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A Preview of ArcGIS Online / Collector Enhancements in 10.3

Here at SSP Innovations, we are finding that our clients are growing more and more interest in the capabilities offered by ArcGIS Online and the Collector for ArcGIS app for mobile devices.  

As we have presented this as an option for field data viewing (and more importantly, data collection), we have worked to come up with a pattern that overcame certain limitations of the technology. 

Things are continuing to in a very big way.  

Collector for ArcGIS version 10.3 has been released for Android (you can download it now from Google play), and will soon be out for iOS (from the iTunes App Store), and will eventually be released for Windows and Windows Phone too!  

Before I go any further, I would like to address the question that should have popped into most of our readers' minds immediately, "ESRI and Schneider Electric have told their utility clients to stick with version 10.2.1(a) until further notice, how could we use Collector 10.3?"  

To get the benefits of Collector for ArcGIS version 10.3 will require an upgrade to ArcGIS for Server 10.3, but that is all that is needed aside from the obvious implementation effort.  

The changes I describe below are entirely contained in the feature service implementation at ArcGIS for Server 10.3.  

Your geodatabase can stay at version 10.2.1, as can all of your desktop GIS software.  Having put that one to rest, let's have a look at what Collector 10.3 can do.

  1. Editing of versioned feature services is now possible!  Up to this release, this was a limitation of ArcGIS Online and Collector.  If you think about what this enhancement really means, it allows for offline editing, on top of allowing us to manage the workflows around field data collection activities via back office versions. All it takes is publishing a versioned feature service using ArcGIS for Server 10.3. It should be noted that ArcFM™ feature classes still cannot be edited via ArcGIS Server without enabling ArcFM Server™. This doesn't mean you can't use ArcGIS Online, it just has implications with regard to the implementation process which we have addressed in every implementation we have completed. The ability to use versioned classes just opens up new opportunities!
  2. The geodatabase editing permissions that we have come to depend on will now be referenced through the new feature services.  Thus, users of Collector 10.3 can be limited to only performing the activities that are allowed.  After all, most Collector users won't be getting up from their desktop GIS to go outside and collect field data.  They will be getting out of their trucks to perform other crucial work, with the added requirement that the data people back in the office are making them collect a GPS point and some attribute data with every move they make.  In other words, Collector users are not typically GIS professionals.  So, having the ability to limit what the field users can do to the data in the field will make all of our (mostly the field users), lives much easier.
  3. Collector now allows for viewing and collecting data using the geodatabase's relationship classes.  One word immediately comes to mind here, "inspections"!  After that, a whole bunch of other ideas follow very closely.  Specifically for utility users, you might consider capturing a single point for a three-phase overhead transformer bank, and three related tabular records for the individual buckets. Or having access to multiple year's worth of inspection records for a single pole directly via your mobile device. Wow!
  4. ArcGIS Online can now host tiled web layers for you.  For our utility folks, this probably wasn't keeping any of us from using Collector, since most of us have data that is served up by ArcGIS Server instead of using basemap data from ArcGIS Online.  Still, this is a very cool enhancement, and I can't wait to see how it performs.  I also think this may be of great benefit to smaller utilities that don't manage or have access to land and street data.  I would like to hear your opinions on this, if you have the time.

That is it for the big enhancements in the 10.3 release.  Remember that it is coming out soon for iOS and Windows Phone.  

The ESRI website says that better map symbology and the ability to package web maps for offline use is coming soon as well.  

Even without that capability, the 10.3 release is pretty impressive.  I know for a fact that these additions will make a lot of the arguments against using ArcGIS Online and Collector moot.  

I can't wait to implement it myself, and would love to hear from any of you who become early adopters of ArcGIS Server 10.3 and Collector 10.3.  Until next time...

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