You have a GIS. Have you connected your business processes to it?
Historically, GIS has been a system of record for many organizations, and the ability to complete any meaningful analysis lived within the GIS department. Mapping software has recently become more accessible and easy to use, and we’ve seen GIS evolve into a system of engagement and insight.
Did you know you can take your GIS even further, and use it to streamline many of your key (and often annoyingly manual) business processes?
Simplify end-user experiences with automated, repeatable tasks
Many of your end-users’ common interactions with your applications can be automated and significantly simplified. Common tasks that can be automated include:
- Data collection: Paper-based data collection -- particularly for users in the field – is still a common process for many organizations; modern GIS tools allow data to be collected seamlessly through easy-to-configure forms. Providing fields for only the information you need simplifies the experience and improves data quality.
- Visual analysis: There are many examples of visual analysis that, if not automated, would be incredibly laborious and difficult for a user to complete. For example, if a water utility needs to shut down a valve, they can quickly run an analysis inside their mapping application that shows them all the water supply sources that the shutdown will affect. To complete this manually would take many hours, and becomes increasingly costly for everyone involved.
- Reporting: When work is complete, there’s often a need to compile all the necessary information into a report; this can happen manually (and usually involves some combination of photocopying and scanning). This can be simplified with web mapping software: by pre-determining report templates, you can automatically compile the required data into a summary report.
Take charge and guide your end-users
Your end-users don’t need a set of complex GIS tools; they only want to see what is required to complete the task at hand. Automating repeatable tasks is one way to simplify the experience for your users, but there are additional steps you can take to improve your business processes.
- Guided interactions: Walking your users through the processes they need to complete increases the likelihood of success, and can reduce frustration. Only show them what they need, when they need it. A great example of guided interactions is walking the public through permit applications. Many local governments offer mapping applications where residents can submit applications online, and by guiding the public through the process, you ensure that you get the right information and that the user understands what is required of them.
- Dedicated interfaces: Offer your end-users dedicated, task-based interfaces; it reduces clutter and allows them to complete their jobs more efficiently.
- Pre-populate key fields: If your users are collecting data through the application, don’t make them complete fields that you’re able to pre-populate automatically. Fields such as who’s running the task, or what time it is, can be populated based on information that already lives in the application.
Validate data intelligently
Data integrity is an ongoing challenge for many organizations, and fixing poor data can eat up precious time. Luckily, there are approaches you can use to ensure quality data.
- Real-time validation: If your users are entering data into the application, notify them instantly if the data is incorrect. Being allowed to enter incorrect data throughout a form – only to have to go back and fix it later – can make for a frustrating experience. For example, a field worker may be completing a water meter install: if they enter the model number of the meter into the application, they can be automatically notified if it’s the wrong meter, or if there’s a duplicate meter number already in use. It saves them from installing the meter, only to find out later that it needs to be replaced.
- Rules-based validation: If you need data to be displayed in a specific format, building formatting requirements at the outset will save you – and your end-user – needless frustration. Rules-based validation allows you to provide instant feedback if a user tries to enter data in an incorrect format. An example of this that we’re all used to is password requirements. How many times have you tried to create a password for a new system, and are prompted that the password requires a capital letter, a number, and a special character? That’s rules-based validation.
Spreading the word in your organization
You can greatly improve the experience for your end-users and increase adoption of your mapping applications. For many, GIS is a foreign concept, but with a few simple tactics you can put powerful tools in the hands of your employees that are simple and intuitive to use.
Now that you know what it means to streamline business processes with GIS, it’s up to you to share this knowledge in your organization.
Why should anyone else care? At the end of the day, it all comes down to efficiency gains, consistency, and ROI. If your organization is following paper-based processes or battling with data integrity, it’s costing you time and money. By automating repeatable tasks and taking steps to ensure the correct data is collected, we’ve seen organizations save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in operating costs.
Bay Area Rapid Transit: Improving Efficiency and Simplifying Critical Business Processes
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a public transportation system serving four counties in the San Francisco Bay Area; their rapid transit system operates 46 stations across 112 miles of track, with an estimated average ridership in 2016 of 433,000 trips per weekday, and close to 129 million trips for the entire year.
For more than four decades, BART has been an efficient and reliable way for San Francisco’s Bay Area Residents to commute: what began as a futuristic dream in 1972 has grown to be a vital part of the regional culture and economy.
A major challenge BART faced was how to manage the ongoing need for track maintenance and repairs. They were following a paper-based system, which was inefficient and labor intensive. Each time the track had to undergo maintenance, Track Allocation staff had to complete and submit a detailed paper form, which took more than half an hour to complete and often had transcription errors.
They were able to solve this problem with a Geocortex application called the Track Allocation System (TAS) that leverages Geocortex Workflow and Geocortex Reporting technology. Track Allocation staff can now simply draw a box on the map to select the area and assets where the work needs to occur, and the workflow running in the back-end automatically populates a Track Allocation Request Form.
A process that used to take more than 30 minutes now takes a matter of seconds to complete. The TAS was implemented in March 2016 and already has a user base of more than 160 employees, who have recorded more than 7,000 track allocation requests.
Clayton Statham, BART’s TAS GIS Architect, has been able to quantify savings. Early analysis indicates that the TAS will help BART free up more than $1 million in annual operating labor; once linked to their enterprise asset management system, that number is expected to grow to $4 million annually.
Geocortex at the 2017 Esri Petroleum GIS Conference
It’s the beginning of April, which means we’re gearing up for another Esri Petroleum GIS Conference. While the preparation is intense and the week is going to be busy, it’s the conference I look forward to most each year! From reconnecting with colleagues and meeting new people, to seeing how the industry responds and adapts to ongoing change – to hearing what Esri will showcase at this year’s conference – I get more and more excited each year. As we gear up for the event I thought I’d offer a couple of predictions, opportunities to connect with us at the conference, and a request.
Prediction #1: The plenary session will provide thought-provoking and compelling stories that will further drive many operators to consider how they can advance their investments in GIS.
The plenary session always impresses me: from the speakers to the demonstrations, it is consistently a well-executed presentation of knowledge and insight into the industry and how spatial technology augments petroleum operations.
In 2016, for example, Scott Sitzman presented on how PUG is driving a methodology of industry standardized processes to get jobs done, while Howard Energy provided visibility into how their organization is shifting by embracing GIS. Esri presents thought-provoking content, geared to the petroleum industry, that isn’t available at the other GIS and technology conferences throughout the year.
Prediction #2: The value of identities has been realized, and the speed of adoption will continue to grow.
The plenary is a method of recapping what the industry has accomplished, as well as laying the foundation for where the industry is going. The last few years have seen the rise of ArcGIS Online and the modern ArcGIS platform, showing how GIS has grown from “make me a map” to an ecosystem of self-discovery. Incorporating the power of where has significantly improved the decisions that are made. The industry is realizing benefits of shifting from a system of record to a system of insight, enabling users to have access to effective decision making tools anywhere, anytime, and on any device.
Where to connect with the Geocortex Energy team in Houston
Our team will be at booth #812 throughout the week and we encourage you to come say hi! You’re the reason the team attends the conference, and we are excited to see what you have been doing and hear about your successes.
This is a great chance to get a look at how we’re embracing the identity model, how we can help your organization easily adopt it, and how we’re working to help energy organizations transform how people engage with spatial data throughout their organizations.
We’ll also be highlighting the solutions we’re building for the petroleum industry, how Geocortex Essentials is evolving to next-generation tools, and how we can assist your organization in rapidly deploying useful applications with little or no code.
Presentations you won’t want to miss
In looking through the conference agenda, many interesting topics piqued my interest. Seeing how companies are solving problems through points, lines, and polygons continues to amaze me!
These presentations reinforce my theory that organizations are not only embracing the web GIS pattern; they are enhancing decision making throughout their organizations.
On Thursday, April 13 there are two presentations showcasing Geocortex that we think you should add to your list.
- 9:30 AM in Ballroom C: Anthony Herman will be presenting how Geocortex Mobile App Framework has facilitated inspections – the solution leverages APR, UPDM and the Esri identity model. I also heard a rumor that Anthony has a cool co-presenter.
- 1:30 PM in Room 310: David LaGorce from ConocoPhillips will be presenting on an integration between ArcGIS, Geocortex, and the Quorum suite. I’ve seen a similar presentation before, and it’s a good one!
A simple request
We are eager to hear your thoughts and opinions from the conference. After all, you are the ones that implement ideas and use them to solve business challenges. A good idea is only a good idea until it helps someone improve an internal process, or make operations safer.
Things we’d like to hear from you:
- What was your favorite solution presented at the conference? Why?
- How do you think this will improve your business?
- What is the current challenge this will help you overcome? And how?
Following the conference, I’ll summarize the event from my perspective, and (with proper permission) highlight some of the compelling insight we’ve gained from listening to you.
We are looking forward to seeing all of you at the conference - thanks in advance for coming by!
Introducing the Geocortex Energy team
For over half a decade, more than 120 oil & gas companies and pipeline operators have implemented Geocortex Essentials; our intuitive web mapping solution helps them automate and streamline business processes, and they leverage its framework to integrate spatial data with other critical business systems. Our team has supported the unique demands of energy organizations by tailoring their implementations through professional services and product development, extending the core Geocortex Essentials suite.
The last five years have been an exciting and transformative time for Latitude Geographics, for our clients, and for the industry. Through this time, a few notable things have happened:
- Geocortex implementations have been proven, and these implementations are providing substantial value and benefits to the organization. Whether it be processes that have been streamlined and simplified through Geocortex Workflow technology, the ease of administration of the ecosystem of sites organizations apply, or the intuitive interface of Geocortex, operators have been able grow the number of users through the organization. Because of this, our solutions have become more deeply embedded, and are becoming crucial decision making tools, saving some customers hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
- The global oil & gas economy has forced energy organizations to be more efficient and uncover new ways to use the systems and tools they already have in place. Due to the rapid development nature, ease of implementation, and scalability of Geocortex technology, many organizations are finding they can operate more efficiently through their investment in Geocortex.
- Client implementations have matured, the user-base has grown, and advanced users are looking to extend Geocortex with distinct and powerful functionality. Whether it’s integration with asset management, work order management, or other key business systems, Geocortex is being pushed further to do more.
- As we have worked through these advancements with our clients, our subject matter expertise has expanded significantly. Whether the expertise has grown from the work we have done alongside our clients, or through hiring individuals with industry experience, we have developed a deep understanding of the complexities of industry data standards and regulatory requirements. This positions us to provide far better advice and guidance to our customers.
Introducing the Geocortex Energy team
In response to the rapid adoption of Geocortex, the ever-changing industry landscape, and a desire to better serve our customers, we are excited to introduce you to our dedicated Geocortex Energy team! We are focused on leveraging industry and client experience, coupled with the Geocortex framework, to build solutions and services that will continue to redefine how energy users engage with spatial data.
The Geocortex Energy team is comprised of two groups: Business Development and Solutions. Our Business Development team, Rob Lenarcic and Quinn Abbey (familiar names for many of our clients) continue to drive new business, support our energy customers, ensure continuity in the services we provide, and showcase our newest offerings.
The Solutions team consists of several individuals that continue the tradition of crafting best-in-breed solutions and services - with a dedicated focus on workflows that address the specific challenges of oil & gas organizations. Led by me, Sam Acheson (Energy Solutions Manager), the team also includes Tom Kasmer (Project Manager and Business Analyst), and Software Engineers Yongzhi Zhu, Colin Aspinall, and Christian Morin (our resident Software Architect).
The team has already started collaborating with clients to develop new and exciting technology solutions built with Geocortex, and we can’t wait to show you what we’ve come up with!
In the coming months, we will be sharing more information with you via this blog; if you’d like to hear more about our latest solutions – and learn how the Geocortex Energy team is continuing to help oil & gas organizations – be sure to connect with us at these upcoming 2017 events:
- Esri Petroleum GIS Conference, April 12-13: Houston, TX
- Esri International User Conference, July 10-14: San Diego, CA
- Pipeline Week, October 3-5: Houston, TX
(You can also catch a webinar I recently hosted here.)
Esri's 2017 Partner Conference and DevSummit
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of checking out Esri’s Partner Conference (EPC) and DevSummit in Palm Springs, where Esri shares their plans and technology direction for the year ahead. Latitude Geographics has attended the EPC and DevSummit for the past 13 years; although I have been with Latitude for 16 years, this was the first time I took part. As the lead Business Analyst on our ArcGIS Implementation Services team, it was a particularly great year for me to be there and take in all of the information Esri had to offer.
I took some time to go through my notes from this year’s event, and wanted to share with the Geocortex community what I saw as 2017’s main themes.
Unification of the ArcGIS message
One thing that stood out immediately to me was that the ArcGIS message has consolidated under the umbrella of the new ArcGIS Enterprise terminology (introduced at ArcGIS 10.5). In recent years, I’d heard about individual components of the ArcGIS platform – Portal for ArcGIS, ArcGIS for Server, and the rest of the individual stack components; while all the individual components are still there and still very powerful, the updated messaging around ArcGIS Enterprise has simplified things and brought everything together. Each “piece” feels much more like contributing technologies to a cohesive whole, rather than individual software components.
Maturity of the ArcGIS platform
Related to the unification theme above, there is a noticeable increase in maturity of the complete ArcGIS platform. Some exciting capabilities have started to come into their own over the past year (e.g. ArcGIS Insights and ArcGIS GeoAnalytics Server), and this maturity makes the ArcGIS platform an even more compelling, comprehensive GIS solution. Single-user, high-power desktop GIS isn’t exactly what I’d call a dinosaur just yet, but it’s sure looking grey compared to the new distributed and connected GIS computing paradigm Esri has introduced.
On-premises options for ArcGIS Enterprise
During the DevSummit this year, it seemed to me that there was a heavy focus on on-premises options for ArcGIS Enterprise. ArcGIS Online was still a focus, but I expect that the attention towards on-premises installation, configuration, tuning and management is reflective of the number of organizations that simply need to host their GIS infrastructure themselves. I probably shouldn’t use the term ‘on-premises’ -- quite often ArcGIS Enterprise is best implemented inside Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Azure – ‘self-hosted’ is perhaps better terminology.
Discovering useful tools and tactics
Finally, I must say that so much of the value for me at this year’s Partner Conference and DevSummit was all the bits of information I picked up related to many different areas of the Esri ecosystem. From learning about tools that I wasn’t aware of (like Koop), to valuable brainstorming and UX wireframing techniques, to tips and tricks for working with Geodatabases (hello extracting coded value domains!), this year’s event was a treasure chest of useful nuggets of information.
I can’t wait to see what else Esri has in store for us, and I look forward to working with our customers on more successful ArcGIS and Geocortex implementations as the year continues to unfold!
Geocortex at the 2017 Esri Partner Conference & DevSummit
We are less than a week away from Esri’s annual Partner Conference and DevSummit, taking place March 6-10 in beautiful Palm Springs, California. It’s always a great opportunity to connect with the Esri (and Geocortex!) community.
This year, we are coming to the event with lots of exciting things to share and discuss.
Next-generation Geocortex Workflow
For the last 5+ years, Geocortex Workflow has been one of the most popular capabilities offered with Geocortex Essentials, and we’re pleased to share that later in 2017, you will be able to purchase the next-generation Geocortex Workflow as a standalone product!
For those who aren’t familiar with Geocortex Workflow, it allows you to create simplified, guided interactions for end-users, without programming. Organizations around the world have leveraged Geocortex Workflow to streamline and automate complex business processes… in many cases, this has resulted in significant annual savings.
Geocortex Workflow will also ship with some significant improvements:
- Take your workflows offline: You will be able to run Geocortex Workflow offline in environments with limited or no Internet connectivity – one of the most sought after features in recent years.
- Geocortex inside Esri apps: Esri customers will now be able to harness the power of Geocortex Workflow technology inside Esri’s Web AppBuilder Developer Edition (with more to come soon).
- Efficient, intuitive web-based designer: Geocortex Workflow Designer is undergoing improvements, and will now be web-based to offer a much more intuitive and simplified experience for builders of workflows.
Additional product enhancements:
We also encourage you to come chat with us about the other product enhancements we’ve made over the past few months. It’s been a busy start to 2017 for the Geocortex Product Development team, with no signs of slowing down!
- Accessibility: Are you having trouble meeting Section 508 Standards and Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) compliance? Check out our blog post on the topic and let us help clear up any confusion.
- Integrations: Do you need to integrate 3rd party business systems and data sources? Come see how Geocortex customers are integrating with 3rd party land management, asset management, document management and business intelligence systems!
- Security: Want to apply fine-grained permissions to control access to layers and capabilities within apps? Let us show you how Geocortex simplifies the process, and learn how our technology works with ArcGIS identities.
- Web Reporting and Printing: Do you need a simple way to generate printable reports? Need to print high quality maps in large or unique formats? Swing by and see Geocortex Web Reporting and Printing in action.
Where to find us:
- The Geocortex Technology Update (for Geocortex Business Partners): Paul Salah (Director, Business Development), and Drew Millen (Director, Products) will demonstrate recent product advancements and share a roadmap of the most exciting projects we’re working on. If you’re interested in attending, please contact us at: email@example.com.
- The GIS Solutions Expo: We’ll be exhibiting in booth #122 on March 6 from 2:00 – 7:00 PM. Drop by and have a member of the team walk you through Geocortex Essentials and Geocortex Analytics, and explore how we can help you accomplish even more with Esri’s modern ArcGIS technology.
We also have time available for 1-to-1 meetings. If you’d like to schedule some time to connect in Palm Springs, contact us today (firstname.lastname@example.org).
See you soon!
Web maps for everyone: Why you should be paying attention to accessibility
In our daily lives there are things that many of us take for granted, and may not always be available to everyone. Accessibility has become a top-of-mind topic for businesses, government agencies, and developers of technology in recent years – particularly as modern society finds new ways to be more inclusive.
What does accessibility mean on the web?
First published in 1999, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of principles -- determined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) -- that lay out how to best make web offerings (including web maps) accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of ability. This means providing alternatives to audio and visual content, providing clear and varying navigation options, and ensuring you are not relying on color and graphics alone.
Accessibility in practice
Many jurisdictions and organizations are legally requiring accessibility support for web offerings; as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, historic exemptions for web mapping are being eliminated. The Government of Canada has detailed standards on web accessibility, which require all web offerings available externally and internally to conform to the requirements of WCAG 2.0. The Province of Ontario was the first Canadian province to pass a law that improves accessibility in areas that impact the daily lives of people with disabilities.
In January 2017, the United States updated Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with a new rule that adopts many of WCAG's success criteria. These Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology that is developed, procured, maintained or used by federal agencies, and contain technical criteria specific to various types of technologies.
Additionally, regulators in the United Kingdom, European Union, Australia and Israel require government web offerings to conform to WCAG standards, and we only expect more federal and regional governments around the world to follow suit.
What should you do?
Not only are accessible web offerings mandated in many regions, it’s simply the right thing to do. No group should be excluded from leveraging the amazing power that mapping technology offers.
But how do you do it? Here are a few things to consider as you get started:
- Screen Readers: Screen readers dictate the user interface (UI) text aloud, allowing users to listen to the page instead of reading it. This is an important consideration for serving end-users with limited visibility.
- Keyboard Navigation: Keyboard shortcuts allow end-users to interact with applications using a keyboard instead of a mouse. For many of us, using a mouse is a natural skill, but for end-users with limited motor skills it can be prohibitive.
- High-Contrast Visualization: Color should not be used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element.
At Latitude Geographics we’ve been developing out-of-the-box accessibility capabilities since 2015. If you’d like to learn how our Geocortex Essentials product can help you meet your requirements, or would like some help clearing up confusion around existing and emerging regulations, please get in touch.
In January we hosted a 30-minute webinar about accessibility; if you're interested in diving into this topic in-depth you can find the webinar recording here.
Start the New Year with ArcGIS 10.5 and Geocortex
Esri’s ArcGIS 10.5 is now available and we’re excited for what it has to offer Geocortex customers. This major release not only includes stability enhancements and improved functionality; it represents a big leap forward for Esri’s emerging Web GIS pattern, and makes it significantly easier for organizations to begin taking advantage of the modern pattern’s powerful capabilities.
ArcGIS Enterprise: A Major Advancement in the Server Platform
ArcGIS Server is being renamed to ArcGIS Enterprise. Beginning at 10.5, ArcGIS Enterprise licensees will be able to take advantage of the ArcGIS Server, Portal for ArcGIS, ArcGIS Web Adaptor, and ArcGIS Data Store components under one license. The transition to ArcGIS Enterprise is straightforward and will continue to provide customers with deployment flexibility; you will now be able to deploy a complete web GIS in your own infrastructure.
New ArcGIS Membership Levels
Another important advancement in 10.5 is the introduction of new membership levels. Level 1 membership is for users who only require viewing privileges for maps and apps that have been shared with them through the organization. Level 2 membership is for members who require the ability to view, edit, create and share content.
The new membership levels make web GIS more cost-effective and allow you to better tailor your deployments. You can learn more about the new membership levels here.
Geocortex & ArcGIS 10.5
Our product development and QA teams have been testing ArcGIS 10.5 pre-release software extensively over the past couple months, and we are very pleased to announce that the Geocortex product suite is completely compatible with 10.5."Portal for ArcGIS is central to our modern Geocortex product strategy."
Geocortex Essentials provides seamless integration with Portal for ArcGIS, and can leverage both web maps and map services (secured and anonymous) stored in Portal for ArcGIS or ArcGIS Online. One of the most powerful implications is that if a protected web map is used to build a Geocortex viewer application, the application will honor the security and prompt users to log-in with their ArcGIS identities.
Let us Help
We think that there has never been a better time to consider making the move to a modern web GIS. Geocortex will increasingly include tie-ins, dependencies, and value adds to Portal for ArcGIS and ArcGIS Online; the release of ArcGIS 10.5 makes it much easier for you to take advantage of the new pattern.
Many organizations may not be fully equipped to deploy modern Geocortex and Esri technology. Our ArcGIS Implementation Services team can help you navigate the transition, and fast-track effective deployments of Portal for ArcGIS and related technologies.
To learn more about how we can help you take advantage of web GIS in 2017, get in touch with us at email@example.com.
Latitude’s Take on Esri’s Web GIS… and Named Users
When presenting to user groups or talking with folks this autumn, I’d say the number one question I get asked is some variation on “what’s Latitude’s take on Esri’s push to named users?”
I usually give a quick answer and then refer them to the part the 2016 Geocortex User Conference plenary presentation last May when I addressed this topic in detail. However, given conference recordings are only available to people with Geocortex Support Center access, we figured we’d just post the entire transcript (see below) and accompanying slides here on the Geocortex Blog for people to refer to.
That said, given the hassle of matching the transcript with slide transitions, we figured it makes sense to also post an actual video recording of the sections covered by the following transcript and slides.
Why read when you can watch? (16 min video)
TL; DR… I think it’s not about named users. Esri is transitioning their approach to a superior way of delivering geographic insight to people. Web GIS is fundamentally about modern computing patterns. The concept of identity (i.e. the named user) is important within modern computing patterns because knowing who a given user isenables high-value capabilities that would be impossible without this information.
Anyway, it’s a fairly long read, but might be of interest to some:
Presentation: 2016 Geocortex User Conference Plenary session
Sections: The World Around Us; Esri’s Web GIS (Download supporting slides)
Presenter: Steven Myhill-Jones
(Section II: The World Around Us)
I want to talk about progress.
I wish you were all here with me today. Because I want to see a show of hands. I want to know how many people use Google Drive, or OneDrive, or iCloud or Box or Dropbox to store most or all of your personal stuff. And I don’t mean like a memory stick for just a few things! I mean you use it as your main storage for documents, photos and other stuff. Either way, it’s fine… I’m just curious where everyone is at.
I have more calibration questions. Are your browser bookmarks spread across different machines or are they all unified across your devices? Do you use a password manager like 1Pass or Dashlane? Do you own your music collection, or are you subscribed to a service that gives you everything? When collaborating with others, do you email Word docs and spreadsheets or prefer to collaborate directly in Google Docs or Office365?
I’ve always figured I’m reasonably progressive. For example, I’ve used Dropbox and a cloud-based back-up service for a long time now. So I tick off a few boxes, for sure. But while I’ve heard about popular new services like Trello and Asana, the truth is I feel like there are so many of them and I’m a busy guy.
I tend to gravitate to what I know, and patterns of computing I’ve established in my life.
Honestly, I haven’t been a big experimenter with new services.
I had an epiphany not long ago when I was in the process of planning out computers and networking for the house my wife and I have been renovating.
Now this kind of stuff is bit outside my wheelhouse, to be sure. But as I was chatting about my thinking over lunch with Alex McKeachie, who is our Information Systems manager, I noticed he at first developed a slightly panicked, and then despondent, look in his eyes.
It was as if he was staring at a dinosaur or something. And I suppose he was. By the way, this is the dinosaur image that we thought best captured my nose.
Anyway, over a few weeks, Alex took me through all a bunch of modern technologies and approaches that are vastly superior to approaches that I’ve been taking for many years. It finally soaked in that I was creating hours and hours of work for myself instead of paying a few bucks a month. So I made changes in a number of areas.
For example, I transitioned to Google Photos, which saves me from spending a few hours swearing at my home PC as I try to wrestle recent photos off my go-to camera–my iPhone–and shuffle them into the old directory structure I developed years ago to organize and find stuff later and back up to my external hard drive system.
Many of these new offerings are cloud-based, and they cost about the same. Sometimes less, sometimes a bit more. Yes I pay $100/year for a couple things now, but I don’t have to buy hardware anymore or worry about set-up or maintenance or physical security of it all.
But I’m not here to evangelize the cloud. All this goes way beyond offloading storage and computing resources via the cloud… or maybe some on-premises version of it.
You see, a big benefit has come through connecting my computing resources. Rather than my previous approach on each device… connected together but not unified… I’ve moved to a model where it doesn’t matter what device I’m on, my work is just there.
I used to kind of roll my eyes at this, and think: Well, I don’t really need that. I don’t need to edit PPTs on my iPhone. And I don’t. But I move between a few different computers, and a couple mobile devices. And I need to do different things in different places. I’ll take a photo on my phone, which I later need to access or make use of on some other device. That’s now solved properly.
Ubiquitous access is possible via these modern technologies knowing who you are—based your identity. With Dashlane, a cloud-based password management utility, my identity gives me secure access to my passwords and information across all my devices, updated and ready to go. I only have to remember one password, and I can easily share a subset of my passwords with my wife, and even a few with my kids.
Taking a step back, it’s clear there are recurring themes in common with almost all these modern offerings like Salesforce:
- Identity – What you’re using is predicated on who you are
- Ubiquitous access – Consistent access on any device, anywhere, anytime
- Sharing and collaboration – Identities allow you to do things in conjunction with others
- Common currencies –the file formats, standards, et cetera that are the basis from which all this can happen. Often this enables third-party ties ins and supporting solutions.
- Services based – They default to web based services and computation wherever possible
These themes aren’t afterthoughts. They’re baked into every aspect of most of these platforms. These factors on their own provide high value, but put together, the outcome can be far greater than the sum of their parts.
And it’s why they’re shifting the landscape of computing and how people get things done, and will even more as things mature and users that aren’t actively searching for these offerings discover the leap-forward productivity benefits they deliver.
The world is changing, not for the sake of change or grabbing what’s shiny and new, but because there are new approaches that can deliver profound new benefits. We owe it to ourselves– and especially our organizations and those we serve to expand our thinking if we’re not already or if we’ve fallen a bit behind what’s afoot.
We need to be realistic and pragmatic, but also keep our predilections and biases in check.
Within Latitude, I soon noticed that Alex and his information systems team had rolled out many of these types of modern offerings at our office, but in many cases I wasn’t using them properly.
In many cases, I was trying to make these new offerings conform to my old workflows and habits.
A key insight I want to share is this: I thought I got the power of identity and modern approaches—indeed I think about it all the time for GIS–until I was confronted by the reality of many of my personal workflows outside my professional sphere. I realized I was missing out on all kinds of far superior ways of doing things, even when I was signed up for some of these services, because aspects of my thinking was out of date.
Now many of you are not like I was, and you totally get modern patterns and always have. But I’ll bet a few of you have something in common with me.
Here’s the thing:
There are some things in life most of us can’t truly get, until we experience the benefits for ourselves. And to be open to receiving the full experience, we sometimes have to deliberately put aside our existing assumptions and habits. We have to open our minds.
In life, you stay relevant by being open to new things. You were relevant because you stopped. (John Maeda)
If we’re evaluating something new and disruptive from the perspective of our old mental framework, there’s probably a good chance we don’t give it a fair evaluation in the first pass or two.
So instead of assessing something and concluding “I don’t like it” or “I don’t want it”, I’m trying to always add the word “yet” in the back of my mind. And I encourage you to do the same.
For a few years now, I’ve been very much on board with Esri’s vision… I get the value of making geographic information products more available across organizations and in the hands of more people.
But for a while, I’ll admit I didn’t truly and deeply get the power of identity and what it enables. I mean, it’s not like anyone typically leaves their work PC and then continues doing some dynamic segmentation in the grocery store lineup on their smartphone, right? But beyond connecting devices—unifying them through identity can open up all kinds of doors in terms of possibilities.
You have your information and your workflows at your fingertips, and not a bunch of other stuff. This is really important for non-GIS type users. It stops being about the technology, and instead shifts to being about the things they’re trying to do. And with that, friction and inefficiencies get reduced. Collaboration is streamlined."Efficiency and usefulness are magnetic."
At first, it’s often hard to put your finger on the coming benefits of a major technology change in the world, and hard to describe specific examples ahead of time, but over time, you realize you wouldn’t ever want to go back.
Look… who needs internet on their mobile phone? Hey, people seriously said that less than ten years ago! If you find yourself saying “Things are fine the way they are”, you might be right. You might also be a future punchline.
And this, friends, is why getting into Esri’s new web-GIS pattern matters. Until we do things differently, and discover things we couldn’t do before, it’s hard to really ‘get it’. When our reference point is the past, we don’t need these new approaches, but when we have them, we start to leverage the meaningful ones powerfully and they become indispensable.
I’ve shared my own story; maybe you have your own version of it. But whatever the case, I ask you to go with me into this next section with your mind wide open.
(Section III: Esri’s Web GIS Pattern)
I now want to talk about Esri’s modern web-GIS pattern, because this topic is really important, it’s really timely, and lots of folks don’t fully understand what’s unfolding right now. I’ve been at this for 17 years, and this is a watershed moment. It’s bigger than the shift from ArcIMS to ArcGIS Server. It’s at least on par with the significance of introducing web-based mapping to a desktop only world back in 2000.
I’m a real believer in Esri’s vision for a modern web GIS pattern. Let’s talk about what “modern web GIS pattern” means. It means that the system knows who you are, so it can deliver the data and capabilities that are important to the work you do. It can deliver the things you’re doing or need to do when you need them, instead of inundating you with a bunch of irrelevant stuff. Beyond the user, Portal or ArcGIS Online are the unifying organizational structure… the entry point to information and tools so you can discover, access, and work with the stuff you need.
Tasks that used to require ten steps and focus, become three steps and easy. Things become so much easier and more accessible, a bunch more people—people who don’t get excited in the least about maps—are able to start leveraging geographic information in their work because it provides value and it’s no big deal.
That is web GIS. Beyond just an organizational system of record, it all becomes a system of engagement.
Let’s zoom out for a moment, and relate the noteworthy themes of Web GIS to what I described earlier… the key themes or elements of these modern platforms and offerings. Let’s take a look.
- Identity – Users sign in so the system knows who they are and what they have access to.
- Ubiquitous access– Readily accessible, usable apps available across all major platforms… that offer a consistent, familiar experience.
- Sharing and collaboration – Portal or ArcGIS Online enable sharing and collaboration that’s unified, and is managed centrally.
- Common currencies – the ArcGIS Information model… Web Layers, Web Maps, Web Scenes, Feature layers… these embody the underlying connective tissue that enables all this.
- Services based – Notwithstanding offline use cases, Web Services are the go-to approach for processing and computation.
Where possible, ArcGIS Server and related servers like GeoEvent deliver the capabilities that apps and the software we deliver access.
Web GIS is not named users. It’s not moving everything to ArcGIS Online, or buying more. It’s about getting more done, more easily, more efficiently. It’s about your investment in GIS delivering more value to your organization.
Here’s the thing: Web GIS isn’t about technology. It’s about how people access and use maps and GIS.
Look, I might be able to quibble with an aspect or two of what Esri’s done so far on the execution side of things, but its complex and Esri is working hard to figure all this out.
Right now, most objections and concerns we hear about Esri’s new pattern boil down to two areas.
Maturity and cost. And I think these objections are going to fade in a big way over the next twelve months.
As far as maturity goes, at Latitude, we’re conservative about recommending things prematurely because moving too early can be expensive and challenging. However, I think we have reached or are about to reach a tipping point. Now, I think we’re in an era where not moving—deliberately or not, investing in the past—will ultimately prove more costly than any wrinkles left to iron out. Remember, for many newer Esri customers, the Web GIS pattern is the only pattern they know! I think Portal, for example, will evolve rapidly in the next twelve months.
In terms of cost, I have yet to see a situation in 2016 where we’ve not been able to work with Esri to ensure an acceptable pricing model if someone doesn’t quite fit the current structure. Especially with ELAs, Esri is working with folks to figure out a path that delivers comparable deployment magnitude for similar cost; a challenge is a new licensing model that can sometimes be too big or too small depending on patterns of use. I’m really happy with how key Esri folks have been willing to work with us to figure out a way to move forward and make things happen.
So I actually think this is a phenomenally good time to have that conversation with Esri, strategically speaking… and we’re happy to help facilitate, working on your behalf. I’ll say this: we might be an Esri Platinum Partner, but we–and our resellers–work for you.
I’m not telling you to throw out the past, or introduce radical change overnight. Many of you have large, complex implementations. What I am recommending is, especially if rolling out change takes time at your organization, that you start working on the assumption that Web GIS is coming and that embracing it is vital. I’m suggesting you roll out web GIS not because some vendor might be telling you to, but because doing so entirely aligned with the mandate that we all have to maximize the potential value of geographic information at our organizations.
I am convinced Web GIS is not a flash in the pan or some approach that’ll get dropped or morph in a year or two. In our assessment, Web GIS reflects authentic cross-industry information technology change."Web GIS reflects authentic cross-industry information technology change."
It’s the real thing, and we believe it’s very close to setting off on the path of ubiquity, like what we’re seeing in other industries. My hunch is we’re going to hear some big announcements from Esri before long that’ll provide compelling reasons to leave past patterns behind.
So… we recommend active, front-burner initiatives… if you’re not already doing so, to start deploying new offerings under the Web GIS model in earnest. Beyond dabbling in what’s next to satisfy those asking, look for opportunities to roll it out sufficiently to explore and discover the benefits it can enable.
If you don’t, I think the reality is you’ll increasingly miss out on capabilities that are only available under the new model because they’re only possible to deliver using the new model. You’ll fall behind.
A great example with our technology is offline search and other great new capabilities in Geocortex Mobile App Framework 2.0. Only Esri’s Web GIS offerings could enable these capabilities, and so version 2.0 is based on an ArcGIS identity and requires it.
In fact, this is a great segue to our next topic.
(Section IV: Where does Geocortex fit into all this?)
Well, it’s very much a corresponding and connected vision, so let’s explore…
From there, my presentation continues to discuss and demonstrate all the work my colleagues at Latitude are doing to help clients maximize the possibilities of their Esri Web GIS technology, especially through our complementary and ever-evolving supporting technologies like Geocortex Essentials and Geocortex Analytics.
Geocortex Essentials 4.6, Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 2.7 & Geocortex Mobile App Framework 2.1
Latitude Geographics has released Geocortex Essentials 4.6, alongside Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 2.7 and Geocortex Mobile App Framework 2.1.
While we’ve made some major upgrades to Geocortex Essentials to help you manage and configure your applications, many of the exciting features in this release can be found in our viewer and its offline capabilities.
- Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 2.7 has a new Time Slider control to filter data on your maps to only show features in a chosen time extent. This version also offers users the ability to change the rendering of layers on-the-fly with new Dynamic Symbolization controls. They can also add layers from a predefined list of catalog layers – controlled by administrators – and can search for services and layers by URL or keyword. On the management side, this release empowers administrators to edit all context menus in the viewer, configure feature highlight colors, control measurement symbology, and more.
- Geocortex Mobile App Framework 2.1 versions for iOS, Windows, and Android have been improved, and continue to use Esri’s geodatabase replica format to store feature data on a device; this enables search with more advanced spatial intersections offline, and a smarter sync mechanism. This version introduces support for taking layers from dynamic map services offline. We’ve also made a handful of improvements for users with Windows devices, such as a configurable storage location for data. (As a reminder, we shared information with Geocortex customers at our last release regarding licensing considerations for Geocortex Mobile App Framework. If you are a Geocortex customer and haven’t had a chance to review it, yet, check out our post in the Geocortex Support Center).
As always, there are also numerous minor features, various bug fixes and user experience enhancements included as part of this release. We recommend you consult the release notes for more detailed information.
Note: There is interdependence between Geocortex Essentials, Geocortex Mobile App Framework, and our HTML5 viewer; implementing some newly-introduced features will require the latest versions.
Current Geocortex customers: Installers, release notes and supporting documentation can be downloaded by licensees with an active maintenance agreement from the Geocortex Support Center. If your account is handled by an authorized Geocortex Reseller, please contact your local representative for access to installers and documentation.
Customers interested in learning more about some of the new features being introduced can watch a set of new feature videos that will be available for viewing in the coming weeks in the Geocortex Support Center.