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Matt Sheehan's Blog

July 30, 2014 Previous day Next day

There are a number of subscription based GIS Web application builders currently available. In this post we will discuss whether, in today's rapidly evolving GIS market, you should subscribe to a GIS Web app Builder?

What are GIS Web App Builders?

GIS Web app builders are wizard based tools which allow those without programming skills to quickly stand up sophisticated GIS web applications. If your organization needs a variety of Web applications, maybe executive dashboards, mobile Web apps, or Web apps with a particular purpose, GIS Web app builders provide a quick way to assemble and launch these applications. They often come with a variety of modules which provide custom functionality, often targeted at specific markets; oil and gas, public safety, mining etc.


The release of ArcGIS 9 in May 2004 came with few Web applications. A number of companies saw the need to provide easy to use wizards to help GIS and non GIS staff generate Web apps quickly and easily. The goal was to provide simple, easy to use tools to produce Web applications for users across organizations. No need for a team of developers. Though they were expensive, these subscription based wizards became very popular, particularly with the ArcGIS community.

A New world of GIS Web Applications

We are in the midst of dramatic changes in GIS. Mobile and cloud are transforming the world of GIS. We have moved to GIS anywhere anytime. ArcGIS server remains, ArcGIS Online - a cloud based variant of server - is becoming increasingly more popular. Let's look at the current landscape:

GIS Web application development has never been easier

Changes in technology, particularly with a move towards HTML5, have meant GIS Web application development has never been easier. The cost for developing GIS Web applications is at an all time low.

Free GIS Web apps everywhere

Over the last few years Esri have released a slew of free Web applications, targeting both ArcGIS server and Online. Easy to configure, these application are both general and industry targeted. The Esri local government team, for example, have over 40 free configurable templates available. No knowledge of programming is needed to configure these applications for use in organizations. They are also easy to extend to provide more custom functionality.

Esri's Web App Builder for ArcGIS

    Mobile and Web App Builder for ArcGIS sessions were the most popular at this years Esri user conference in San Diego. The latter is close to full release. It is a free Web application builder. We've been testing this new builder. It is very impressive. Easy to use. Simply launch the builder on your desktop, open new project, set up the styling (colour, banding etc), point at your data, drag and drop in pre-built widgets which provide specific functionality (measure tools etc) and generate. A piece of cake. The beauty of the builder is that the application generated is Javascript. This means it is easy to extend a base application and add new widgets. Like the popular ArcGIS Viewer for Flex one can see that the list of free widgets available with Web App Builder for ArcGIS will grow over time, as the developer community contribute their work. We have already begun development planning around producing new widgets. Soon after the full release of Web App Builder for ArcGIS we will be launching widgets which provide custom functionality. targeting utilities, transportation and pipeline industries. As an example, we will be launching widgets for use on mobile devices, which will provide mid-stream pipeline companies simple online/offline custom data collection, QA/QC solutions which integrate seamlessly with backend PODS.

Should you Subscribe to a GIS Web App Builder?

Back to our question: is there still a place for subscriptions based GIS Web app builders? The need for a subscription based GIS Web app builders has become much more difficult to justify. That is not to say there is not still a place for these products. But expensive wizard based tools, which target 'out of the box' ArcGIS server or ArcGIS Online, now have lower cost alternatives. Organizations need to more carefully weigh up all potential solutions. GIS Web app builders which target extended versions of ArcGIS server remain very relevant, as for now do builders which are industry specific.  The times they are a changing. And rapidly. Never has GIS been more relevant for solving organizational problems. Choice is good right? But greater choices can lead to greater confusion. If you are weighing up your GIS options let us know. We can help you in your decision making process.

Excuse the pun, but the question need be asked: has Collector helped to put mobile GIS on the map? We are just back from the Esri user conference in San Diego. A horrible place to go for a conference! As ever a terrific event. And the most popular sessions were ..... anything mobile. The Collector demos were standing room only extending into the corridor. Everybody seems to have mobile and Collector fever. Having been preaching the gospel of mobile GIS and mapping for so many years, this fills our hearts with joy. From our perspective, this surge in mobile interest has created new client needs. Most notably:

Collector Set up and Training

We've been inundated with requests from clients to help set up and train staff on the use of Collector. The app is popular with GIS and non GIS trained staff alike This has necessitated familiarizing these field based workers with the online and offline Collector workflows. Data set up and publishing in ArcGIS Online has also been required. Collector is replacing older pen and paper based methods once used to collect data. Using a smartphone or tablets built-in GPS, users location and the location of features can be automatically set. Feature attributes are stored on the device if offline, locally stored edits or additions are pushed to ArcGIS Online when back online. Images can be attached to features using the mobiles built in camera.

Custom Configurable Versions of Collector

Increasingly we are getting requests for custom, configurable versions of Collector. This is for reasons of branding, custom functionality, and flexibility in loading non ArcGIS Online services. We have been working with Esri, and have built a mobile framework which allows us to provide clients with custom versions of Collector. An example of this work is a mobile app we are building for a large engineering company. Their need is a branded version of Collector which provides custom forms (printable to pdf), which can use services published in ArcGIS server as well as ArcGIS Online

Mobile GIS and Mapping Apps

A plethora of new mobile requests are now coming in. Pipeline companies needing to track the location of vehicles in relation to buried pipes (via mobile devices) using technology like the GeoEvent processor. Retail site location teams searching for and viewing location linked documents relating to potential new sites on their iPads. Mining companies wanting to use location linked forms to store information collected by geologists on their smartphones while in the field. Real estate companies focused on land sales looking to use GIS driven mobile mapping apps to help in the sales process. Brilliant. So many great ideas we are making reality. Need a mobile GIS or mapping app developed? Contact us