Integrating with business systems – where to start

Esri’s goal with the WebGIS (see this blog on “What is Web GIS”)concept is to break down silos and make spatial data and processing services accessible to anyone that wishes to use them. This concept falls right into the hands of many organisations, who wish to integrate their systems, allowing processes and decision making to be based on authoritative and accurate data. Should an organisation not reap as much benefit out of a legacy system as possible, the risk of losing the backing of management could inevitably lead to budget cuts or even closure of departments. It is therefore of integral importance that any system provides an organisation with a business case and functionality that is critical to the day-to-day running of the organisation.

For this purpose, one of the core functionalities that all systems must provide their clients is the capability of integrating with other systems. The value of accessing data and services from other systems, through a single platform, is immense. The intention being that processes are streamlined; product quality and performance are improved and ultimately, decision making is based on a holistic view off all relevant authoritative dataset from the key stakeholders in your organisation.

Integration?

But what does it mean to integrate and how does one go about integrating one system with another?

Quite simply put, integration means, accessing information and\or services of one (or many) system(s), on a different platform. We want to do this for 3 main reasons:

  1. Geocentric Application: As the “geocentric” term alludes to, this is a GIS orientated pattern, where the organisation’s business data is accessed via the geospatial platform, like the municipal cadastre, that is updated daily by diligent GIS staff at your local municipal offices. The content consists predominantly of spatial data and geoprocessing tools to enrich the business data and is utilised by staff that have a background in GIS.
  2. Geo-Enable Application: This pattern leans heavily towards the business’ system hosting the data, while the GIS platform’s role is to provide functionality and capabilities to the business system, that would not otherwise be offered. Be it address geocoding of data, map visualisation window for location verification during a process or field mobility capabilities, the geo-enablement pattern enriches the business system with useful capabilities that fall outside of the its core strengths.
  3. Composite Applications: Should an organisation have multiple systems and none of them are considered as the central hosting framework, then the composite application is considered as the business pattern to pursue. In this case, web services and capabilities from the various systems are integrated to provide superior functionality. 
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    Integration patterns for business systems

    What about web services?

    Having got the complicated concepts out of the way, we can go ahead and look at how to go about integrating with the ArcGIS platform.

    First and foremost, you don’t have to be a developer to integrate your ArcGIS Enterprise with another system. Esri has made the integration process very easy by allowing users to add web service URL as items, to their ArcGIS . As in “https://service1.arcgis.com/<item’s id>/arcgis/rest/services/<feature name>/FeatureServer”. Be it ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Enterprise or a wide variety of ArcGIS apps, adding web services is a simple procedure.

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Integration Example – ArcGIS Online Add Item

Should your organisation wish to integrate their system with certain features of your GIS platform, you can simply provide them with the desired feature service’s URL to the system’s administrator. They will then gain access to the data or GIS capabilities you have provided them with, for their own use.

Complexity comes in the form of the data’s format. In some cases, it is necessary to make alterations to the format of the incoming service, in order for a system to consume the incoming service correctly. In cases like this, some additional configuration will be required.

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Integration fails due to compatibility issues

In this regard, Esri has you covered, with the Data Interoperability for ArcGIS extension.

It’s interoperable, silly!

This extension allows users to build ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) tools, that can convert almost any datatype into a format that the destination system can consume. The interoperability extension can be a once-off ETL task that is run from the ArcGIS desktop software, or an automated ETL task (check out this blog, which covers ETL automation) can be set to run, which will translate the incoming service stream into a compatible format, in real-time.

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ETL tool converting data from its source, into compatible format

Even though integration is a daunting process, that can easily become complex and messy process, Esri provides simple tools and literature to aid any GIS professional to start the process and do the job right the first time.

So, if have not integrated your GIS implementation with other business systems, then now is the time to get going!

 

P.S.: Here are some helpful resources to start off with.

–              Architecting the ArcGIS Platform: Best Practices

–              wiki.gis.com: Data integration

–              All you need to know for ArcGIS web services

–             An informative blog post on the Data Interoperability for ArcGIS extension

Esri Field Mobility

Maintaining field assets such as roads or fire hydrants, requires engineers and managers to know what condition these assets are in. After all, prevention is better than cure and fixing problems is much more time consuming and expensive than just keeping all assets serviced and in good working condition.

Many organizations rely on a field workforce to support these daily operations. Having the capability to get information into and out of the field in a timely manner can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization. Information collected in the field using easy-to-use solutions can share information with solutions including the executive operational dashboard in near real-time allowing decision-makers within an organization to make more informed and timely decisions. These mobile solutions can also improve the workflows of field personnel by providing them with on-demand access to actionable and task-relevant information creating a more efficient and effective workforce.

In a scenario where the data already resides in a geodatabase, how can office staff or dispatchers send out staff to the field to inspect and evaluate the condition of an asset easily and quickly and ideally without a paper trail?

Simply put, the workflow can be streamlined with the use of Workforce for ArcGIS in conjunction with Collector for ArcGIS.

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Workforce for ArcGIS: Creating an Assignment

With Workforce for ArcGIS, office staff can manage the deployment of all field crews by assigning jobs to each individually and monitoring their progress and position in real time.

Creating an assignment on the Workforce for ArcGIS web app allows for the dispatcher to:

  • Choose the assignment Type
  • Set the location of assignment (Address or   coordinate)
  • Choose the staff member
  • Set Priority of assignment
  • Set the due date/time for completion
  • Description of assignment/task
  • Attach files for use by the field staff such as images or technical drawings.

Assignments are sent to the field worker via an internet connection to their mobile phones or tablets, running on Android, iOS or Windows 10.

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Once the assignment has been created, the user in the field can choose to accept or decline the assignment, all of which will notify the dispatcher in the office.

When an assignment has been accepted and “Start” is chosen, the field user will access the details of the job as well as be able to access the applications used to both navigate to the location  or capture the data.

 

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Navigating between Workforce for ArcGIS and Collector for ArcGIS on a mobile device

The user will choose the Collect option at the top-right in order for the hydrants to show on a map. Using Collector for ArcGIS allows for the user to access the existing feature where it’s properties can be altered.

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Collector for ArcGIS: Feature attributes
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Collector for ArcGIS: Editing feature attributes

Once a hydrant is selected, all it’s relevant data is displayed and ready to be edited, if required.

And when the inspection is complete, the tick at the top-left is selected, which will sync the data from the mobile device with the data source, keeping in mind that an internet connection is required.

Lastly, the applications will switch back to the Workforce for ArcGIS, where the field worker will select the “Finish” option, notifying the dispatcher of the assignments completion.

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Collector and Survey123 for ArcGIS are also capable of capturing new features with the same workflow and do not require internet access though the location (GPS) has to be switched ON, on the mobile device.

Capturing data in the field has never been easier!