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Ever since the days of the very popular Flex Viewer for ArcGIS, we have been big fans of configurable GIS applications. Today these types of so called COTS (configurable off the shelf) apps have received much attention. These are “no code/low code solutions needing no programmer”. This all sounds rather wonderful. Let’s dive deeper.

Low-Code/No-Code GIS COTS apps: Advantages & Disadvantages

Configure and go is the COTS mantra. Simple, easy and powerful. And there is much good to be said about COTS apps.

Success with COTS apps requires that you have GIS folk who can set up and configure your GIS, and understand how to prepare and publish geo-data. GIS pros are not all programmers, and with COTS apps that is not a requirement.

There are 3 main types of GIS COTS apps:

  1. Generic GIS COTS apps – These are very focused pre-built mobile and web apps. They are so called ‘no code needed’ solutions. These apps have a very specific purpose: data collection as an example. They are generic meaning, in terms of workflows and tools, ‘they are what they are’.
  2. Closed Widget based GIS Web apps – These offer a degree of flexibility. GIS professionals can configure apps to include different tools. So measure and draw tools for one group, editing and bookmarks for another. Widget based apps provide greater flexibility than generic COTS apps. These are so called ‘no code/low code needed’ solutions.
  3. Open Widget based GIS Web apps – These are custom configurable GIS apps and are the most flexible of the COTS solutions available today. And most importantly they are not generic. Custom COTS apps are becoming increasingly more popular. Why? Precisely because of that word custom.

Long ago (actually truthfully it still happens today) ‘custom app’ meant an application built from the ground up based on your specific requirements. Often expensive to build, hard to adjust and configure. Custom GIS apps could be problematic. Short shelf life was also a challenge. The move to COTS apps has helped to offset some of the problems of custom apps.

But custom Web, mobile or desktop GIS applications are designed for your needs: that means your workflows and the tools your staff need. That is not the case for ‘no code/low code’ COTS solutions. Now that might be no problem. For some organizations generic GIS applications are perfect. A good place to start.

But no two organizations are alike. A generic GIS application which covers 70% of your needs may end up being that starting point or a stop gap. Custom configurable GIS apps can be the best of all worlds. Sure you will need some up front programming, but no more ‘reinventing the wheel’. Leveraging a widget based framework like our GeoAppSmart for ArcGIS allows for simple customization, without the overhead of building an application from the ground up.

We will discuss custom configurable GIS apps in more detail this week. Feel free to contact us on 801.733.0723 if you have questions.

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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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