There are a number of subscription based GIS Web application builders currently available. In this post we will discuss whether, in today’s rapidly evolving GIS market, you should subscribe to a GIS Web app Builder?

What are GIS Web App Builders?

GIS Web app builders are wizard based tools which allow those without programming skills to quickly stand up sophisticated GIS web applications. If your organization needs a variety of Web applications, maybe executive dashboards, mobile Web apps, or Web apps with a particular purpose, GIS Web app builders provide a quick way to assemble and launch these applications. They often come with a variety of modules which provide custom functionality, often targeted at specific markets; oil and gas, public safety, mining etc.

History

The release of ArcGIS 9 in May 2004 came with few Web applications. A number of companies saw the need to provide easy to use wizards to help GIS and non GIS staff generate Web apps quickly and easily. The goal was to provide simple, easy to use tools to produce Web applications for users across organizations. No need for a team of developers. Though they were expensive, these subscription based wizards became very popular, particularly with the ArcGIS community.

A New world of GIS Web Applications

We are in the midst of dramatic changes in GIS. Mobile and cloud are transforming the world of GIS. We have moved to GIS anywhere anytime. ArcGIS server remains, ArcGIS Online – a cloud based variant of server – is becoming increasingly more popular. Let’s look at the current landscape:

GIS Web application development has never been easier

Changes in technology, particularly with a move towards HTML5, have meant GIS Web application development has never been easier. The cost for developing GIS Web applications is at an all time low.

Free GIS Web apps everywhere

Over the last few years Esri have released a slew of free Web applications, targeting both ArcGIS server and Online. Easy to configure, these application are both general and industry targeted. The Esri local government team, for example, have over 40 free configurable templates available. No knowledge of programming is needed to configure these applications for use in organizations. They are also easy to extend to provide more custom functionality.

Esri’s Web App Builder for ArcGIS

Mobile and Web App Builder for ArcGIS sessions were the most popular at this years Esri user conference in San Diego. The latter is close to full release. It is a free Web application builder. We’ve been testing this new builder. It is very impressive. Easy to use. Simply launch the builder on your desktop, open new project, set up the styling (colour, banding etc), point at your data, drag and drop in pre-built widgets which provide specific functionality (measure tools etc) and generate. A piece of cake. The beauty of the builder is that the application generated is Javascript. This means it is easy to extend a base application and add new widgets. Like the popular ArcGIS Viewer for Flex one can see that the list of free widgets available with Web App Builder for ArcGIS will grow over time, as the developer community contribute their work.

We have already begun development planning around producing new widgets. Soon after the full release of Web App Builder for ArcGIS we will be launching widgets which provide custom functionality. targeting utilities, transportation and pipeline industries. As an example, we will be launching widgets for use on mobile devices, which will provide mid-stream pipeline companies simple online/offline custom data collection, QA/QC solutions which integrate seamlessly with backend PODS.

Should you Subscribe to a GIS Web App Builder?

Back to our question: is there still a place for subscriptions based GIS Web app builders? The need for a subscription based GIS Web app builders has become much more difficult to justify. That is not to say there is not still a place for these products. But expensive wizard based tools, which target ‘out of the box’ ArcGIS server or ArcGIS Online, now have lower cost alternatives. Organizations need to more carefully weigh up all potential solutions. GIS Web app builders which target extended versions of ArcGIS server remain very relevant, as for now do builders which are industry specific.

The times they are a changing. And rapidly. Never has GIS been more relevant for solving organizational problems. Choice is good right? But greater choices can lead to greater confusion. If you are weighing up your GIS options let us know. We can help you in your decision making process.

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