Skip to main content

3 common questions about ArcGIS field apps

Field work season is here and now’s the time to try a new data collection strategy. Do you know how to get started with ArcGIS field applications? What’s the difference between Collector and Survey123? Find out in this blog post and learn what courses are available to help you get started and become more productive with these apps.

Are you all set to go out to inspect asset conditions, test water quality, perform species counts or photograph changes of your assets or environment? Your summer interns may be getting ready to start their field work, so make sure your team has the best tools in place to maximize efficiency and communication with the office.

With ArcGIS field applications, you can:

  • Avoid manual data entry and data loss from damaged forms
  • Save time in transferring data from paper forms to your GIS
  • Provide reliable up-to-date data to your entire organization

I often hear the following questions about Esri’s field data collection apps, so here are a few tips and suggestions to help you get the most out of these mobile apps.

1. “I downloaded Collector for ArcGIS on my phone, but when I go to use it, I don’t see anything. How does it work?”

Collector for ArcGIS

Just as your banking app must know who you are to connect to your account, Collector for ArcGIS needs to connect to a published web map that includes at least one editable layer called a “feature service”. The web map is created directly from ArcGIS Desktop and ArcGIS Pro, from the My Content section or the Map Viewer in ArcGIS Online, as well as from ArcGIS Enterprise.

As you make changes to the data on your device, the web map ensures the data is refreshed back in the office. Web maps can be published with ArcGIS Online or with ArcGIS Enterprise via Portal for ArcGIS on your own infrastructure. If you choose ArcGIS Online, understand that service credits will be consumed for storage of your data on the Esri cloud.

If you’re new to web publishing, one way to learn best practices for creating web maps and making them available to your field workers using Collector is to take our training course. You’ll be more productive in less time.

If you choose to publish with ArcGIS Online or you’ve deployed Portal for ArcGIS on your own infrastructure, you can learn best practices from the ArcGIS Online for Publishers course. This instructor-led online course is available on several dates, and the next one is on June 20.

To learn how to share geospatial content privately on your own infrastructure, sign up for Deploying Portal for ArcGIS. The next course date is June 27-28.

2. “How do I get drop-down menus in Collector for ArcGIS?”

Collector for ArcGIS

What you see in Collector is your GIS data. If you publish a feature service from a shapefile, the drop-down menu will not appear. For a consistent, semi-automatic field data collection experience, you will need to work with domains and subtypes within a geodatabase. Improve the user experience by defining a range of default values, avoid manual data entry errors and build in quality control by minimizing the list of possible values using your industry standard terms.

There are many benefits to working with geodatabases instead of shapefiles. You should consider them and make the switch to provide advanced capabilities to your users.

  • Smaller storage space for the same dataset
  • Better overall performance
  • Ability to organize your data by theme in Feature Datasets
  • No name field character limitation
  • Ability to add attachments

If you’re using shapefiles because you need to share data often with external organizations, you can easily continue to do so by exporting your data stored in a geodatabase into a shapefile. The same applies if you receive GIS data from external organizations often. The conversion is very easy to do in ArcGIS Desktop.

Don’t have a geodatabase in place?

I recommend you build one to benefit from a geodatabase’s efficient data storage and data access. To help you create a schema, use a template data model, add your data to it, set your domains and subtypes, and apply topology rules and other relational functions to them.

Sign up for Building Geodatabases to help you get started. The next course date is June 20-22.

3. “What’s the difference between Collector for ArcGIS and Survey123 for ArcGIS?”

Collector for ArcGIS (left) and Survey123 (right)

Both applications can be used for data collection. However, forms in Survey123 can be quite sophisticated. If you need to convert a paper form into a digital one, Survey123 brings you the most features.

Survey123 allows for "nested" options, so if the answer to one question prompts additional questions, the form will change to present a new set of questions. The choice needs to be made depending on who will use the application, how familiar they are with maps and the type of information you want to collect.

Let’s say you want to capture the condition of a pipe, Collector might be the best tool to locate it on the map interface, update the condition and move on to the next pipe inspection on the map. However, if your workers are performing a transmission tower inspection, Survey123 can speed up the data collection process with predefined questions that use logic and provide easy-to-fill answers so field crews only see what they need to see based on their previous response, and there’s no confusion as to which fields need to be completed.

With Survey123, you can create forms, surveys, questionnaires, polls, etc. in an XLS form-compliant spreadsheet and publish them in ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS to access them on the Survey123 app on your mobile device.

To learn how to prepare data and services and configure these apps to support field data collection, register for ArcGIS for Field Work and Operations. This course will be offered twice in June (8-9 and 27-28).

If a course is not offered on the date you prefer, click the Request Training Date button on each course page and let us know when you’ll be available. We’ll make every effort to accommodate you.

To see a list of all our training courses, browse our course catalogue.

About the Author

Carole Arseneau is a Market Research Specialist at Esri Canada. Over the years, she has advised customers from all industries on how to leverage GIS in their organizations. More recently, she’s been conducting market research to uncover details about the various jobs our customers do each day in various industries. This will help inform Esri Canada’s corporate strategy and better support our customers. Carole holds a Market Research certificate from the University of California, Davis, a GIS certificate from Florida State College in Jacksonville and a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from Laval University in Québec City. Being by the water has always made her feel at home and has given her inspiration to keep a positive outlook in life.

Profile Photo of Carole Arseneau