word collaboration in a computing sense often brings video-conferencing to mind. That is certainly something easily done with mobile devices. But there are many ways we can share information in real time, or near real time. One question often repeats itself from clients: how do we share field data with office workers? Let’s take the approach mentioned in the previous section, digital data collection, and extend this discussion. Map annotation tools are common on the geoweb. The ESRI Flex viewer for ArcGIS includes a very nice widget which allows users to add shapes, lines and text to a map. The widget also allows users to store this data as a text file, and open/render these text files. Thus one users annotation can be shared with others. Extend this to mobiles. An engineer is coordinating building work with owners and contractors. She is on site using an Android Galaxy tablet mobile annotation app; the equivalent of the tool in the Flex viewer for ArcGIS. Her annotations file is being shared with her office based boss in near real time. This form of sharing and collaboration is now quite possible. We have been developing these types of applications for clients. Combine this type of data sharing with text and video conferencing software and you have some very powerful decision making solutions.

Mobile Replacing Pen & Paper – Data Collection

Sounds a little dry and boring ‘data collection’. But let’s put things in context. Whenever we are out of the office working, how do we record work related information? Most commonly with pen and paper. Maybe throw in a paper map to mark the spot; ‘broken pipe here’. If we are really sophisticated we might resort to an automated phone system, along with a bewildering selection of menus; ‘for broken pipe select 2′. For visual records we carry a digital camera; ”photo 1 is broken pipe 1 marked on map, with notes on said pipe somewhere in my notepad’. You get the idea. Laptops are sometimes used in an effort to simplify this work flow. Not the most convenient solution, but an improvement on pen and paper.

Construction management is important in many engineering projects. Documenting progress, gathering photo records, collecting data on project features and existing features. Much of this data collection is being done in the field. Returning to the pipeline business. When a pipe is being laid, ongoing information is being gathered on site. Again information related directly to the pipes; the position of valves and joins, and information on the surrounding area. Currently, this data is stored in both a digital and non digital ways. Let’s imagine an improved system. All field engineers have IPads. They have a pipes layer overlaid on a satellite base map, this is a visualization of the pipeline being laid. The attributes of each 40ft section of pipe laid is recorded using an IPad app, and sent dynamically back to a central GIS. Photos, taken with the IPad and stamped with time and lat/long, and other records are attached to this attribute data. Additional notes are also taken, maybe where the pipeline crosses utilities. Imagine the mobile app can not only record and update data relating to the the pipe layer directly, but also related information. New mobile tools to collect this data, central storage and access to all this data, will transform the working life of civil engineers.

Mobile Geospatial Intelligence – Search & Discovery

Last week a water pipe broke in the street of the parents of a friend. The resulting geyser drew a crowd. City engineers were soon on the scene. It was 5:30pm. Tracing and shutting all valves feeding the broken pipe was the engineers challenge. Out came a 2″ thick book which was thumbed through by the chief engineer. Orders and directions were barked, between more thumbing. By 6:30pm all valves had been closed saving, only just, two basements from flooding.

Let’s imagine a different scenario. The chief engineer on arrival pulls out his IPad, instead of his thick book. He opens a geospatial mobile app, adding water pipe and related layers to a map viewer. He then runs a query based on current location, close to the broken pipe, against these layers. A GIS processes the query and returns the locations of all valves required to be shut. These are then displayed on the map, and shared with the crew. Imagine the improvement in time and efficiency following this second scenario. We now have this technology.

Mobile GIS – Organization & Coordination

We’ve been quite impressed with CityWorks; a GIS-centric asset management system. Work tickets are at the heart of their system. So ticket generation (a bulb needs replacing at xy street), ticket distribution to field crews (fix bulb at xy street), feedback/updates (light fixture broken needs fixing before bulb replacement can take place), associated information (picture/notes on light fixture), generation of new or related work orders (light fixture needs fixing at xy street).

CityWorks is a server solution, one which sits on top of ArcGIS. It is now possible to write custom mobile apps, running on the newer mobile platforms, which connect to CityWorks. As an example, the video below shows Freeance Mobile for CityWorks:

It is worth noting that CityWorks is not a cheap solution. But building mobile applications which connect to CityWorks and similar systems is now both easy and inexpensive. These types of systems should make the coordination and organization of field crews far easier.


In summary, we are in the midst of a mobile revolution; currently consumer led, but soon to be transformed by business adoption. Field workers will use this new digital technology to help gather data, discover and visualize what is around them, share and collaborate in real time work related tasks and information. The mobile market place is being flooded with cheaper hardware. Mobile apps are now appearing which are task specific, and provide simplified work flows.

It truly is the end of pen and paper.

We would be interested to hear your thoughts on mobile in the work place. Contact me at

Flexible Mobile GIS Frameworks

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

We have spoken on this blog before about the release of our free mobile GIS app called GeoMobile for ArcGIS. The link below will take you to a more detailed discussion:

Our logic for the release was:

  • To demonstrate a custom ArcGIS mobile application
  • Build a cross platform mobile GIS app or one code base which runs on multiple platforms; iOS, Android, Blackberry
  • Model the app on the ESRI ArGIS Flex viewer; a flexible framework allows widgets to be easily dropped into the mobile app to extend functionality

So an extensible mobile ArcGIS framework for data visualization, search, query, update/editing, data collection etc. We never imagined it to be an out of the box mobile app; a generic $4.99 mobile app. It was a first step into the mobile GIS world for a number of our engineers. And ultimately resulted in us moving from a PC Web focused application development company to fully mobile developers. So we’ve put all our eggs in one basket; mobile. Taking a risk? We don’t think so. Our focus is location data, mobile enhances what we can now provide clients. One day, not far off, we think the location and GIS community will wonder how they ever got their jobs done stuck in an office. There is another side to this, and that is the potential location and mobile presents for all apps. As Ryan Kim at said in early 2011:

“We’re still a ways off from our prediction that every mobile app will have location integration. But we’re seeing that potential reality take shape more and more”

The GIS tag may be less used with time. GIS Developer may simply be replaced by Location Focused Developer.

We have digressed from the thrust of this post. In a recent article entitled ‘Hot Topics in Mobile GIS’ we reprinted some of the conversations we had with clients in 2011:

Maybe the ‘hottest item’ at the minute is online/offline mobile data collection and editing. There are an increasing number of apps now available which offer the ability to load and edit shapefiles. Many have a GIS tag; Wolf GIS, GIS Pro, GISRoam. We wrote a review of some at the link below:

and compared them in action in this video:

Our main finding was that most are built for iOS only. And all used the Google maps API. Google maps for GIS I hear you cry. Indeed. Google maps was never designed for GIS. The issues we highlight in the comparison video above are a result of the use of the Google maps API. So cool mobile apps built using the wrong API.

Flexible Framework using a Mobile GIS API

To build a mobile GIS application you need to use a GIS API. Extending the functionality of this mobile GIS application you need a flexible framework. To cut costs as users broaden the mobile devices and platforms they use; you need a cross platform solution.

This has become our company mantra!

Nah, but it makes much sense.

GeoMobile for ArcGIS taught us much about the future of mobile GIS. The feedback we are getting from users has guided our thinking as we move forward. Having a flexible cross platform mobile ArcGIS framework has allowed us to extend this work to fit client needs. As already said, we don’t imagine releasing an off the shelf mobile GIS app for $4.99. We build custom mobile GIS solutions to fit client needs. We work closely with ESRI, and have a good feel for what is coming in the next 12 months. This helps us gear our solutions to where they are moving.

Our next big release will be GeoMobile for GeoServer; an open source version of GeoMobile for ArcGIS. We are looking at both OpenLayers and OpenScales as potential client (software) API’s. A flexible cross platform mobile open source GIS framework.

We live in exciting (flexible) times.

Let us know your thoughts on mobile GIS. Maybe you are developing cool mobile GIS apps. Or looking for a mobile GIS solution. Contact us

Hot Topics in Mobile GIS

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

We recently looked back over client and potential client feedback in 2011. There were definitely some re-occurring themes. Here we summarise some of these conversations:

1) Mining

We’d like to display in a mobile map app dynamic sensor data (click on map point and its shows current data)

2) Cultural Resource Management

“Even though GPS technology has been readily adopted in the profession, it is still mostly wedded to a system of paper forms and (often) disconnected implementations of ArcGIS based map creation and non-geo-referenced photos. We’d like a mobile ArcGIS app to replace these systems.”

This reminds us of many other areas where paper and pen remain the field recording equipment of choice. Mobile apps allow users to record data using tablet based forms, and basic geo-referencing. Combine this with GIS and a wide array of tools become available. Stephens cites some examples:

“If one is recording an historic building or archaeological sites, one can take a decent resolution image, complete the form electronically, and consider view shed/buffering without juggling several devices and a handful of forms as well. I can also see value when doing a field inventory for something like a wireless tower where viewsheds and buffers are important. It would also be very useful for situations where one is doing resource monitoring (making sure a client doesn’t impact something).”

3) Natural Resources Management

“We have a diverse natural resources management program going on here, and I can see this used for several of our field activities. Particularly of interest, though, is using this for collecting survey data. We are currently doing things horribly old-fashioned: collecting GPS points and logging attribute data on paper forms in the field, then coming back to the office to download points and enter into a database.”

“We collect a few different types of data during surveys: any threatened or endangered species, all species present for certain transects, and incipient and invasive species. Spatial datasets are then updated as needed. It requires a lot of attention just to make sure data gets organized properly. For years, we’ve talked about getting a nice set of Juniper systems with ArcPad, but it’s a pretty big investment. The proliferation of mobile devices, and new mobile GIS apps, seem like a more cost-effective means of achieving similar functionality. Could you build a mobile GIS solution using the new mobile platforms?”

4) Civil Engineering

“We simply want an easy way to update our GIS from the field. To overlay pipeline and manhole layers for example on a basemap, and view on an IPad, would be a big benefit to our field crews. Mobile ArcGIS or even an open source solution maybe using Geoserver would be ideal. More than that, if we were able then to update a GIS where we see inaccuracies in both the path of the pipeline and attributes of a manhole, that would be simply huge. We would want a sanity check. Whereby any updates were processes first by our GIS administrator before they were committed to the GIS”

5) Genealogy

We want to build a genealogical tool, which allows people to make notes, take photos etc in the field of relative gravestones. Store this data, map it, and share it. Routing would be a nice addition. We wondered whether the new mobile MapQuest releases might provide us a potential solution.

6) Outdoor Recreation Mobile App

We want to build a mobile app where users can zoom to an area of interest and see local data eg lake depth, camping facilities etc. We’d like users to be able to make notes and store them for later reference. eg. on 27th Dec I caught a trout at this location at this depth etc.

7) Invisible Car Dealer

When are new/used car searching. We want a mobile app which when turned on loads the dealerships within a certain distance. Select a dealership, allows users to browse cars on the lot. Routing to and between dealerships would be a nice addition

8) Political Campaigning

Current systems used by both political parties are archaic. Canvassing is critical in campaigning .. see blog article from this conversation:

9) Fibre Optics

We use BlackBerry Playbook. We would love to have the ability to overlay our fibre lines as layers on a mobile map. Both online and offline.

10) Forest Management

A big challenge for us is viewing data in an offline mode. Tree cover may reduce GPS accuracy. Viewing and recording data while in the field will make our field workers life so much easier.

11) Agriculture Pest Control

We would love to see areas marked on a mobile map or mobile ArcGIS, which show the extent of an area last treated with a particular (pest control) chemical. So simply layer overlay. Updating this data when a new treatment is done would be the next need.

In terms of volume of requests, 2011 saw inquiries rise dramatically. The approaches came from many different sectors. Field data visualization and recording were overwhelmingly the most common themes. Many clients were looking at mobile GIS for the first time, and in many cases were looking to build proof of concept type mobile apps. Mobile ArcGIS was the most popular technology request, but we also received many approaches about potentially cheaper open source mobile GIS solutions.

As 2012 begins we see the interest in mobile ArcGIS and mobile GIS in general continuing to grow.

Mobile Location Apps Review

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Monetizing geographic information became all the rage in 2011. Once geographic information meant maps. Clever systems were developed – geographic information systems or GIS – to store and allow analysis and visualization of geographic data. Mobile – smartphones and portable tablets – have broadened both the interest and potential of location for making money. The geo tag has been prep-ended to an increasing number of words; geo-marketing, geo-advertising, geo-social. A slew of new, so called, location based service (LBS) companies have appeared; Foursquare, Yelp.

This article looks at mobile location apps, and discusses some opportunities for companies to build their own custom location apps.

Mobile Location Apps – Check-In

Check-in is hot at the minute. Pull out your smartphone, fire up your foursquare app and check-in as you enter your favourite store. Presto you might become mayor or get a discount on a purchase. Gathering user data in this way, has the business community excited. Knowing a users current location, allows for interaction at the point of purchase. Maybe pushing coupons or suggestions for purchases.

But the check-in can be used far more broadly than for mobile consumer marketing. Any mobile user or worker can use check-in apps. These types of mobile apps will become crucial in keeping track of mobile workers. They will also allow mobile workers to dynamically report work related information; work completed, parts required, voice records or images of work related information. A check-in application will not only find current location and what is nearby, but allow immediate input of data.

Mobile Location Apps – B to C Marketing

Sitting under the marketing umbrella is now geo-marketing or location-based marketing. This is a part of the rapidly expanding world of mobile consumer marketing. Services such as Foursquare encourage consumer loyalty, driven by discounts and status. Stores can build campaigns using Foursquare. Groupon offer digital coupons. They are partnering with LBS focused companies like Foursquare, as part of the discount offering. Consumer oriented companies can build campaigns using these various location based services (LBS).

Many other ideas revolve around opt-in models with auto-checkin – as against manual check-in – and text message push through SMS and MMS. Proximity marketing is geo targeted advertising using push technology.

Location based service and geolocation services are rapidly evolving. Many companies are entering the fray. As we will discuss, many of the LBS companies have opened their API’s. Meaning developers can now interact with core data. This thus allows the development of custom location based solutions. Now it is possible to pass a location to Foursquare or SimpleGeo and get back venues within a certain distance of this location. Near a point one can now conduct a venue search to find and display trending locations, find and display friends’ tips, and show how many venues match a particular criteria the user has been to.

As a company, we have been increasingly tapping into these rich API’s to build custom location based applications.

Mobile Location Apps – Geo-Social Marketing (Who or What is near Me)

Facebook and Twitter were pioneers of social networking, with mobile they have started extending their reach to include geo-social marketing. Geo-social networking allows users to interact relative to their current locations. Thus you can search for users in your network who are nearby, or by venue. For business this means potential group messaging and ad targeting. Users can share likes, maybe meet at a specified location. At every step of their interaction there is the potential for mobile marketing and advertising.

Twitter now allow geo-tagged tweets. They have also opened their API for developers. Twitter is a public broadcasting system. A public message is much more relevant when you know who, what, when, AND where. There are numerous websites and applications that search specific cities to find local tweets. A tweet that is geo-tagged to that location will appear in that search. In this way, tweets can be broadcast-ed to a small region. Beyond search tweets can be used to maybe track the status and location of a package. Or perhaps offer store information or discounts.

Geo-social networking offers the opportunity to tie who is near me with what is near me. Influencing group behaviour is a new addition to the marketers arsenal.

Mobile Location Apps – B to B Marketing

Much of the current focus has been on B2C location marketing. But B2B location marketing offers huge potential opportunities. Both for internal organisation and community, and building external business relations. We’ve discussed some of the benefits of the check-in for mobile workers. Encouraging check-in at promotional events and tradeshows has the potential to help customer interaction and follow up. Internal communication can be improved by social and geo-social networking tools. Helping management and employees achieve stronger internal relations, and improve the internal flow of information. Tweets can be used quick snapshots of company information. Sales teams can help track performance and evolving sales cycles in real-time.

Business travellers will be key users of mobile location services. Businesses can use various tactics to engage these users. Hotel chains have started welcoming visitors to the city where they will be staying. This has helped with brand reinforcement.

Mobile GIS

Maps and geospatial analysis, will always be an important part of the location mix. The ability to visualize the location of a friend, a store, map out a route. Analysis sits in the geographic information systems (GIS) or geospatial services world. As a company we have historically been focused in this area. GIS remains separated from the new location based services. At some point there will be integration. Where the power of GIS is brought to bear on location based data. What does this mean? At some point the huge amounts of data being gathered by LBS companies will be stored in spatially aware systems like a GIS. Allowing both the analysis and visualisation, via maps and charts, of this data. GIS will help plan and organise location based marketing campaigns. It will help analyse and visualize the campaign both during and after the event. WebMapSolutions are currently actively working with mobile GIS and applying these tools to location based services.

Mobile Location Apps in 2012

Mobile location apps will receive increasing publicity in 2012. Opportunities abound to provide innovative mobile solutions to both consumers and enterprises.

Location-as-a-service and SoLoMo are becoming popular services. Ryan Kim of GIGAOM stated in 2011:

“We’re still a ways off from our prediction that every mobile app will have location integration. But we’re seeing that potential reality take shape more and more”

Kim talks at length about location-as-a-service whereby providers create the tools necessary for developers to weave location into their apps. We’ve already mentioned Foursquare and SimpleGeo. But Location Labs (geofencing), Xtify (smart notifications), Skyhook (hybrid Wi-Fi, GPS and cell-tower technology), Loc-Aid (location-based service aggregator) can be added to the list.

Elsewhere there is talk that 2012 is going to be The Year of SoLoMo (Social, local, and mobile). As Margaret Mastrogiacomo of HeBS Digital puts it:

“Social speaks to what we do as human beings and how we share our travel experiences, mobile speaks to our “always on-the-go” nature, and local speaks to the need for information from our immediate environment.”

“Instead of researching attractions during a hotel stay, mobile applications will detect a traveller’s location, what they are looking for, provide directions, push specials based on geo location, and even allow guests to share their experiences in real time. SoLoMo will ultimately provide more customer service solutions to enhance the travel experience”

We see two key opportunities in 2012 with regards mobile location apps. The first is the maturing of the business to consumer market. Beginning to link consumer profiles to location, time of day for example. As Margaret Mastrogiacomo says:

“Imagine serving a mobile ad or coupon promoting your onsite restaurant’s happy hour from 6-8 to a business traveller located within 5 miles of your hotel with a particular interest in dining and entertainment”

The second is the growth of business to business mobile location apps. Enterprises remain cautious over the adoption of mobile. The various app stores have yet to properly cater to the enterprise. Mobile apps which include location will become increasingly more important to the enterprise. Field workers will be the first to benefit from enterprise mobile adoption. But mobile location apps will, in 2012, start to become essential to the organisation and operation of many more businesses.

We would be interested in your feedback. Are you building mobile location apps? Is your company planning to have developed a mobile location app in 2012? Contact us

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