The new ArcGIS platform has helped broaden the spectrum of ‘where’ questions which subscribers can answer. Publishing data and generating maps has never been easier. Configuring simple map based web applications which provide focused functionality (editing, public engagement etc) is simple. But we see 3 common mistakes being made when using the platform to answer ‘where’ questions.
3 Common ArcGIS Mistakes
1. Lack of clear problem definition
This could be rephrased “Lack of defining the ‘where’ question in need of an answer”. Too often we see ArcGIS projects started without a full definition or understanding of the actual problem. What is the business problem in need of a solution? Projects often start with the technology “We need this ArcGIS mobile app”, and not at the “Why we need this mobile app”. A subtle but big difference. We call this the ‘why in the where’. Using a mobile ArcGIS example. The why might be “Our (electric utility) inspections are still conducted with pen and paper. A mobile ArcGIS app would help our staff get their jobs done quicker and more efficiently”.
Without a clear problem definition or, as we sometimes see, trying to solve too many problems at once can result in a solution which is incomplete or off the mark.
2. No solution story
We like to ask: “What might a solution look like?”. You might have a clear idea of the problem in need of a solution. But exploration through the story may reveal the “true” problem. And that may not be what you initially thought, or may have elements you had not originally considered. A solution story is part of what we call discovery. Again not technology focused, more walking down the problem to solution path. We discussed this in some depth in our blog post “Teasing out the (GIS) Story”.
Again using our mobile ArcGIS problem from above. A typical solution story conversation might be:
Q. So tell me how your inspections are conducted today.
A. Our staff use a paper map to locate the power pole to be inspected. A paper work order describes what needs to be done. When the inspection is complete a form is filled out which describes the inspection and whether it was completed successfully with additional notes. Often a picture is taken as part of the inspection.
Q. Are inspections conducted in populated and remote areas.
A. Yes, our staff work across the state.
Q. So is wireless connectivity a problem in the remote areas.
A. Yes, staff often work in areas where communication is impossible.
Q. So any mobile ArcGIS solution developed would need to work both online and offline?
We could continue this conversation. But you see how this conversation is revealing critical information. Walking through the solution story helps provide clarity and can reveal elements or problems not originally considered.
3. Underestimating the importance of data
Data is the life-blood of your solution. That is the right data to solve the problem. Data which is accurate, up to date and complete. Too often we see data being just a project after-thought. Let me give you an example. We recently helped an organization get started with ArcGIS. They had a very specific need or ‘where’ question in need of an answer. We set up ArcGIS Online for them, trained them on its use and set up some configurable applications. After our initial engagement was complete, they called us: “We cannot answer our where question with ArcGIS”. They were frustrated. We dug deeper, what was the problem? “We are using free public data to help us answer our business question. We have all published to ArcGIS. But none of the data lines up with the actual features on the ground.”
We are of course helping to correct this data. To improve the accuracy. But this example does help illustrate the importance of data. Too often data is a key barrier to solving problems with ArcGIS. The wrong data, inaccurate or incomplete is common. As the saying goes “garbage in means garbage out’”
What other challenges or mistakes could we add to this list? Contact us on 801-733-0723.
Author: Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan is a Principal at WebMapSolutions. Matt evangelizes GIS and intelligent maps around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books. Follow him on Twitter: @webmapsolutions
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