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Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Matt holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients solving problems with GIS for over 17 years. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to put innovative, intuitive GIS driven applications into the hands of new and existing users.

GIS Transforming Data Collection

September 10th, 2015 by Matt Sheehan

Mobiles are everywhere. Smartphones, tablets, even these new ‘somewhere in between’ phablets. They are cheap, come with amazing additions (GPS, camera, compass etc) and most importantly can be loaded up with an incredible assortment of apps. Go to the various app stores and the selection is amazing. Add to this those ever more popular Web apps, opened in your mobile browser, and things become almost overwhelming. Mobile technology has changed our world. Look around you and see how many people have their noses in a mobile.

GIS Transforming Data Collection

This post is focused on how location technologies like GIS in combination with mobiles are transforming how we gather and share data. We can split data collection into 3 distinct phases:

Phase 1 – Paper-based Data Collection

Pen and paper was once the only option we had to collect data. Forms, notes, addresses, maybe with the addition of a picture here and there. With the advent of the computer age, this data was then manually, and painfully, input into an organizations computer system. Sometimes stored centrally, but most often with a department. Inaccurate, time consuming, and isolated (stove-piped) were the common outcomes. But there were few other options.

Phase 2 – The First Mobile devices and Local Storage

Phase 2 saw a big shift. Slowly we began to see the emergence of mobile technology “technology to the rescue”. Hand held electronic devices started to emerge. There were two stages in this evolution:

Stage 1 – Trimble and other hardware providers began releasing Windows based handhelds. These were ruggedized devices designed specifically for field use. Included were inbuilt sensors providing high accuracy GPS, also data collection software packages like ArcPad. But price was a barrier for many organizations, with middle to high end solutions costing potentially in excess of $10,000.

Stage 2 – In the late 2000’s there began to emerge lower cost mobile devices. Apple, and Google produced operating systems to compete with Windows (iOS and Android respectively), and a slew of manufacturers began churning out smartphones and tablets. The new mobile era was upon us. Tech driven data collection just became much cheaper. But limited.

In the early days of mobile the focus of data collection was on local storage. In GIS speak that means loading your mobile up with a shapefile, editing that shapefile while in the field then, when back in the office, downloading that shapefile to your PC, maybe combining your edits with others manually. This was no doubt better than paper-based methods, but still manual elements remained as did the dangers of stove-piping (this is our protected departmental data).

Phase 3 – Cloud based Mobile Data Collection

2015 marks the popular emergence of cloud based mobile data collection. Translated that means low cost automation of the data collection process. Two key elements make this era transforming.

1) Manual steps are eliminated – take your smartphone or tablet into the field. Open your favourite data collection application. Add, update, delete data. When done, tap the submit button and your data is pushed automatically to your organizations backend system.

2) Authoritative data – No more stove-piping. With cloud based mobile data collection, all data is pushed to one central data source. This is the organizations system of record. Anybody in the organization who needs data knows how and where they access the managed, reliable, current source.

We discussed in a recent blog post entitled Wondering what a successful ArcGIS Implementation looks like? how we helped a real estate company eliminate paper based data collection with the cloud based ArcGIS Online. As the company CEO said “finally our agents are true salespeople and not data entry secretaries”. The data collection workflow is shown below:

Agents using smartphones and tablets with Collector for ArcGIS or GeoForm are collecting data about new properties for sale: land area, features on the land etc and images, and with the click of a button uploading all that data to the company ArcGIS subscription. From there the new listing is shared with others within the organization and pushed to the company web site and public listing services.

There are some intriguing possibilities now for those looking to improve how they collect data. We find paper-based and shapefile ‘local’ methods are still in use. But new low cost cloud based mobile data collection solution’s are now here.

Let us know if you have any questions we’d be happy to tell you more.

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Categories: ArcGIS Online, cloud GIS, Mobile ArcGIS, Mobile GIS, Web and mobile GIS

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