When we think about the health of our GIS, many of us are used to beginning with the infrastructure. After all, it is what drives the technical performance of your system. The problem with starting at the infrastructure level, though, is that it’s difficult to get a complete picture of which aspects of the GIS are most important to your users.
While the GIS infrastructure is extremely important, not all the resources in your environment are created equal. You might have some layers or services that are used 3-4 times a week, and others that are accessed thousands of times each week. While you want to do all you can to ensure the entire system is performing as it should, there are only so many hours in a day. With an infrastructure-first approach, you’re often unable to hone in on what the most important apps, layers, services, servers, and ArcGIS instances are.
A new way to think about GIS health
It’s time we flip the traditional infrastructure-first approach and begin thinking about GIS health through the lens of end-user productivity. Your GIS is there to help your users do their jobs, so that’s where your analysis should start.
Whether it’s explicitly or implicitly, you’re going to be measured on the productivity of the users you build apps for, not the response time of a specific server. Without the users, there is no need for the GIS infrastructure.
By starting with what your users are trying to accomplish, you’ll be able to map your key business processes and user flows to the GIS infrastructure and resources that are most important to supporting them. Looking at your GIS from users’ perspectives allows you to better understand how it is being used day-to-day and identify the critical resources needed to support your monitoring and optimization efforts.
With so many moving pieces in your GIS, you don’t have time to treat everything equally. Focusing your efforts will let you be much more productive and spend more time working on high-value activities.
When we talk about a user-first approach to GIS health, there are two major areas that you need to be considering:
Performance: While closely tied to infrastructure performance, what we mean here is the performance of your end-users. Are they able to do their jobs effectively with the tools and applications you’re building? Are your users taking longer than expected to complete certain tasks?
When these things crop up, a user-first approach will help you target your efforts and fix issues quicker. A good example would be if an application had a poorly performing layer. This would be an infrastructure performance issue, but if you understand what specific layers and services are used in that application, you will know where to look to address the issue.
Usability: If your GIS infrastructure is performing as expected, the next area to examine is usability. Usability is all about whether your applications are configured and designed in a way that makes sense for what your users need to do. Strong infrastructure performance combined with poor usability is still poor performance (remember, performance is about end-user performance, not infrastructure).
An example of how usability can affect performance is when a common tool is not in a prominent location in your app. If it’s difficult to find, users will waste time looking for it, take longer to complete a task by using a different method, or abandon it entirely. This is also true when incorrect layers are loaded by default – users end up wasting time searching for the layers they need.
Completing a user-first health assessment
Once you’ve adopted a user-first approach to GIS health, you’re ready to perform a user-first health assessment. What you’re trying to accomplish is mapping out the business processes and use cases that you manage with your GIS to the specific GIS resources that support them.
First, you’ll want to identify the different user groups that leverage your GIS. By user group, we mean a group of users that have common work patterns and engagement with your applications. This could be a group of people (or one person) with the same task in your head office, or it could be a specific field crew that uses an app on a tablet. The key here is to identify people who use the GIS in similar ways.
We’ve created a checklist to help you perform a health assessment; it’ll help you map what your different user groups need to accomplish to the GIS resources and infrastructure required to support their work.
The checklist contains areas to detail the users and what they need to do, the app(s) they use, the most-used layers, the services the app(s) consume, which ArcGIS products are used and how they’re configured, and the server(s) that support it.
What to do with your health assessment
Once you’ve completed your GIS health assessment, you can use the information you’ve gathered to proactively monitor the GIS resources that are the most important. Tools like Geocortex Analytics allow you to configure personalized dashboards that provide a snapshot of the resources you want to monitor.
You can also configure alarms and notifications in some systems monitoring tools. Because you know what you need to monitor, you can set thresholds for warning signs of potential issues and have notifications sent to your email.
Next, identify anomalies among your use patterns. If certain users are performing notably better or worse than the average, you can dive into the specifics of how those individuals are using the applications you’ve built. Replicate the superior use patterns and examine the weaker patterns to gauge if there is a potential gap in training or understanding of certain functions.
If you want to learn how all of this is possible with Geocortex Analytics, we’d like the chance to show you! We’ve recently added great new features (including individual user reporting) and made significant improvements to performance and reliability. Get in touch with us using the button below.