If you’ve attended any Esri conference, presentation, or strategic meeting in the last 6 months you’ve undoubtedly heard about Esri’s new focus on ArcGIS Online accompanying the release of 10.1. We, like you, have received the pitch a number of times from just about every account manager, marketing rep, and consultant we know. And we, like you, have brought up our concerns regarding the viability and security of the new model.
We’re relatively stubborn folks at SSP but luckily Esri has been consistently pushing the ArcGIS Online message and I’m excited to say they have won us over. And we think you should take a look at where ArcGIS Online might fit within your organization.
At its core, ArcGIS Online presents a fundamental shift in the way we consume and interact with our GIS data. In the past we’ve needed our GIS department to provide even the simplest mapping tasks such as overlaying data from a spreadsheet on top of our GIS data to provide a spatial view to support some business function. ArcGIS Online will allow an entire organization to easily complete these types of tasks and so much more.
It all starts with creating an ArcGIS Online subscription account for your organization. There are different subscription levels depending on how many named users you want to include, and each level comes with a specified amount of credits. Credits can be used for serving data over the internet or even using ArcGIS Online to run various geoprocessing tasks that may benefit from scalable power of the cloud.
You see, ArcGIS Online utilizes Amazon Web Services, which has the ability to add additional servers on an as-needed basis resulting in virtually unlimited processing power. This is accomplished without any effort from your organization – it’s built in. But this is the standard pitch of any web services business plan and is not unique to Esri.
What Esri brings is a functional, easy to use interface that allows just about anyone to publish and consume geographic content without any technical expertise. And when we say geographic content, we aren’t just talking about feature classes, shapefiles, and map services. We are talking about spreadsheets, comma separated value (CSV) files, and just about any other file format you might store your data in.
ArcGIS Online allows you to add and publish this data within your account as a feature service. The feature service can be overlaid onto an existing Esri basemap to create an ArcGIS Online WebMap which is the foundational element of the new ArcGIS Online service.
At this point you are starting to think this is sounding a bit technical. And didn’t I just state your users didn’t need any technical expertise?
In its simplest form, you can create a new WebMap by clicking the New Map button, confirming or changing the default basemap, and dragging and dropping your CSV file onto the map. The service automatically detects the addressing fields and projects your data onto the map. And you can perform all of this in your web browser!
The user can now share their new custom WebMap with their own organization, other ArcGIS Online users, or even with the general public based on Esri’s built-in security model.
And here’s my favorite part: viewers can access the WebMap on virtually any device out there via a plethora of applications – most easily via web browsers on the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc. But also via many free Esri apps including ArcGIS Explorer (thick client or web-based) and all of the free native Esri mobile apps for the iOS, Android, or Windows mobile devices. Oh and don’t forget good ole bulky ArcMap… it can consume WebMaps as well.
So let’s talk about your (and our) objections and concerns. Here are three we’ve heard from many customers.
#1 – We’ve invested heavily in ArcGIS Server. Where does that fit in?
We’ve talked about publishing content from CSV and Excel but you can also add ArcGIS Server map services and feature services directly to your WebMaps and even combine it with all the other data you’ve added to your ArcGIS Online account.
You remember when Esri started talking about mash-ups a few years back? Well ArcGIS Online makes the mashing easy. Grab a public basemap, add in your utility assets via an ArcGIS Server map service, and overlay your file-based data from every other department in your organization. All in about 5 minutes. Share the map and have your department head, city manager, or CEO reviewing it on their iPad seconds later.
#2 – There’s no way we can publish our proprietary data into the cloud. Where’s the security?
This was likely our most important recent revelation. You can use your private back office GIS data via ArcGIS Online without ever publishing or moving it to the cloud. I’m talking about your poles, your transformers, your gas main, valves, and regulators and even your customers.
Many utilities take the security around this data seriously… and for good reason. So get excited, we can leave that data on your private network. I can create a new ArcGIS Online WebMap that includes an ArcGIS Server map service hosted on my private ArcGIS Server instance. I can share that WebMap with other users in my organization. And as long as they are in the office or anywhere they can connect to their VPN, they can load the WebMap including the private ArcGIS Server data.
More and more utilities are enabling their field users with cellular-based air cards and VPN access. It’s no coincidence that ArcGIS Online supports this model.
#3 – Isn’t this just the latest flashy technology from Esri?
We thought this as well… and yes it is flashy. But there are some real guts to this technology and some serious value. And even more so, this release of ArcGIS Online is just the tip of the iceberg. Esri has made a major investment in ArcGIS Online – in capital, marketing, and man power. And that’s because this is the new direction of the company from Jack Dangermond on down.
As we head in to the future of GIS you will certainly see ArcGIS Online as a foundational component of the technology, the workflows, and the larger business platform. I too was wary at first, but SSP has seen enough and experimented enough to see not only the viability but the probability of ArcGIS Online being part of our future.
So where does SSP Innovations fit into the picture with ArcGIS Online, if it’s such an easy technology? That is a good question that we have discussed with a number of folks at Esri. It’s certainly our role as a business partner to introduce our customers to this new technology and to help them begin to use it within their organizations. But it is also our job to begin enabling ArcGIS Online within our customers’ day to day operations.
The basics of web mapping are indeed easy and will provide a lot of value on their own. But we can take this technology to a whole new level by extending it into the data management, collection, quality assurance and analytics of a utility.
We’ve already begun building some custom ArcGIS Online demo’s for utilities – and I promise you are going to love interacting with your back office electric, gas, and water data from your iPad (or any other device)!
I’ll begin covering the demos in next month’s article. For now, go get your organization signed up for an ArcGIS Online account. If you need assistance, contact your Esri account manager. Or ping SSP as we are here to answer any questions and can help you get off the ground in no time at all.