Lets go back in time. Remember the early 2000’s and those glorious ESRI ArcIMS days. To quickly get up and running with sharing your GIS data on the Web, ESRI were nice enough to supply us with the HTML and Java viewers. Code libraries which provided a viewer and tools without the need for programming. We used these viewers. Actually quite liked them at first, then realised our users wanted the tools customised. That opened a can of worms. ESRI have continued to supply users with viewers and templates, to make accessing data easier. The Flex Viewer for ArcGIS, is another good example.

Now we have templates and configs for ArcGIS Online. Quoting ESRI:

“We will continue to evolve these templates and have organized a new team that focuses on these solution environments.

Popular examples include (1) land records management (built around a parcel fabric data model), (2) water/wastewater environments, (3) emergency management, and (4) elections. Each of these environments is available with full documentation and can be downloaded from Esri’s Resource Center, easily configured and deployed by users and Esri partners”

For quickly allowing access to your data via a web or mobile browser, these templates are wonderful. They even allow modification by non programmers. But they are not the solution for everybody. Sometimes you do truly need a programmer. And sometimes customisation of these templates is a royal pain. We talk with our clients often about their need for customised workflows. The level of customisation often determines whether changing a template is a wise move, as against building a custom app from the ground up. Sounds expensive? Less so now with mobile, building custom mobile apps which can be distributed across mobile platforms is easier and cheaper than you might expect. Indeed in some cases cheaper than modifying a template.

James Fee in his new ‘Hangouts’ video series has an episode on the recent ESRI UC, in it he discusses with his guest these ESRI templates and the Flex viewer. We concur:

The bottom line, good for ESRI for providing these templates. But for many clients, remember generic apps are just that. If you have specific workflows you will need custom apps and or tools. That means time and money. These templates may or may not be the best place to provide this customised functionality.

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