Skip to main content

Demystifying ArcGIS Field Data Collection Apps

Map, Form or Button: how do you know which is the best mobile app to use? The time is here to demystify ArcGIS data collection solutions!

ArcGIS provides a suite of apps to help digitalize and streamline field data collection workflows in your organization. As soon as employees step out of the office, there is an app to help them efficiently and effortlessly complete their fieldwork and get the information back to those in the office who need it, right away.

With a number of ArcGIS field operations apps available for data capture, you may wonder, which is the right one to use? Our three data collection apps: ArcGIS Collector, ArcGIS Survey123 and ArcGIS QuickCapture, each allow you to eliminate paper-based workflows and enable field workers to perform accurate data collection in any environment at any experience level.

The key considerations for you to keep in mind when making your choice include:

  • the UI they offer your field users - determining how they capture data and ease of use
  • specific mapping and form capabilities
  • any unique advantages one may offer over the other

First, find out what each of the data collection apps have in common:

  • Work with web layers: hosted feature layers in ArcGIS Online or Enterprise; also work with ArcGIS Server layers referenced to your ArcGIS organization
  • Allow capture of points, lines and polygons
  • Enable use of external GNSS receivers for high frequency and high accuracy data collection
  • Permit capture of photos and sometimes other files as attachments
  • Automatically sync edits when used while connected
  • Allow users to work while disconnected and sync edits when back online
  • Provide control for who can edit and view the data through group sharing and ArcGIS organization licensing
  • Ensure the apps are licensed for the Field Worker User and higher and included in the Field Apps bundle.

Ultimately, the way field users work with the apps to capture data is very different. Choosing the right user experience to best meet the way your field users do their work is critical for success. I like to start my answer with the key word that describes each app:  map (Collector), form (Survey123) or button (QuickCapture).

Collector provides map-based data collection.  Field users work with web maps configured with editable layers as well as view-only reference layers and basemaps. Collector is great for when you want to provide a data capture experience driven from a map. This is the way to go when editing multiple GIS layers and when you need a detailed map view to provide context to editing workflows, such as when working with complex water or sewer networks, updating property boundaries and more. Collector does provide users with a list of attributes for editing but what you can do with your data entry form right now is quite basic.

Collector provides map-based editing for users to effectively update feature geometry and attributes when you need to work with multiple layers such as with forestry inventory.

Survey123 delivers a form-centric approach to data capture leveraging smart form capability with XLS form driving the data capture process. Survey123 is ideal when the form is front and center (not the map). While Survey123 provides uses with a map, you can even skip it if location is not important for collecting your observations (shocking, I know). Anyone comfortable with using a mobile device will be able to use a Survey123 form for workflows including routine asset inspections, damage assessments, collecting health data to track disease outbreaks and more.  If people are used to doing their work completing a paper form… you have found the perfect candidate for Survey123.

Survey123 can be used to create a sophisticated form capturing what would take pages of paper.

QuickCapture offers a “big-button” data capture experience. QuickCapture is ideal for completing at-speed data collection workflows at the tap of a button. It delivers a minimalist user experience where end users can capture observations with the least distraction and little training. Think aerial patrols, quick reporting of issues and violations, at-speed road asset inventories and more. While QuickCapture allows you to collect a few variables, it’s designed for a simple and quick capture on-the-go. User input is limited so it may not be suitable if you need to update many feature attributes. Map use is also minimal to allow you to view and move features last captured and cannot be used to edit existing features – only add new.

QuickCapture provides a set of buttons that the user simply taps to capture a limited set of variables on-the-go, such as on road patrols.

The method you use to configure each of our mobile data collection apps also differs. Although each mobile app offers a map for capturing feature geometry as well as some type of form for editing attributes, understanding how data collection projects are configured by the project owner is helpful.

Collector leverages maps and feature layer properties including symbology as well as attributes domains or list of values configured in your ArcGIS organization or Desktop GIS. Configuration of the web map and web layer properties is what sets the user experience. Currently this is completed in a number of steps within your ArcGIS Organization that include setting feature layer properties such as editing templates and domains (list of values), creating popups for attribute display and editing, as well as setting web map properties. While these steps are not complicated and well documented, we have developed a web app to streamline the configuration process for when Collector becomes integrated into the new ArcGIS Field Maps (more on Field Maps below).

Configure the web map and layer settings to get your map ready for Collector.

Working with XLS Form in Survey123 allows you to create questions to capture your feature attributes and add advanced logic to auto-calculate values, define skip logic and build complex calculations as well as data validation rules. You don’t need to be an expert with XLS Form to create a useful survey: you can choose between using the web Designer which gives you a drag and drop experience for authoring your survey (perfect for beginners); or you can use the desktop Survey123 Connect app to harness the full range of XLS form capability in a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel. We provide a large number of samples and templates to get you started and soon you will be creating some amazing forms with Survey123.

It’s quick and easy to use the drag and drop Survey123 web designer to build a survey.

With Survey123 Connect you work side-by-side with a spreadsheet to add advanced XLS Form capability.

The QuickCapture designer web app is used to both set the appearance and layout of the buttons used to capture data geometry as well as feature attributes. QuickCapture leverages feature layer properties including symbology and attributes domains or list of values that are set in your ArcGIS organization or ArcGIS Pro. You can also link your attributes to capture device variables that give additional location details, designed to maximize at-speed data capture.

Create a new project for data capture and configure your buttons to harness your feature layer properties and device variables using the QuickCapture web designer.

A few other tips to keep in mind:

  • All three apps run on iOS and Android
  • If you need your app to work Windows only Survey123 & QuickCapture are supported
  • Survey123 and QuickCapture can be further customized using AppStudio for ArcGIS Developer Edition to create a custom data capture solution
  • Public data capture (for crowdsourcing, citizen science and community engagement) is only possible with Survey123 or QuickCapture with a Hub Premium subscription
  • Survey123 allows only editing of one feature layer per form (unless working with repeat questions which use related tables)
  • Collector and Survey123 allow for editing of previously captured data as well as new data collection
  • Unique to Survey123 is the Survey123 website, providing many useful tools to visualize the results of your survey as well as ability to create custom report templates to share and summarize your data
  • Survey123 allows data capture in a web form or the field app
  • Data captured with any of our apps can be shared in a web map, configurable web or other mobile apps, desktop GIS or using ArcGIS Dashboards for high level views of your field operations to share with all stakeholders

In some cases, it makes sense to combine several apps to meet your workflow needs. You can use ArcGIS Workforce to link work assignments to the Collector and Survey123 apps and integration with QuickCapture is coming soon. Url parameters or web links are published for all three apps, providing a well-known protocol for apps to communicate with each other. Through a custom URL link, you can remotely launch apps and invoke actions in them including pre-populating attributes.  You can learn more about using url parameters with Survey123, Collector and QuickCapture. Webhooks, a widely supported method used to allow multiple applications to interact with each other, can be used with Survey123 as well as QuickCapture. You can use a webhook to send an email to a supervisor when a tree inventory survey or a new pothole observation is submitted or add a record to a Google document as well to automatically schedule a follow-up visit in your inspector’s calendar.

With our new ArcGIS Field Maps release, the future of ArcGIS map-based mobile apps is here. Field Maps provides map-based data collection for iOS and Android along with a web app to use in your ArcGIS Organization that greatly streamlines the in-office map and data preparation experience.  In its first release, Field Maps is not only for data capture and update but also provides the read-only map and markup capabilities of Explorer as well the location tracking capabilities of Tracker, all in the same mobile app. Later phases will include Workforce’s assignments capabilities as well as Navigator's turn-by-turn navigation. Stay tuned for more information about ArcGIS Field Maps as it will offer a lot of exciting new capabilities. You can learn all about Field Maps at my upcoming webinar on November 5th, 2020.

The moment you step out of the office, “where” becomes critical to getting your job done. ArcGIS field apps offer several options to meet the needs of all your office-to-field and back-to-office workflows. By exploring the capabilities of each and testing them out to compare how they work, you will surely find the best one for you to take your GIS outside.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Sue Enyedy is Esri Canada’s GeoMobility Advocate. She promotes the effective adoption of Esri’s mobile solutions to help organizations connect and optimize their field and office operations using GIS. Sue has worked at the Region of Halton and at Geomatics International during her GIS career. Her passion for geography and GIS started at McMaster University, where she completed bachelor and master of science degrees.

Profile Photo of Sue Enyedy