At Latitude Geographics, we enjoy the rituals of preparing for the biggest annual event we attend: The Esri User Conference. One of these rituals I particularly enjoy is poring over Esri's meticulously prepared, pre-conference publication, called the Esri UC Q&A.
Each year it provides meaningful insights into Esri’s themes, message, strategy, and concrete development plans, and its coverage is extremely broad.
The 2016 edition emphasizes a key theme that is increasingly relevant to partners like us, and all organizations that use ArcGIS: the Web GIS pattern.
Rather than paraphrasing, I’ve captured some of the key questions that thoroughly describe Web GIS:
What is the big idea with Web GIS? Esri’s response to this question describes an ambitious, global vision with comparisons to the Internet itself. This certainly is a ‘big idea’!
What is the Geoinformation Model, and why is it important? Most of the information in this answer is provided via the ArcGIS Online Help link provided. All software systems start with some sort of ‘model’. It’s great to see the formalization of the term Geoinformation Model to describe the building blocks of portals and Web GIS.
What is a web map and why is that important? I think that web maps form the central currency of ArcGIS Online, Portal for ArcGIS... and therefore a Web GIS. While Geocortex currently consumes web maps, we’re also doing a lot of engineering work right now to make web maps even more integral to our software.
At Latitude, we’re laser focused on building software that complements Web GIS implementation approaches. Geocortex integrates with ArcGIS Online and Portal for ArcGIS, it consumes web maps and other aspects of the Geoinformation Model, and leverages ArcGIS identities to personalize app experiences and provide the right content to the right users. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing Web GIS at our own user conference in May, and are committed to helping our customers understand it as it continues to influence technology changes.
Another interesting takeaway from the Q&A is how Esri’s position of ArcGIS Server is evolving. No, I’m not referring to this (I have no comment on that), there’s a far more interesting question worth a read, and a re-read: How would you describe ArcGIS for Server today? Succinctly, we’re seeing ArcGIS for Server positioned as all aspects of the Web GIS that might run on premise, including the traditionally independently positioned Portal for ArcGIS, and server extension products. ArcGIS Server is far more than just the GIS server in its classic form, and it's empowering to think of it as a the on-premises component of a broad-reaching Web GIS.
We’re excited about heading down to San Diego next week to and talk about all things Web GIS with Esri and our customers! Come visit us in Booth 311, and visit our event page to sign up for some of the presentations, demonstrations, and get togethers we have planned.
Continuing from last week, here's items 5 to 1 on our Top Ten list of the notable developments at Latitude Geographics in 2015 that will have a big influence on the work we all do with Geocortex in 2016:
5. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA Compliance
In 2015 we raised the bar in web GIS by providing support for end-users with disabilities. Released in March, Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 2.4 introduced out-of-the-box compliance with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) industry standard guidelines, including features that are – at minimum – Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) 2.0 AA compliant. We did unprecedented development in the industry, which included focus group testing (special thanks to our colleagues at York Region in Southern Ontario who led this!) to help serve as an industry leader in accessibility within web mapping applications and provide users of all abilities with the best possible user experiences.
In 2016 we will be sharing the stories of end-users who are making the most of Geocortex Viewer for HTML5, and will be urging our government customers, in particular, to make their public-facing maps more accessible to everyone in their communities. Even if it’s not yet legislated in your jurisdiction, take a look… it’s just the right thing to do.
4. Mobile Offline: Geocortex Mobile App Framework
Many organizations require end-users to work with maps on mobile devices, even when operating in an environment with limited to no Internet connectivity, and Collector for ArcGIS is an ideal solution for this scenario. In some cases, there is a need to deliver a customized mobile offline application; to serve this need, we offer Geocortex Mobile App Framework (GMAF), which is included as part of Geocortex Essentials and follows an HTML5-centric approach that can be deployed to – and make the most of – specific mobile device hardware.
In 2015 we simplified GMAF’s architecture to enable a streamlined user experience for downloading and saving viewers that need to work offline onto a device, and added an Android application that is functionally identical to our existing iOS and Windows apps. 2016 will continue to see us improve GMAF, with version 2.0 shipping alongside Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 2.6 and Geocortex Essentials 4.5 in the coming months.
In October 2015 we released Geocortex Insight, our latest-generation product that helps customers understand use patterns, quantify and report on their GIS infrastructure’s return-on-investment, and build better applications based on near-real time data analysis. It is the successor to Geocortex Optimizer, which we released eight years ago, and has been built from the ground up to reflect the modern ArcGIS platform era.
Geocortex Insight will be front and center for us in 2016. When it was launched last year, we spent the first few months working with our current Geocortex Optimizer customers to help them transition to the new product, and took the time to ask them questions and gather their feedback. We’re very happy with how Geocortex Insight is already helping customers get even clearer pictures of their GIS infrastructures, while continuing aggressive development. And judging by nearly 500 participants in our recent Introduction to Geocortex Insight webinar, there’s lots of interest in the benefits a technology like it provides!
2. Solutions for Public Safety: Geocortex Active Operating Picture
Geocortex Active Operating Picture (AOP) is a product built on the foundation of Geocortex Essentials that helps incident commanders respond to emergency situations with a reliable, direct link to the field. AOP’s design enables clear, multi-way communication with mobile accessibility, a common/clean map interface, and tools to plan routes, share information and manage conversations. It complements the suite of public safety solutions we have built with our customers over the years, and represents one of our first complete, industry-specific offerings.
AOP’s demonstration was a hit at the Esri User Conference in July 2015. We hosted a webinar a month later and started to have more conversations about how AOP could help our customers solve their business problems. What we quickly learned is that Geocortex Active Operating Picture has a broad applicability outside of single-event emergencies. We’re reorienting it from being an industry-specific offering in the sense that Geocortex Essentials and Geocortex Insight are “products”, given its much wider applicability.
2016 will continue this trend, and we can’t wait to see how AOP will evolve to help our customers protect people and property, and respond as quickly and efficiently as possible in emergency situations.
1. Esri’s Portal for ArcGIS/ArcGIS Online and Geocortex
Throughout 2015, our work to embrace Esri’s vision for the modern ArcGIS platform era continued. From core engineering to enable deep, long-term orientation around web maps, identities, portal-centric deployment and web GIS information models – to implementing these new patterns on projects with clients working to unify their web GIS – we are helping position them to take their spatial endeavors to new levels as the future continues to unfold.
This work continues in earnest in 2016, and we’re excited about what’s coming from Esri this year; it’s an exciting time to be in this field!
On January 15th we held our Annual Kick-Off – a conference-style event at our headquarters in Victoria – where each team at Latitude Geographics shared their strategies for the year ahead and we set our 2016 plans into motion.
Of course, we let ourselves have a little bit of fun after the event as well.
As we looked back on 2015, we realized just how big a year it was. We welcomed 26 new Latituders to the company (which led us to take over an additional floor in our head office’s building), established new programs to share our technology with educational and non-profit organizations, built targeted, industry-specific solutions, launched more features and capabilities in our core product than ever before (we also added a new product while we were at it!), and made some important new partnerships.
Here’s a Top 10 list, in hotly contested order, of the notable developments at Latitude Geographics in 2015 that will have a big influence on the work we all do with Geocortex in 2016. (Well, this post actually contains the first five entries in our list... we will post the second part next week.)
10. Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 and Feature Parity (+)
When Google definitively deprecated support for Silverlight in their Chrome web browser in September 2015 faster than anyone expected, we were closing in on our goal of feature parity with previous-generation technology. A huge number of client migrations took place in 2015, and aggressive development of Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 features was our #1 focus over the year.
2015 saw two massive releases of our HTML5 viewer (2.4 and 2.5), with 40+ new capabilities and enhancements, including (for example): visualization options for point features including heatmaps and clustering, out-of-the-box buffering support, accessibility enhancements for end-users with disabilities, using geolocation/GPS to create features, the addition of a fully pre-configured toolbar with context-sensitive tools and stateful toggle buttons, drill-down map tips for all devices, and a brand new UX for handheld devices.
In the coming weeks, we will ship Geocortex Viewer for HTML5 2.6, which includes an improved “save/open project” feature, and brings us to primary feature parity with our Silverlight viewer. Some features are no longer required, while others are niche and flowed into the product as a result of specific professional services work. Many features have been enhanced and enriched for next generation, and there are a bunch of completely new features for customers to get acquainted with.
9. Geocortex Support Center Upgrade
We launched a completely overhauled and modernized the Geocortex Support Center in September 2015. New features include improved search capabilities, the ability to post ideas (including up/down-voting), and the ability to submit and monitor support cases more easily. Customers can also contribute to the community and find information related to specific products, which have their own forum, knowledge base, code gallery, video, and product download sections.
8. Geocortex DecisionSupport via a Houston Advanced Research Center Collaboration
The Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems (EFD) Program, managed by Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), focuses on providing unbiased science and developing solutions to address issues associated with oil and gas development. HARC, the University of Arkansas, and Latitude Geographics collaborated on a multi-year project, which completed in November 2015, to help create software for accessible geodesign related to well pad placement.
Our work with HARC resulted in the development of Geocortex Decision Support, which is centered on a collaborative, familiar interface that allows project team members to interact with GIS data without needing to be GIS experts. Users can share maps with other users in the organization, provide input on siting decisions via comments, and view/respond to tasks assigned by others.
While the impetus for this project was to help the energy sector make environmentally-conscious decisions, it is clear the foundation of Geocortex Decision Support can help any industry that has a need for project teams to collaborate with spatial data. Some exciting customer conversations have already begun.
7. Geocortex for Educational Use & Geocortex for Non-Profit Organizations
Esri provides amazing, no-cost access to ArcGIS technology for use by K-12 institutions, and low-cost access for post-secondary educational use. Inspired by this, we rolled out a complementary program in 2015 to help remove barriers to access for educators and students who’d benefit from integrating Geocortex technology into their curriculum and research.
At the same time we launched the Geocortex for Educational Use Program, we also created the Geocortex Non-Profit Organization Program. We believe deeply in the importance of organizations that strive for positive social and environmental change; there are many organizations in the non-profit/charity sector that have talented people and great mandates, but as registered non-profit organizations, have limited funds with which to procure software like ours. Our hope is that this program will make it easier for them to do their valuable work.
In July, we jointly announced our partnership with Schneider Electric at their user group meeting in San Diego, with news that our Geocortex Essentials software would soon be integrated into Schneider Electric’s ArcFM™ solution. This partnership allows utilities to develop useful, targeted applications to quickly empower field workers, streamline business processes, manage assets and analyze data.
Officially released in November, ArcFM Web extends the capabilities of Schneider Electric’s GIS solutions using core Geocortex technology.
Schneider’s ArcFM solution has long been the industry standard for utilities that are looking to leverage the benefits of GIS solutions. Now, with a little support from Geocortex Viewer for HTML5, ArcFM Web provides customer access across devices. This is a new partnership that we expect will blossom in 2016.
Stay tuned for the second half of this list, which we will post next week!
Esri first publicly previewed their upcoming ArcGIS WebApp Builder in the last few weeks, ending months of community speculation. Though we haven't been able to talk about it, Latitude Geographics has had visibility on this project for some time now. Advance information makes a real difference for our planning, and we’re grateful for the early access we've received from Esri as part of our close ongoing partnership.
We see the ArcGIS WebApp Builder (which we expect will be discussed in-depth at the Dev Summit in Palm Springs next week) as a necessary and very positive development for the Esri community, and we’re confident that the opportunity for Latitude Geographics to add compelling value to the viewer equation remains fundamentally unchanged.
For us, being complementary (and not competitive) is key. However, that’s not to say there isn’t going to be some overlap. When we first architected our HTML5 viewer more than two years ago, we made decisions to separate the structure and plumbing of the viewer from the reusable components (modules/widgets) that live within it. This “framework design” is a common way of building software systems, and Esri is taking a similar approach with the ArcGIS WebApp Builder. So while there is some overlap in the underlying viewer frameworks, there’s also exciting potential to pick and choose reusable components from either viewer to best suit project requirements.
As always, our strategy is to help customers get even more done today, while keeping customers closely aligned with core Esri technology. We’re excited about Esri’s ArcGIS WebApp Builder. Our planned integration will open up a large new market of potential customers, avoid redundant development over time, and maximize alignment.
If you’re looking for something more specific or definitive right now in terms of scope and timelines, we can’t provide that just yet. The reality is that our work can’t get ahead of the realities of how (and when) real-world technology develops. The future has yet to unfold, but rest assured we're watching closely and we'll be there to help you make the most of it.