Thinking is shifting on Web GIS

Last night saw the July 2014 release of ArcGIS Online roll out and with it, some great new features and capabilities across the board. There’s something for everybody with enhancements to the Map Viewer, ready to use apps and application templates, and administration.

Map Viewer

Labels

Let’s start with the map viewer – the default end user experience for building web maps. With this release two new capabilities stand out as particularly high value. The first is dynamic labelling on layers in the web map. Now you can configure labels to display from one or more layers, and control their positioning relative to the features.

Setting up Dynamic labels

Setting up Dynamic labels

This is not ArcMap with Maplex, and it’s not intended to be. You need to make some smart design decisions about how labels will appear and complement the story your map is telling. The map viewer automatically places labels on the map on or near the features they describe. You can control the text size, colour, and style to help differentiate labels from different layers.

Feature Search

Second key new capability in the Map Viewer is the ability to configure feature searches inside a web map. This allows users to locate features on your map using the search box at the top of the map viewer in the same way they might search for an address.
Here you can see a feature search has been set up to allow lookup of an office location – effectively a “contains” search for some part of the name attribute in that layer. Like the address lookup, the end user sees suggestions for matches as they type in characters.

Search for features

Search for features

These searches are setup at the Item Details level. Entering edit mode on a web map item in My Content now exposes a new application setting called Find Locations where you can enable layer search and/or address lookups.

Setting up a feature search

Setting up a feature search

Right now this is exposed in the web-based Map Viewer but the next release of ArcGIS Collector (planned for later this month) will also feature the capability.

Related Data

For layers that include reference to related tables, there is a new option to expose this related data in a pop-up, in a chart, or in the tabular view at the bottom of the map. Here you can see an example of the link to data related to Oil Fields in this map exposed in the pop-up

Viewing related records

Viewing related records

Presentations

Remember the presentations you could create in ArcGIS Explorer? They’re back in a different and better way. With this release of ArcGIS Online you can wrap a presentation around any web map by creating “slides” that capture a particular extent and aspect of your map. There’s a new Create Presentation button at the top of the Map Viewer to kick this process off.

Creating a new presentation

Creating a new presentation

Within each slide of a presentation you can define the extent, the base map to use, the title, and if whether you want a pop-up to be displayed automatically for a feature. You can see an example of building a slide below.

Working with presentation slides

Working with presentation slides

Once a presentation has been created, it can be played back either manually, or can be set up to progress automatically through the slides at a pre-set interval.
What’s really different about these presentations compared to the old ArcGIS Explorer version is that they play well on a broad range of devices including tablets and phones – reason being that the presentation “player” just uses HTML and Javascript. This is a great way to tell a story around a web map in a very interactive way.

Analysis

Something that really does differentiate ArcGIS from the rest of the pack is Spatial Analysis. It’s the real stuff of GIS and what the science is founded on. This core capability isn’t restricted to users of ArcGIS Desktop though – with each ArcGIS Online release we see more spatial analysis tools exposed and this is a response to the fact that even if you’re not a trained GIS pro, whenever you look at a map, you inherently start turning that map into information by finding patterns, assessing trends, or making decisions.

To make these kinds of tools usable in the context of ArcGIS Online, a lot of work has gone in to make the user experience around driving them simple and obvious. Continuing this theme of spatial analysis for everyone, there are a number of new analytical capabilities in the July release.

Before diving in to those tools, if you haven’t explored this aspect of ArcGIS Online yet, you access the tools by selecting the drop down menu next to a layer in a web map, and then select Perform Analysis as shown below.

Performing analysis on a layer

Performing analysis on a layer

This exposes a panel that lets you pick the tool that you want to use for analysis. They’re grouped by type and as you open up a group, you can click on the “I” Info icon to get high level guidance on what the tool is all about. The example below is for one of the new tools – Calculate Density.

Calculate Density tool - Help

Calculate Density tool – Help

In the same Analyse Patterns group as Calculate Density, the Interpolate Points tool allows you to predict values at new locations based on measurements from a collection of points.

Interpolate Points tool

Interpolate Points tool

And in the Use Proximity Group, the Plan Routes tool determines the most efficient way to route a fleet of vehicles to visit many stops.

Plan Routes tool

Plan Routes tool

Leveraging the Geoenrichment service behind the scenes, the Enrich Layer tool has been updated with a new data browser that helps you to easily search and select the data categories and variables. You can also search for a variable by typing a keyword in the search box. The tool now automatically sets the region based on your input data and keeps track of the number of variables selected.

Enrich Layer tool

Enrich Layer tool

Wrapping up the new analytical capabilities – the tools in the Summarise Data group (e.g. Aggregate Points and Summarise Nearby and Summarise Within) are now capable of generating charts in the pop-ups that are created for the layer that is created by the analysis. So for example if your goal was to summarise insurance policy value by postcode, you could use the Summarise Within tool and have it generate charts showing the sum of policy values for each postcode implicated in the analysis. The summed values are also exposed as related records that you can view in a table beneath the map.

Finally, the Create Drive-Time Areas tool now offers three travel modes: walking, driving a car, and driving a truck. Using this tool you can discover what areas can be reached within a given time or distance while using any one of these modes of transportation.

Remember, if you want to find out what the impact on your ArcGIS Online credits will be for a particular analysis, there’s an easy way of previewing this. In every tool, there’s a Show credits link near the bottom – click this to see what the current settings you’re using mean in terms of credit usage. As an administrator, you can also configure your organisation so that only specific users can use these functions.

How many credits will this use?

How many credits will this use?

One final note on these spatial analysis  and geoenrichment capabilities. Everything discussed here has been focused on the way in which the tools are exposed through the ArcGIS Online Map Viewer interface. However, that user experience is just surfacing a set of underlying spatial analysis and enrichment services that any application can take advantage of. For the developer’s among you thinking about the possibility of using this hosted spatial analysis capability, check out the Spatial Analysis and Geoenrichment documentation at the developers.arcgis.com site.

Ready to Use Apps & Templates

Collector, Explorer & Operations Dashboard

As mentioned already, ArcGIS Collector – the ready to go app for collecting data in the field will get a refresh planned for later this month to allow it to support the new configurable feature search capability.

Two other applications that will also see or have seen new releases will be Explorer for ArcGIS – the newest member of the app collection, and the web-based version of Operations Dashboard. You’ll see a release of Explorer for the Mac and Explorer on iOS will support time-aware maps. Operations Dashboard just got updated with support for feature actions on multiple features and map services as data sources.

Application Templates

The configurable application templates that are part of ArcGIS Online are, in my humble opinion, one of the highest value features of the ArcGIS platform. Why? Because they allow you to go from nothing to a highly functional, good looking, easily deployable application with no coding.
This release sees a number of existing template apps get a new look and feel, and some new templates join the collection.

The existing Basic Viewer has a significant facelift applying responsive design and a new look and feel to make it play well on a broader range of devices. The original Basic Viewer is still around – it’s now called the Classic Viewer.

Updated Basic Viewer template

Updated Basic Viewer template

Also of note are four new templates that have earned their stripes, and are now part of the standard gallery of templates you can choose from when sharing a web map as an application.

Four new template apps

Four new template apps

Map Journal is a new configurable Story Map app template that allows you to present a map-based narrative organised into a set of journal entries. It is designed for creating compelling multimedia stories that combine text, graphics, and maps, especially where you have a lot of text and detail you want to convey. You can specify what the map will show and how it will behave as your users read through your journal. Two different layout options are provided. The app includes an interactive builder for helping you configure your own story.

Local Perspective is a new configurable app template for highlighting features from a map based on a user-selected location or address. In addition to your data, you can include demographics, lifestyle, live weather information, and enable driving directions.
Information Lookup and Impact Summary are also now available in the Esri-featured configurable app gallery.

One to watch, and currently in Early Adopter mode is GeoForm. GeoForm is a new configurable app template that allows users to edit feature data in a form (instead of a pop-up). If you’re interested in exploring this or other emerging app templates, check out the Early Adopter Templates group and read the blog post on this subject. The image below shows an example of the GeoForm template being used for damage assessment.

New GeoForm template in Early Adopter Template group

New GeoForm template in Early Adopter Template group

Administration & Security

The July release also contains some less visible, but significant enhancements in the areas of managing services, users and security in general.
Hosted Feature Services

If you’re hosting feature services inside ArcGIS Online (as opposed to on your own ArcGIS Server infrastructure), then look out for the new options to export your data. Individual layers from a hosted feature layer can now be exported as file geodatabase, CSV, or shapefile. File geodatabase export includes all the tables and attachments in the layer.

New export options on hosted feature services

New export options on hosted feature services

In the opposite direction, you can now publish the contents of a file geodatabase as a hosted feature layer. Staying with feature services, if you create hosted feature services after July 2nd that include attachments (photos etc.), then you’ll see a reduction in the associated storage related costs as from that date, they’re being stored as files.

Custom Roles

Administrators can now apply more granularity to the permission assigned to a custom role in ArcGIS Online. Custom roles now include specific privileges for using demographics, geocoding, Geoenrichment, network analysis, spatial analysis, and ArcGIS Marketplace. This provides finer control over how users interact with potentially credit-consuming services.

More granular permission control through Custom Roles

More granular permission control through Custom Roles

The user experience around configuring roles has also been redesigned to improve usability. Administrators now see the number of members assigned to each role and have more direct access to view information, edit, and delete custom roles.

Organisation Administration

Adding and managing users in an organisation gets easier with this release. For example, if you want to add new members without going through an email round-trip, that’s now possible. In the same vein, if you want to establish a number of users in one go through a pre-populated CSV file, you can now include a username in that file to complete each user’s profile.

Administrators now have more options for managing members, including resetting passwords, changing email addresses, and enabling Esri access. That latter permission is all about whether users can access the new My Esri site and Esri Community and Forum sites.

Security

Enhancements in the area of security are probably the least visible of the features in this new release but there are some important items here. Firstly, ArcGIS Online is now security accredited and authorized for US government use under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). FISMA Low accreditation ensures ArcGIS Online has been rigorously reviewed by a third-party assessor for alignment with stringent security requirements as provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), providing assurance for even commercial and international organizations. Whilst this is a US Government accreditation, it’s a strong indicator of the credentials ArcGIS Online has in the enterprise space.

As part of this compliance, password requirements for ArcGIS Online have also been strengthened. Passwords must be at least 8 characters long and contain at least one letter and one number. Passwords continue to be case sensitive.

On the broader topic of the ArcGIS Platform and security, this week saw the release of Trust.ArcGIS.com – a new website for security, privacy, and compliance. The site is designed to provide a high level of transparency around ArcGIS and security and includes centralised information for security updates, best practices, system availability, and status history.

New Trust.ArcGIS site

New Trust.ArcGIS site

Wrapping up the security changes, ArcGIS Online now supports identity provider (IDP) initiated enterprise logins in addition to service provider (SP) initiated enterprise logins. With the existing SP initiated logins, members access their organisation website directly and see options to sign in using their enterprise service provider account or their ArcGIS account.

Service Provider (SP) initiated enterprise login experience

Service Provider (SP) initiated enterprise login experience

With the new IDP option, members directly access their enterprise login manager and sign in with their account. When the member submits their account information, the identity provider sends the SAML response directly to ArcGIS Online. The member is then logged in and redirected to their organisation website where they can immediately access resources without having to sign in to the organisation again. They never see the option to login with an ArcGIS Account in this mode.

For the sake of completeness, if you’re a security person, here’s the list of SAML-compliant identify providers that ArcGIS Online is certified against:-

All in all, this release is a big step forward on a number of fronts. A couple of years ago, the notion of Web GIS, ArcGIS Online, and using the ArcGIS Platform in this way was in the category of “watch this space with interest”. In the last twelve months, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in that thinking, with customers now asking “how can I use this?” rather than “why should I use this?” This is I believe a reflection of maturing perspectives on use of the cloud, increasing pressure on organisations to do more with less  (and rapidly), whilst at the same time increasing their visibility and capacity to share with partners, stakeholders and the public.

Josh V

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