Starting with the Map in Accela Automation

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Industry News
Starting with the Map in Accela Automation
By Susan Smith

GIS professionals may welcome this new release from Accela, Inc. which extends geodatabase editing capability into the hands of field-based professionals and frees up time in the office for data management.

This may also open the door to do better collection and management of what citizens have to offer, according to Brian Wienke, lead GIS product manager, Accela Inc. and Paul Davis, public relations director, who demonstrated their update release of Accela Automation - 7.0.5 and Accela Citizen Access at Esri this year.

The update back office web-based release extends geodatabase editing capability out to non-GIS, field-based professionals (e.g. maintenance, inspection, code enforcement teams, etc.) who are familiar with their assets. The release is also section 508-compliant which makes it accessible for disabled users. By extending geodatabase editing capability beyond traditional GIS editors, GIS professionals can focus their time on the management and maintenance – rather than collection – of the data.  According to Davis, data collection and updates will occur in tandem with the ongoing daily work of field teams and therefore can be processed by the GIS teams in a way that is staggered and manageable.

Accela 7.0, the company's flagship enterprise application, was released in February of this year, sporting many changes within the product for geospatial mapping, data management, mobile technology and a new look and feel. No matter what module of the product, such as permitting, emergency response, asset management, there is a map shelf available with the ability for citizens to use maps via the internet.

The product update in July included Section 508-compliant features and Accela also added numerous features designed to improve navigation, empower mobile public access, as well as extend real-time editing of GIS map data to field-based workers.

Run on Silverlight, Accela 7.0 and 7.0.5 can do geocoding and save, print and search from various sources such as ArcGIS Server and Bing Maps.

In 7.0 there is the capability to start from the map where the user can create a new inspection, a new record, or if it's an asset they can create a work order against it, make a buffer selection of a bunch of parcels, and can export this to a common separated value file. From an Excel file one can create a mailing list, and then use it to let people know they are trying to rezone this parcel. From this data, letters can be mailed out to surrounding neighbors and landowners.

According to Wienke, most people who come to the planning office or land office don't know their parcel ID, but they know their address, and so with Accela 7.0.5 the transaction is started from the address, and other layers such as floodplain then be turned on. Research and analysis can be started from the map.

At that point, the user can move into the tabular view and get a list where some of these, in this case, building permits are located. The list view is now replaced by the map and map markers identify what they are with the permit number, building demolition, the address, date opened, etc. Its location can be seen on the map.

From here an action can be performed again on this map marker, and the user can create an inspection, then the program will refresh the page and take the user to inspections. There is a submission form so the user can pick up the inspections he wants to perform on the permit.

“The same kind of functionality is in our Mobile Office product,” said Wienke. “The map control will feel the exactly the same whether you're in the office, or on the internet. If out in the field, the application will look different because it's specific to a field worker -- basically it's a little bit more streamlined and has large buttons for touchscreen interface and high contrast, but it's going to be the same map control.”

Wienke added that routing happens in the back office as well as out in the field that uses the network extension from ArcGIS Server which has a good quality street centerline file.

In 7.0.5 the ability to do editing makes it possible to create shapes in GIS on the map, and create new permits, work order, service requests from that new created object either from back office or from the web. As an example, “From the browser based application, I have a customer out in Miami who is basically creating geometry and attaching that geometry to the new permit that the applicant is applying for,” said Wienke. “In Miami they're doing operational permits, sometimes a deck or dock goes into a waterway, and they want to be very specific about where the permit is being applied for.”

From the address, the user can create a new GIS object or new geometry, and can use the permit edit layer and configure it to automatically turn on and choose the specific tools, or go in and turn them on once the user is in there. The user can draw it, give it an ID and description, create geometry then hit Submit.

When the user comes to the permit intake form, it will automatically attach that shape that he created to that permit. “Some of the fields can be auto-populated from the GIS as well, so you can bring those in and populate the form. That would give you the true location of the permit,” said Wienke.

With the Mobile Office product field workers can also create new geometry out in the field, not just for permits, work orders or code enforcement, but also create new assets. This extends the GIS editing capabilities across the enterprise beyond the different GIS editors that serviced an entire agency to field workers who can take ownership of their own data.

While in the field, a field worker can create the geometry for signs, hydrants, etc. and start building the geodatabase for the assets he wants. In the map there is a GPS capture button, so while the worker is out in the field creating the new asset, he can capture the location of it and include date and submit it. It will be placed right into the new sign inventory record, and right into the Accela Mobile Office form, and it goes into the geodatabase and doesn't have to be entered again.

“This paves the way for the next generation release which will bring that same map control out to the Citizen Access product,” said Wienke. “That may scare some of our GIS editors at cities and counties, who may say 'I don't want citizens creating geometry in my geodatabase,' but if they ease into it, by collecting data they need for their individual departments, it will prepare them for the tidal wave of data coming in from the public. By doing it first with your different departments, you're really preparing the city or county GIS departments for this influx and they can manage it a bit better.”

Wienke suggests that what most customers want to receive from the public is data about abandoned vehicles, graffiti, potholes and possible dangers, and where those are located.

Davis said that some GIS departments in city and county agencies say they're not ready for the influx of volunteer data coming as their network or geodatabase isn't ready. But in many ways, GIS departments are already dealing with this data.

“In the San Francisco area there's a phone line to call the San Francisco Chronicle and Twitter feeds where people can call or write in to report infrastructure that needs to be repaired and how long it's been like that,” said Davis. “So there's a massive wave of public input already there, but not coming in ways that are connected to the back office.”

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