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This weeks blog theme has been custom GIS apps. Today GIS development companies like ours build apps on top of so called open COTS frameworks. That means no more hard to extend proprietary code bases. For web applications that means building on top of frameworks built using open languages like Javascript. So easy to configure, extend and modify.

The days of custom apps being big expensive undertakings to build are gone. This also means companies whose GIS apps are difficult and expensive to modify and extend are under increasing competitive pressure.

Increasing Popularity of Simple Custom GIS Apps

The move back to custom apps is good news for GIS users. This does not mean the end of generic out of the box apps, far from it. As organizations start adopting web GIS, generic COTS apps are an excellent starting point. Indeed these may be good long term solutions if they fit your workflows.

Let’s consider custom COTS apps in more detail. One problem we have long recognised:

Too often GIS apps are built for what we think a user needs, not what we know a user needs.

That’s a fundamental problem. The beauty of custom COTS apps is the relative ease of development. In the case of web apps, widgets are increasingly more popular. These are small focused code elements: the tools used by users. They can be added or removed from an application.

Widgets are incredibly powerful. They are what make this new custom GIS app development paradigm so flexible. Let’s consider custom app design and widgets using an example.

Case Study: Simple Custom GIS Asset Management App

Asset management is hugely important to many organizations. And GIS is the perfect asset management technology. Think about a water utility, the questions they have might ask include:

  • Where are our water valves?
  • Which valves are in need or repair?
  • What needs to be fixed and who will fix the valve?
  • Was the valve fixed and if not what else is needed?

GIS provides the ability to store all information about assets: location and attributes, and to view these assets on a map. That answers the where question. How about the other questions on the list above? A focused GIS powered work order app will help maintenance staff view assets, know where there are problems, understand what needs to be done and report back on work completed.

Today asset management is a pen and paper or generic GIS app exercise.

Imagine if you had the ability to design the asset management app you need without breaking the bank.

That is a reality today thanks to widgets and custom GIS COTS apps. We have been building an asset management GIS COTS app for a group of small US cities. They have collectively designed the look and feel of the app and widgets within the app. We have simply put in place the functionality and workflows they have requested. It has proven a wonderful way to build a GIS asset management solution.

I will in a separate blog post discuss this app in more detail. But as you see above, the design is simple. The map and assets dominate.

The widgets are contained in a left side panel which can be opened and closed. Above you see the work order widget which allows users to view, add and edit work orders. Preventative maintenance, and work order comments are included. Work orders are filtered and listed by status: open and closed.

Intuitive to use. Designed by users. Easy to configure, modify and extend. Truly a win win.

To learn more about custom GIS COTS apps contact us on 801.733.0723.

Read our free white paper ‘ArcGIS Deployment Guide’, which provides a road map for getting started and moving forward with ArcGIS Online.

Author: Matt Sheehan

Matt Sheehan is a Principal at WebMapSolutions. Matt evangelizes GIS and location intelligence around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books. Follow him on Twitter:

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