Many organizations are now considering mobile GIS. Much of this is a move to efficiency, to get out of the traditional cycle: collect field data on paper, submit this to a GIS specialists, who then enters this into a GIS. Mobile GIS means field data can be uploaded directly from the field to the GIS.
So what needs to be considered when adopting mobile GIS technology? We’ve been developing and implementing mobile GIS solutions for a number of years. As we have found, mobile GIS implementations are not straightforward. Careful consideration, planning and preparation is needed. In this post we share 7 key areas to consider when moving to mobile GIS.
7 Things to Consider when Moving to Mobile GIS
1) Off the shelf or custom GIS app?
There are increasingly more mobile GIS apps now available. Collector for ArcGIS is a popular data collection app from Esri. Tied to ArcGIS Online, this mobile app provides both online and offline editing capabilities. Your mobile GIS needs may match well with what is provided by an off the shelf product like Collector. But suppose you want to brand an app, or need functionality not provided by any off the shelf product. You will need a custom mobile GIS app. Popular requests we get include the ability to generate custom forms and reports, and custom widgets. As our clients can attest, this can be a less complicated process than it may seem.
2) GIS trained field staff?
GIS apps have traditionally been targeted at GIS trained staff. Mobile GIS is no different. But mobile potentially has a wide user base. Many non-GIS trained staff will be using mobile GIS apps. That can be a challenge. You may need to train staff to use existing off the shelf products, or build a custom mobile GIS apps which is intuitive, simple to use and designed around your workflows.
3) Web, hybrid or native mobile GIS app?
If you are looking at a custom mobile GIS solution, one area you will need to consider is the type of application. Should this be an app a user can pull up in a mobile browser, or an installed app? If the latter, will a hybrid solution suffice, or do you need a platform specific native mobile app? These are technical questions, and ones a good mobile GIS development company can help guide you through.
4) Single or all mobile devices – smartphone, smablet, tablet?
Which mobile devices will your field staff be using: tablets only, smartphones or a combination of both? Any mobile application needs to be designed to run on a specific device. Now there are ways to build mobile GIS apps to run across devices using an approach called responsive design. Deciding what field staff will be using both today and tomorrow is critical in the mobile GIS planning process.
5) Which platform – Apple, Android, Windows – or all?
Often we are asked to build an iPad GIS app. On further discussion clients often mean cross-platform (iPad today, others tomorrow). This means an app which runs on Apple, Android, and potentially Windows based mobile devices. If you truly are only targeting one platform, no problem. But cross-platform decisions need to be made early in the planning process. There are ways to build mobile GIS apps relatively cheaply which run on all platforms.
6) Cloud GIS or shapefile?
The cloud is revolutionizing the world of GIS. The biggest single impact is arguably in the mobile world. Now you can view and collect data on your mobile device pulling and pushing this data from a central cloud based service. What does that mean in English? That everybody in your organization shares GIS access and resources, wherever and whenever. We are sometimes asked about viewing and updating shapefiles on a mobile device. Sure this is better than pen and paper, but leveraging cloud GIS is by far the best and, long term, the cheapest approach.
7) Going it alone or getting help
If you have a large and savvy GIS department, moving to mobile GIS may be an easy process. But, as we have noted above, there is much to consider with mobile GIS. The best path forward may require some outside help. There are now many companies like ours focused on mobile GIS. We’ve been helping our clients set up their cloud and mobile GIS systems, prepare and publish data, train staff on the use of mobile GIS apps like Collector, and build custom mobile GIS apps.
Let us know if you have any questions as you start your mobile GIS planning.