Esri today rolled out an ambitious cloud offering for government and enterprise customers that allows users to create data-driven maps and map services without ArcGIS servers or desktop software.
ArcGIS Online organizational subscriptions, in beta since December, also provide:
- Tools for application development using geospatial data;
- An open API for integration with software such as Microsoft Office, Salesforce and Cognos;
- Mapping of data within Excel as long as that data has a street address or city name (geocoding will be automatic);
- Cataloging of GIS assets, making such data easier to find (and less likely to be duplicated by others in an organization who don't know it's there);
- Private sharing among internal groups;
- Maps that display across numerous mobile devices as well as in Web browsers;
- And hosting on either public or private cloud infrastructure.
"One way to describe it -- and here's a big sentence -- is that ArcGIS Online is a mapping platform, a new geospatial enterprise platform but especially focusing in on mapping," said Esri founder and President Jack Dangermond in a phone interview with Computerworld (see related story). "It has other services in there, like geocoding services across the enterprise or spatial analysis services that can be deployed across the enterprise, but the basic thing that most people recognize it for is that it has really cool maps.
"Think Google Maps, but with authoritative source information behind it or one's own enterprise information shared in a cloud exclusively within the enterprise or deployed in the cloud, behind a firewall or not," Dangermond said.
The creation of map services, he added, builds on the open data movement by making it easier to deploy information in a way that's more easily used and understood by non-GIS specialists -- without the need for a dedicated GIS server.
"This platform allows people without a server to be able to take their data, send it over to ArcGIS Online [and] turn it immediately into a map service which is accessible by browsers and by mobile devices," he said. "In the past, people could do that sort of thing with our server technology. But it meant that they had to buy a server, they had to stand up a server, they had to do system administration on the server, they had to build the application that would make this map come alive.
"With the ArcGIS Online environment, I can take a beautiful map that I built on the desktop, right click, send it over to online and it turns it into a service and an application that's immediately available."
One beta tester, Sussex County in New Jersey, used ArcGIS Online to develop applications for residents to find information about current road and bridge closings, trash pickup times and government services locators for things such as nearest library and post office. These use ArcGIS Online templates and "highly customized canned applications" to create things that would have been difficult for the county's three-person GIS team to create from scratch, according to David N. Kunz, county GIS manager.
"It has really jumpstarted or accelerated [achieving] the goals that we've had," Kunz said. "It's quicker and faster and cheaper."
The county also worked with two dozen municipalities to more easily update an address database for 911 dispatchers. In the past, he said, towns would compile spreadsheets of address information and then send them along to be re-entered in proper GIS format. Instead, the county was able to create a Web application, put it in a private group and let municipal workers add address points themselves. That information then gets properly inserted into a county database, instead of county workers having to re-enter the data.