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.