What is useful web GIS technology?

July 8, 2016 Gordon Plunkett

There have been several information technology booms and busts over the last few decades, and generally, the major factor determining whether a technology is a boom or a bust is its usefulness. Web GIS has really begun to flourish in the past few years, and a reason for its growing popularity is its usefulness. Read this blog post to find out why web GIS has become an essential tool for both GIS practitioners and GIS organizations alike.

Esri’s mantra for many years has been “to develop useful technology and support users.” This sounds simple enough, but how do you accomplish this and keep customers coming back? Let’s have a look at delivering on these two elements as they relate to web GIS, starting with supporting users.

For Esri Canada, supporting users means providing a suite of services that assist them in getting the most value out of web GIS technology. Most often, Esri Canada’s technical support services address specific problems with a product or service that are reported by individual users. When users contact Esri Canada, the tech support team identifies the problem and proposes a solution. Web GIS technology is unique in that it serves a large number of users concurrently. So if any issue is reported, it’s acted upon and resolved quickly. There are even servers that continually examine the health and performance of the web GIS servers. These can detect and report issues for resolution even before users see the problem.

The other element of the business mantra is to develop useful technology. This is easy to say, but how do you do this? How do you know if something is going to be useful or not? First of all, web GIS platforms can be easily implemented using web services on premises, in the cloud or in a combination of these called a hybrid implementation. These web services can be accessed anywhere the Internet is available and on pretty much any device. Therefore, web GIS is useful because of its easy accessibility.

Another facet is knowing who the users are and supporting various user types. Esri technology supports the full range of users, including individual users, communities of users, organizations and even communities of organizations. Web GIS technology is elastic in the sense that it can scale from a single user to millions of users. This makes web GIS useful to users because it is scalable and always available even with significant website traffic.

Another facet to consider in web GIS usability is providing the necessary information in a clear and concise manner. As it turns out, web GIS, in particular, operates on a common platform, and this platform enables multiple types of systems which support numerous uses. These are:

  • Systems of record – this means that the data being provided is authoritative and can be referenced for decision-making. For example, a city might provide locations of assets such as libraries, schools, water hydrants and fire halls. Utilities might have a system of record showing the location of fixed assets such as poles, transformers, power generation facilities and other transmission equipment.
  • Systems of engagement – these systems allow collaboration among users. A system of engagement connects people in real time to discuss geographically related issues, which helps enable and empower more people: employees, customers, consumers, citizens and suppliers.
  • Systems of insight – these are the systems that allow engagement and enable users to combine various data to create something new or to explain how something may have occurred. These are the systems that evoke “Aha!” moments.

Making technology that’s useful to users is critically important. For web GIS, accessibility, scalability and multi-purpose platforms are certainly considerations for users to get the most out of their web GIS investment.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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