Apps: The New Way to Go

Apps: The New Way to Go


Dirk Gorter, Director of Product Management at Esri	Dirk Gorter, Director of Product Management, Esri, on making geographic knowledge more widely available and integrating it into enterprise and consumer apps.

It has become very common to use the term apps for web GIS products and applications. How does Esri differentiate web apps from mobile ones?

We see web GIS as more than web or mobile apps. Web GIS is the concept and the infrastructure for making all your information available as services to be used anywhere, anytime, and on any device. Web GIS promises to open up the world of GIS to everyone, making geographic knowledge more widely available and integrating it into enterprise and consumer apps.

Traditional GIS users are empowered with rich content and processing, but a whole new class of apps is making all this information much more useful and timely to a huge number of users. These apps allow users to integrate, visualize, and analyze geospatial data of all types. These capabilities, combined with the federated architecture of web GIS, allow organizations to integrate their distributed databases. All this comes together to extend the traditional role of GIS as not only the system of record but also the system of engagement, providing the basis for understanding, communicating, and collaborating across the organization and beyond.

The apps in a web GIS range from rich desktop apps to browser-based web apps to native mobile apps. Our intention is to enable you to get your job done on the device you are most likely to use. For example, mobile apps are a good fit for people collecting data out in the field. They need apps that work well either connected or disconnected from the network and that take advantage of increasingly sophisticated device hardware such as GPS, graphics processing units (GPU), and cameras.

Other users need to do advanced ad hoc work with local data and CPU-intensive processing—a great fit for desktop apps. And then, of course, there are users who rely on a continuously connected environment and need focused apps that can be configured for their audience, whether for simple viewing, situational awareness, or exploratory analysis. Web apps are well suited to these needs.

Ultimately, it’s about delivering web GIS to our users in the mode that most effectively helps them do the work they need to do. For Esri, this means providing focused, geographically aware apps for a variety of devices.

Mobile apps have been used for data collection for a long time. How are the new generation apps different from traditional ones?

The new apps leverage the web GIS that is available to them. This allows them to go way beyond the older apps in terms of data integration, context, and ease of use. So even with disconnected users, when they come back to the office or gain connectivity, their work is transparently updated and they are able to take a pocket-size version of the web GIS with them back into the field. Having everyone always connected to the same authoritative data enables smooth coordination between field and office, avoiding the version control issues that can arise with paper-based workflows.

In addition, the apps world has moved to using focused apps for specific tasks, so people in the field don’t need to learn all the ins and outs of GIS technology but instead can concentrate on understanding the situation and getting their work done. For example, ArcGIS apps now enable all types of users to complete a wide variety of workflows, including large-scale information sharing and data collection; navigating to locations and coordinating work in a seamless experience, using a single device; building personal apps and publishing them to app stores, using our app builders; and quickly visualizing and analyzing data in 3D and 2D.

What are the top three apps recommended for the geospatial industry, including those from Esri?

I recommend that people get familiar with web maps and web scenes and leverage them directly as well as the following:

For Native Mobile Apps

  • Collector for ArcGIS is a mapcentric data collection tool that works on the most common smartphones and tablets (currently on iOS and Android and very soon on Windows 10).
  • Survey123 for ArcGIS is a new mobile app for formcentric data collection workflows.
  • AppStudio for ArcGIS enables you to easily convert your maps into mobile apps for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux—no developer skills required.

For Web Apps

  • Esri Story Map lets you combine authoritative maps with narrative text, images, and multimedia content. Story Map makes it easy to harness the power of maps and geography to tell your own stories through the web.
  • ArcGIS Open Data allows you to easily set up a public-facing website within minutes to share your open data.
  • Many ready-to-use configurable apps make it easy to deploy your maps and information for your organization or the public (these include crowdsourcing apps as well—Crowdsource Reporter, Crowdsource Manager, Crowdsource Polling, and Photo Survey).For the Desktop
  • Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS provides a dashboard to monitor and alert you to issues with day-to-day operations and events. (This also works in web browsers!)
  • ArcGIS Earth puts maps into the hands of everyone, providing a 3D experience for easily exploring and understanding data, including all your GIS data and KML files.
  • Esri Maps for Office enables you to leverage web GIS directly inside Excel with maps and location-driven analytics.

Our partners have also built great apps for the web GIS pattern. You can see a selection of these at ArcGIS Marketplace and our partner site.

How is the new app trend changing the traditional software licensing setup?

The app revolution is changing almost every industry; in GIS, it allows professionals to move beyond their desktops and enables many more people to leverage the critical information inside their GIS. This revolution is also obviously changing the way software is licensed. For ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS for Server software, we support multiple licensing models ranging from software plus maintenance to subscriptions—this makes it easy for customers to use the software in a way that’s convenient for their organization. When our users license these products, they get a complete web GIS, which includes access to all these apps. Organizations that are interested in our hosted version of web GIS, ArcGIS Online, typically subscribe to it and pay by the number of users that need to access the system, which includes the apps. We want all users to be able to take advantage of the tremendous benefits of the web GIS pattern to work on any device and at any time, so we make it easy for them to access and license ArcGIS and its apps. With the new licensing, many of the apps can be shared across the organization and beyond, extending the reach of web GIS to millions of people without additional licensing.

How is the app ecosystem helping to bring more efficiency and collaboration to the industry?

The app ecosystem is providing a vibrant and adaptive way to leverage the power of web GIS in a manner that is approachable for any user. By emphasizing a specific app workflow and keeping a specific user in mind, apps provide a focused and, hopefully, joyful experience for users doing their work. The app ecosystem provides incredible efficiency in allowing users to concentrate on the task at hand, whether they work in operations, marketing, sales, or the GIS department. The collaborative nature of web GIS allows users to engage across their organization and with their communities directly. This level of collaboration results in increased efficiency and productivity and eliminates redundancy, and it can happen in near real time.