We live in exciting, changing times for GIS. Launches like ArcGIS Online and Portal for ArcGIS from Esri, have made GIS technology easier to adopt and use across organizations. But, don’t be fooled, careful thought and planning is still needed for any successful GIS implementation. In this post we discuss four key areas you will need to consider before moving ahead with GIS.
4 things you need to know before starting with ArcGIS
From working with customers, we have found success with ArcGIS is built on 4 essential elements:
1. Discovery and Planning
What are your goals and needs? Do you fully understand and can you articulate your requirements?
We discussed in our “What we learned from a failed ArcGIS Implementation” blog post the importance of the planning and discovery phase. Everybody involved in the project needs to provide input and have a thorough understanding of the requirements, goals and path forward. It is in this phase the initial blueprint is put in place. Time spent here potentially saves much time later. You need to be able to articulate your “pot of gold” (the term used by the client in our ‘failed’ blog post) or equivalent. What problems are you trying to solve with GIS?
Any plan put in place at this stage should have room for tweaking. But a half complete plan will lead to a half complete end solution.
Data is too often overlooked. Data feeds your GIS. The famous saying “garbage in, means garbage out” could not be more true. We had a client who, though recognizing the importance of data, decided to push on with an ArcGIS Online project without completing the data discovery and preparation phase. Project time pressure drove this decision. And it proved an expensive one. In mid project we had to extend the data schema, and republish. Certainly not a disaster, but it would have been simpler, easier, and cheaper had this been done up front.
One of the key factors which made for such a successful outcome described in our Wondering what a successful ArcGIS Implementation looks like? blog post, was the time the we spent with data discovery and preparation. This proved to be one of the most time consuming parts of the project. But it truly proved to be time and money well spent.
3. GIS Engine
What drives your GIS; the core technology behind the maps and apps you publish, the source of your authoritative data?
Your GIS Engine is the heart of the system you will be putting in place. With ArcGIS you will read about Server, Portal, Platform, ArcGIS Online. Terminology can be confusing. But you need to very carefully consider your options. Understand what is on the table, and make a good choice, based on your needs and goals. There are many important areas to consider here including required GIS tools and services, budgets, number of users, in-house GIS expertise, security and data sensitivity etc.
The release of ArcGIS Online, for example, has helped make GIS both more available and affordable. Compared to the past standing up a GIS and publishing maps is far easier. But careful thought and planning is still essential.
4. Maps and apps
Just like the house building process, we have so far discussed the foundations of your GIS. Let’s now consider the primary focus of any and all GIS implementation; the maps and apps you will be using to solve your organizational challenges. In the past custom GIS apps were common. These were (often) expensive application built for one purpose. Latitude Geographics looked to get past this ‘one off’ approach some years ago introducing Geocortex, a wizard based framework which made generating custom apps easier.
Today the focus is on configurable (COTS) apps. These are pre-built GIS apps which simply need tweaking to fit your organizational needs. So no more reinventing the wheel.
Are COTS a panacea? No they are an addition to your potential solutions set.
Is this the end of custom apps. Again no. Your workflows are unique, sometimes a generic COTS app fits well, other times not. What is paramount is:
1. Choice – there are COTS and custom options available to solve your challenges and budgets.
2. Your GIS applications need to fit your workflows and are easy to use.
Today one can look across an organization, understand individual and group needs, and provide the perfect mix of COTS and custom application solutions. There are many, many choices. As an example, Esri have released over 100 COTS apps.
The key is to find this best mix of COTS and custom applications.
We have found any successful GIS implementation relies on carefully stepping through each of the 4 areas described above.
We’ve been asked by a number of our clients to provide a low cost, accelerated service for those new to ArcGIS, or those who need additional help, built around these 4 key areas. Our ArcGIS Jumpstart Package is designed to move you forward quickly with ArcGIS. We carefully step through the 4 key areas. Giving equal weight to each, or putting more focus on specific areas depending on your needs.
We have developed a 3 day process (on site or remote), which will move you forward quickly with ArcGIS without breaking the bank.
Read more on our web site about our ArcGIS Jumpstart Package.
Matt Sheehan, WebMapSolutions.