ArcGIS Online: the evolution continues

ArcGIS Online is evolving at a rapid pace – there’s no doubt about it. As I was putting my fingers to the keyboard for this final part of a three part series on the December release, Esri announced another major release on 19 March. My plan for the final part of this trilogy was to discuss Task Services – and I will cover that off, in what will now be an overview of the March release.

This release is very interesting as it includes a mix of updates to existing features, some new data enrichment capabilities being rolled out globally in a staged approach, and also, for the first time, a couple of pieces of functionality that are in general beta mode for all organisations with an ArcGIS Online account.

Network Analysis as a service

Let’s start with Task Services. Back in December, a ready-to-use network analysis services API was added to ArcGIS Online to complement the existing geocoding services API. This was a big enabler for developers, who could now add routing, directions, closest facility, and service area analysis capabilities to their applications directly through the API. In the March release, these services are exposed in a number of ways. With an organisational account, users will now see a Directions button on the toolbar above the map in the standard Map Viewer. Clicking this exposes a UI for building a route between one or more locations with step-by-step directions and interaction with the map.


Generating a route and directions

Applications that already leverage this capability include the Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS, and the recently released ArcGIS Viewer for Flex V3.2.  It can also be seen in the new Find Nearby capability in Esri Maps for Office 2.0 that was made available this week. Users can now select features on a map they have created in Excel, and then use the network analysis services to, for example, locate nearby features in another layer within a 10 minute drive time area.

For me, this new capability is less about the way it looks/acts in these user interfaces, and more about the fact that I now have this new option to consume these types of services in applications that I build myself.

New layer types

Still on the Map Viewer, the list of layer types you can add to a web map has been extended to include OGC WMTS, GeoRSS feeds and generic tile layers. The latter is a set of web-accessible tiles that reside on a server as files rather than presenting as a service. For more information on this, take a look at this post in the Esri blog.

Also related to layers in web maps, support for ArcGIS Server 10.1’s dynamic layers has been added, which means you can now modify the symbology on a map service, not just a feature service as was previously the case. Obviously the map service needs to be coming out of a 10.1 server.

More content types

This release adds support for a range of non-spatial content types to be added to an ArcGIS Online organisation. It includes the following file types: DOC, DOCX, JPG, JPEG, PDF, PNG, PPT, PPTX, TIF, TIFF, VSD, XLS, and XLSX, as well as a very useful URL item type. The latter opens up using the ArcGIS Online catalogue as a means of curating references to anything that can be reached through a URL.

Geo-enrichment of spreadsheets

This is a somewhat nascent, but very interesting element of the release. With Esri Maps for Office V2.0, users can now enrich their spreadsheets with demographic and lifestyle data. So for example, if your spreadsheet has rows including cities, and associated data from your enterprise, you could use the ArcGIS platform to add columns of data for say, population count, in different age brackets, income information or a range of other variables.

If you extend the thinking around this, Esri Maps for Office is just one way of consuming this kind of capability. Like the Network analysis and Geocoding task services mentioned earlier, imagine a developer being able to build this geo-enrichment in to their application.


Geo-enriching a spreadsheet with income data

The screenshot above gives you an indication of how it could work using some simple data for US states. The layer with my existing columns has been added to the map, and then a new column for the stats relating to income between $15,000 and $25,000 is added to the sheet, via Enrich Layer.

This access to demographics and lifestyle data also manifests itself through the information popup that is displayed when you click on a feature on a map in Esri Maps for Office. You can now access Infographics that provide summary data for different categories such as Age, Income, Household size etc, for the feature you’re looking at. In the example below, I clicked on Nebraska and then the Infographic link that appeared in the popup. Households by Income was one of several available Infographics.

Viewing Infographics for a feature

Viewing Infographics for a feature

Right now, this feature has significant data for the US, Canada and some countries in Western Europe. Watch this space for broader coverage, including Australia.

Applications to go

As well as Esri Maps for Office 2.0, Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS and the ArcGIS Collector apps, the March release enhances some existing ArcGIS Online web application templates while adding a new one. To recap, these templates are designed so that if you have built a web map, you can rapidly wrap it in a configurable web app that can also be hosted inside ArcGIS Online. Alternatively, you can download the source of the app, make it your own and then host it from your own infrastructure.

The Swipe and Editing templates have been updated to make them easier to use (particularly on mobile devices), while the new addition is an app called the Parcel Viewer template. As the name suggests the app provides a means for citizens to access information about land parcels, although it’s actually a lot more useful than that. As a configurable app, you can use it as vehicle for interacting with any feature layers you publish to your web maps.

Repurposing the Parcel Viewer template

Repurposing the Parcel Viewer template

The example above shows the Parcel Viewer in use as a Hydrant Finder. Check out this blog post on how to configure the Parcel Viewer for many different purposes.

On the subject of applications, another move towards ArcGIS as a platform, is a facility now in place for developers to register an application with ArcGIS Online and obtain a unique AppID . Early days for this, but the vision for AppID is that it will be the foundation for authentication, distributing apps, accessing billable services, and getting usage reports. If you are a developer, make sure you take a look at the new ArcGIS for Developers site, which is dedicated to maximising your experience as a developer interacting with ArcGIS.

A taste of things to come

For the first time in an ArcGIS Online release, beta functionality has been made available to all users with organisational account for review. The first of these is integration between ArcGIS Online and Enterprise authentication. This is based on federating in an enterprise identity provider using SAML. This highly requested capability will, in its final release, provide the capability to leverage authentication that has already occurred inside the enterprise, and pass that on to ArcGIS Online. In the beta release any user with an enterprise login will be able to sign in to your organisation once federation has been setup. A future update will allow you to restrict membership to those enterprise users who have been explicitly invited. More information on this beta functionality can be found here. Also, make sure you check out this short video explaining how the authentication works.

The second significant beta component is all about spatial analysis. Organisational account users now have access to a set of analysis tools that are being released in beta in the map viewer. The screen shot below shows the range of tools that form this capability, only some of which are enabled today in the beta (Create Buffers, Overlay Layers, Find Hot Spots and Aggregate Points).

Spatial Analysis in the Map Viewer

Spatial Analysis in the Map Viewer

The screenshot above illustrates one of these tools in action: a point layer in a web map is being used as the basis for a Create Buffers operation. These tools let you perform analysis against layers hosted in Online, as well as other layers you have access to, and create new hosted layers and tables.

I keep coming back to this theme, but it’s important. While the focus here might be on the user interface that is exposed for Spatial Analysis in the map viewer, behind the scenes, this is another example of a platform service (think geocoding, network analysis and geo-enrichment) with a rich API that developers can use to incorporate spatial analytics into their applications.

So all in all, a very significant release of ArcGIS Online for many reasons, and what I believe is a strong demonstration of where Esri is headed with ArcGIS as a platform.

Josh V

One thought on “ArcGIS Online: the evolution continues

  1. Lai, Chee Siew

    Reblogged this on Simply MY GIS – GIS from Business Perspective and commented:
    ArcGIS Online is an effective way to disseminate and share your GIS work with larger audience. It is SaaS by subscription that bundled together with Esri Maps for Office (MS Excel & Powerpoint). ArcGIS transform your GIS to serve everyone (GIS professional, user, developer), across different devices, anywhere, anytime and anyplace.


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