In March I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Esri Dev Summit out in Palm Springs, California. Esri is the provider for most of the software that the City of Philadelphia uses for GIS. It was an exciting four days as these are exciting times in GIS and web development. Below are some of my main takeaways from the week of upcoming trends and new technology capabilities.
When you think about GIS, the first thing that may come to mind is maps. While maps are a good way to communicate spatial data and a sense of space, they sometimes aren’t ideal. Recently new technologies have been introduced that provide new interfaces that allow spatial context to be provided in new ways. One of these is GeoTriggers, an Esri product from their Portland R&D Center (formerly the start-up Geoloqi, which Esri acquired last October). It’s an engine for iOS and Android devices that allows for developers to create geo-fence of areas. The developer can define a notification that is sent to the user of their application when they enter, leave or “dwell” (stay in) in a geo-fence.
Another new Esri product, the GeoEvent Processor for ArcGIS Server, takes a similar approach. It allows for the storing and processing of real-time GIS data from sensors and mobile devices with GPS, social media and more. There are many data connectors provided that will import and export the data into many different inputs and outputs for additional analysis, notifications and more.
These products are what Esri’s Amber Case calls “calm technology” because it pushes information to the user in the useful context instead of the user having to pull the information when they feel they need it. In GIS, context is everything, so it makes a lot of sense to build better tools with new or possibly no interface at all. Google Glass is another example of an emerging interface and how technology is clearly going beyond the standard screens that we use today.
While the design of a user interface has always been important, it can be argued that it is even more important now considering it may be the only way to differentiate your product from a competitor. The keynote speaker of the conference, usability expert Jared Spool, gave some good insight into design decisions that successful and unsuccessful companies make. Elsewhere there were sessions on interface design and usability in terms of displaying GIS data. Spool’s presentation is definitely recommended viewing if you’re interested improving how design your products.
Methods to push and pull GIS data are continuing to grow within Esri’s ArcGIS software. There are now ways to expose GIS data so that it can be consumed in a content management system like Drupal, a business intelligence suite like IBM Cognos and more. If there isn’t an integration that currently meets your needs, you can always create your own by either writing a Server Object Extension or a Python geoprocessing tool.
One particularly interesting integration to me was the ArcGIS Editor for OpenStreetMap desktop extension. It allows OSM data to be imported into native ArcGIS data formats and also for that data to be pushed back out to OSM so that it can be consumed by the applications and users that rely on OpenStreetMap’s open GIS data.
Esri made it a point to mention that they are continuously releasing open source projects on their GitHub account. At my last check there were 87 repos of coding samples and templates that can help developers quickly get up to speed with Esri SDKs to create applications. Also of note was the open source release of GIS Tools for Hadoop that provides libraries for analyzing Big Data in Hadoop spatially (see the video below for a demo).
Overall it was an interesting four days of introduction to the new solutions that current GIS technology can provide. Already within City GIS teams there are talks of how to use these new opportunities to better serve the public and support current operations.
David Walk is a GIS Developer for the City of Philadelphia. Follow David on Twitter @ddw17.