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The newly available tools for mobile GIS are gradually transforming many organizations. Mobile devices such as iPads with built in GPS, in combination with simple apps which leverage GIS and cloud computing are helping to improve efficiency and reduce costs. In this article we list 5 advantages mobile GIS brings to organizations:

1) No more reliance on pen and paper maps. Disaster management and assessment is time critical. Field operatives need to respond quickly, and provide accurate damage data. Historically, data was gathered with pen and paper. Teams then came together and the data was collated and assessed. This was a challenging time consuming process. Today disaster management organizations are using mobile technology to gather data. GIS provides a means to visualize this data on a map and analyse. Dramatic improvements in assessment have been realised using this new digital approach. WebMapSolutions have been working with Monroe County implementing a new disaster assessment mobile system.

2) Sharing and collaboration – Cloud computing brings a new way to centrally store and access data. This has had important implications for sharing and collaboration. Region 6 of the Idaho Department of Transportation took a far sighted approach to some of their internal challenges around data sharing. Looking to ArcGIS Online, the new cloud based mapping platform from Esri, they enlisted WebMapSolutions help to implement a mobile GIS enabled cloud based solution. Today field crews use iPads to store assets – culverts, mile posts etc – and work completed on these assets in a centralised GIS. Allowing analysts and senior staff to access and analyse this data. This has had a major impact on the decision making process.

3) Mobile GIS has never been so cost effective – Gone are the days when the only mobile solution was a $6000 Trimble ruggedised device. Today mobile devices are ubiquitous. It is now possible to build light-weight GIS mobile apps, which provide simple intuitive workflows, and run on smartphones or tablets. The forestry industry rely on field based foresters. Costs are keenly watched in an industry with tight margins. Many organisations in this sector are looking for low priced mobile solutions. WebMapSolutions have started working with a number of forestry clients; providing low cost custom mobile solutions for foresters.

4) Simple, intuitive mobile GIS applications We once lived in a world of complex, swiss-army knife type GIS applications. The approach was in many ways to recreate desktop applications like ArcMap and QGIS on the Web. GIS applications were filled with widget after widget, serving every GIS users need. These apps became complex and confusing to use. We have today begun to move away from this approach. Now it is possible to build light-weight apps which provide simple focused functionality. As an example, WebMapSolutions recently launched an offline mobile editing solution. The mobile app provides simple functionality, no bells and whistles; add, edit, delete point, line and polygon data, include an attachment and store in ArcGIS Online.

5) GIS for all – GIS was once a niche, used by those with geospatial training. Today a much wider audience can access and use what GIS provides. The term GIS is quietly being shuffled to one side. Now maps and the output from GIS can be used to provide information in an intuitive, easy to discover manner. Many organzations are now using GIS technology to share information. In local government, data sharing with citizens is important. WebMapSolutions are now building simple applications which work across PC’s, laptops, smartphone and tablets, providing information to citizens. The Parks Finder and Polling Places applications respectively, are two recent examples of our work here.

We live in exciting time. Mobile enabled cloud based GIS offers many possibilities to organizations to reduce costs, improve efficiency and share data with a wide audience.

We like building demos, could you tell? Below are our two most recent offerings. They both revolve around mobile performance. The topic is of particular interest due to work we have been doing with the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD). We’ve been building an ArcGIS mobile web app. The application allows online and, in the next phase, offline editing. Now we are rendering Feature Layers from ArcGIS, in the first instance culverts point data. One of our key findings from the work was that the more features rendered in the viewer, the slower was the performance. Almost to a point of not being useable. We have been creative in how we have worked around the problem (more in a later post here).

So our first demo. For interest, using the same dataset, we compared the performance of a web app with that of a native installed app. Here is a demo of the results:

As you can see, native apps offer significant performance improvements over web apps.

While building a storymap for ArcGIS Online, we came across the following application (written by the Esri Storymap Team), which renders thousands of points on a mobile without noticeable performance degradation:

This had us very excited. Then we looked at how the app had been built, and realised the point layer was not a Feature Layer.

So, our thoughts. Feature layers are very important in ArcGIS Online. On non-mobile devices performance is good. But on mobiles performance needs careful consideration. We are looking for ways to take our ITD web app, and improve performance both by code optimization and combining dynamic and feature layer rendering of the same layer, switching between based on zoom level.

If you’ve found similar issues, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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