Part 2: ArcGIS Online & The Utility Approach
As promised in Part 1 of this AGOL series and a little overdue (a month between updates is pretty good, right? Wouldn't want to overwhelm you with all this mindblowing blogging), I now deliver to you, the uninterested and possibly nonexistent reader, the grand Utility Approach. This post will discuss three ways an industry could apply AGOL for their organization, focusing in particular on an organization I interned for this past year. Although this distinct case might not be an example of what I was blabbering about in Part 1.
But first, a little background to set the mood! I've thankfully had great success snagging internships and GIS experience (one might say I'm an internship hoarder?) - it just so happens that the majority of those experiences have been utility related, both electric and stormwater. Summer before last I worked with a Property Owners Association on an island in South Cackalacki (Carolina, for all you who aren't from 'round here) doing stormwater management. Unlike previous utilities I've worked with, their GIS department was not strongly supported and their workflows had a lot of the "learn as you go" practices. Although we did implement AGOL in inspections and sharing maps with other regimes on the island, I'd like to visit the land of Woulda Shoulda Coulda if we'd known the capabilities of an AGOL account. In an attempt to keep it somewhat organized, I'm going to focus on three factors - if I venture off course, please find it in your heart of hearts to forgive me. I get easily distracted sometimes.
MAINTENANCE INSPECTION WORKFLOW
Workflow Circa 2012
For daily inspections of the stormwater system, we used a tried-and-somewhat-true workflow that consisted of creating an online map for inspection purposes, find the structures on an iPad out in the field, inspect and take pictures of them, take notes in a separate document, and then return to the office to update everything online.
I told you all of that to tell you this - There are other ways to do this! Here comes AGOL to the rescue! For actual inspections, I'd highly recommend mobile applications, like Collector for ArcGIS or even the ArcGIS mobile app. This way, our efforts to use an online map, take notes, and document which areas had been accounted for could ALL be done at the same time. Pictures taken with the device could also be attached when necessary. Cutting down the time of inspection and the time to update, AGOL's got your back. All of the updates made via the app automatically update in the online map. See? Magic. An additional perk is an application that is more forward facing, like Operations Dashboard, that could show all the updates and information at hand. This could be used to analyze data and conditions. It also has an added bonus for supervisors to track when updates are made to see if employees are working or just hanging out on the beach. (Gasp! We'd never do that!)
This type of approach is perfect in situations where you need more hands on deck, but don't want to spend forever and a day training a crew in the tumultuous sea that is ArcMap. It offers less of a learning curve, allowing you to utilize a device that even toddlers can use and that the majority of adults are familiar with. Really, it's pretty spectacular.
STOP, COLLABORATE, AND LIST (BETWEEN DEPARTMENTS)
Workflow Circa 2012
This is very similar to the previous post. We would often times have to work with outside organizations and regimes. Some of these we chose strictly to email, while others (or at least one in particular) we utilized groups in AGOL.
For the magic, please read previous point. Except this time, I'd stick more to sharing via groups rather than encouraging more forward facing applications.
If you want to share data with someone without allowing them the rights to it or the ability to manipulate, this is a great way. Besides, it's just the click of a link versus packaging up an MXD file and geodatabase or taking a shoddy screenshot (guilty!). Admit it, sometimes easier is just too perfect to pass up.
Although I know this was probably a longer read than you're expecting, feel blessed because halfway through I realized there is just so much about this approach to GIS that would convince you to use it if you only knew! I didn't want to bore you with a novel so I tried to stick to a Reader's Digest instead. All in all though, and that aside, I hope you were able to get the underlying theme here - That being workflows, although they work (hence the name), can often be outdated or even could just have some room for improvement. In the Woulda Coulda Shoulda world, this would be a fantastic approach. Although it may not be for everyone and by no means is going to fix everything, I believe it's something to consider to both move forward with the products you create as well as to expand the ways you may be able to use someone on your team who was formerly underutilized. Growth opportunities for all the people!
Workflow Circa 2012
Like a lot of companies, collaborating between departments can have its challenges. In our case, the data we worked with really only needed to be seen by a handful of other people. Sometimes it just wouldn't happen, other times it ended up being a few of us crowded around a computer screen like anxious fangirls trying to catch a glimpse of their favorite actor (okay, that's a stretch - no normal person should be THAT excited about a map unless you're Juan de la Cosa).
Although we used some of the features offered by AGOL, we didn't fully embrace its true potential. With an AGOL account, each department could have been assigned their own group to which we could share a map for them to see. That's just directly inside of AGOL. Using supporting apps, there are also two more fancy shmancy things that would've been pretty useful - The first is the application I mentioned in the first point, Operations Dashboard. This allows a way for those in more important roles to see real time data updated as well as an analysis of the data. It's a way to share the data, but with highlights. Think that's cool? But wait, there's more! The second, Accounting or anyone who needed to spatially represent data that we didn't have time to cover could have put that information in a spreadsheet and used the Esri Maps for Office extension to quickly create a map out of the data and share it online. Everyone would be able to share their data as well as manipulate it on their own. Win-win all around.
You might say privacy is something to consider here, and you wouldn't be wrong. Thankfully, applications/web maps allow you to set what group the information is being shared with and how much power that group actually has. It's a faster way to get things done and also get more people introduced to putting a where to their what.