Returning From GIS-T

Well, we’re back from the GIS-Transportation Symposium (www.gis-t.org) in Charleston, West Virginia.  It was an exciting four days and there was a lot of activity in our booth this year.  Attendance at GIS-T was a bit down compared to previous years due to the economy and travel restrictions for many state agencies.  Even so, you couldn’t tell from the noise level at the ESRI Showcase.  If there were people in the Exhibit Hall, most of them were at the ESRI booth.  And for good reason; we had a lot to show.

DOT Sector Team – ESRI recently created a new sector team for the transportation industry, specifically targeted at providing direct support to state and local DOT’s.  This is critical because a state client can include over 200 ESRI accounts and it’s impossible for an account executive to be an expert in every type of business at a state government.  Eric Floss, Gary Waters and Jeremy Smith have been visiting DOTs individually over the past several months to get an on-the-ground understanding of the major DOT workflows, pain points, and some general insight into what DOT GIS, IT, and Business professionals are faced with every day.  Direct engagements with the DOT’s have given us valuable feedback and insight that will enable ESRI to better serve the DOT sector with focused solutions that are relevant to the business and act as a conduit to bring to bear resources and solutions in this sector.  GIS-T gave our sales team another opportunity to connect with customers and follow up on prior discussions.  It also gave us a chance to meet with business partners and communicate our plans for the year and the upcoming ESRI International User Conference.

Public Safety and Awareness – Scott Sandusky from our technical marketing group was on hand to show some public safety demos and some new stuff for the iPhone.  He showed the ESRI Safety Solution, which is a set of web, mobile and desktop applications to perform rapid and accurate analysis such as Hot Spot Analysis, a process that considers traffic density and crash severity to identify areas with a higher than expected number of crashes. 

A preview of the iPhone App Store application and iPhone API applications were also displayed.  Users will soon be able to download a free application from the iStore and access services that are uploaded to ArcGIS.com.  Developers who want to create their own applications can use the ArcGIS iPhone API, scheduled for Beta in late April.

Another hot topic was VGI, or volunteer geographic information.  With VGI, citizens and the public are empowered to collect information and report it to organizations that can utilize the information for making decisions.  Along with more mobile options, the new ArcGIS Server 10 feature services and editing templates make this kind of information easier for organizations to collect.

So what is this Rome thing? – Perhaps the biggest hit of the conference was our unveiling of the Rome prototype.  Rome is the code name for the new software product we’re developing to support highway data management through advanced linear referencing functionality.  We’re planning for an early 2011 release and, instead of locking ourselves in a room for the next 12 months, we decided to engage our customers in the development process.  A key element was the creation of the Rome prototype.  The prototype is essentially a web application built in Microsoft Silverlight with some desktop components.  Eventually, Rome will have elements on the desktop, web and even mobile.  Right now, however, we’re still in the requirements and design phase.  To help us out, we unveiled the Rome prototype at GIS-T to create groundswell enthusiasm and make sure we’re on the right track.  It appears we were successful on both counts. 

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Podcast on Desktop 10

If you have found this blog you probably already know something about ArcGIS Desktop 10 but in case you want to listen to the highlights, checkout this recent podcast

There was no way I could cover all of the new features of ArcGIS 10 in 13 minutes so for more information make sure and visit http://www.esri.com/whatscoming and this help topic online.

Hopefully you have also noticed that we’ve changed the style and formatting of this blog but let me know if you have any suggestions or feedback.

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Query Layers @ ArcGIS 10

With the growing popularity and prominence of spatial database types in commercial databases there is an increasing amount of spatial data that exists directly in a database. At ArcGIS 10 the team wanted to provide ArcGIS users with more open access to their geographic information. To address this, Query Layers functionality was added to give users direct access to this information without requiring them to export the information into a geodatabase.

 

Query Layers from a functional standpoint are very simple: write a query, get a layer. A Query Layer is just a layer or stand alone table in ArcGIS that is defined by a SQL query. Any valid SQL can be used to generate the query as long as the result set returned by the query conforms to ArcGIS data modeling standards (standards such as one shape field, one spatial reference, etc…). The Query Layers functionality supports access to any of the databases supported by ArcGIS (Oracle, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, DB2 and Informix) and any of the spatial types available for those database platforms.

 

The bottom line is incorporating geographic information into GIS projects is now quick and simple, independent of where that information is stored. For more information on Query Layers, take a look at:

 

Query Layer Documentation 

 

Query Layer Demo

 

 

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Using Maps to Communicate with Water Utility Customers

In late March I was at AWWA’s combined Customer Service & Information Management & Technology (CS/IMTech) Conference in Portland, Oregon.  Since this is a combined water utility technology conference and a customer service conference I had some very interesting discussions with customer service professionals about technology.  We had a good number of customer service folks stopping by the ESRI booth either because they saw the value of sharing information with their customers via web based mapping or because their utilities had invested in an enterprise GIS (often begun to support asset management) and they recognized customer service could easily leverage this investment for additional benefit.  We also had some people stop into our booth that had seen or heard about our Customer Interaction Template – http://waterutilitiestemplates.esri.com/customerinteraction/  (a big thanks to Lisa Ragain for spreading the word about using the template for boil water notifications to the customer service community).

This dovetails with the trend we’ve been seeing of increasing interest in GIS from customer service and public outreach staff at water, sewer and stormwater utilities.  I wanted to focus this blog on some thoughts on using interactive browser based maps for public communication and outreach.

Challenges for public communication and outreach

We’ve heard from utility customer service and public outreach professionals that some of the challenges they face in communicating with stakeholders (ratepayers, the public, environmental groups, local media, and other government entities) are effective communication, authoritative communication and rapid communication.  A browser based interactive map is a great tool for utility customer service and public outreach staff to overcome these challenges.

Here is a great example from Twitter that illustrates why customers benefit from an interactive browser based map.  This is a series of tweets during a recent boil water alert in a major city.  Incidentally, if you want some great insight into how your technology savvy utility customers think, search twitter for main breaks or boil water alerts, it’s a very enlightening exercise.

 

Effective Communication with Customers

Effective communication hinges on being able to easily convey information to your customers and have them understand it and draw the proper conclusion.  When communication happens around a safety issue (boil water alerts for example) this heightens the need to provide clear & concise information so that it enables customers to act properly and also to manage their fears.

A large reason why maps are so much a part of our lives is because they are an easy way for human beings to convey and understand information (that’s a fundamental premise of the “The Geographic Approach”).  Also we are in an age where society at large has gotten comfortable with visualizing spatial information in an interactive map in a web browser.   So it should come as no surprise that utilities can use maps to better communication information with the public and the public understands this medium of communication.

For many utilities sharing map based information with the public on their external webpage is nothing new.  But historically this was done with static maps (meaning that they were a PDF or an image file like a .jpg).  Good examples are utility service area maps or maps of future capital projects, often times done as part of a report or study and then re-used as content for a utility website.   Because these maps are static you can’t explore them (zoom in or out, see street labels, determine your location relative to the data on the map, etc).  As interactive web based maps are increasingly part of our daily lives no doubt some utility customers are unsatisfied and unimpressed with static map content on utility websites. 

With a GIS you can create your own browser based web maps.  These can be interactive and dynamic – customers can zoom, pan, look up by address, etc. so they can freely explore the data you are sharing with them via the map.  Since the utility is deploying the web based map, you can create the map (choose the data you are sharing and the cartography) to convey the information the way you want.  You can also take advantage of scale dependencies for layers and dynamic labeling.  So no more complaints about not being able to zoom a map in to determine your location relative to the information on the map or and no more issues with street labels.

If a utility is already deploying browser based GIS maps for internal use, then they have some of the data, knowledge and IT infrastructure in place to use the same GIS technology to provide browser based maps to the public.  Of course you need to take into account IT and data security and shouldn’t share any information with the public that could make your water or sewer systems vulnerable.

 

 

Authoritative Communication

One of the tenants of the internet and specifically social media is that it gives anyone who wants to share information a platform to communicate.  This includes water utility stakeholders.  Sometimes stakeholders are creating and sharing information on the internet about a utility that the utility also maintains for its own internal use.  So stakeholders are creating information for their use (often to support a point of view) that a utility already has and does not share.   In this scenario the utility is the authoritative source of data and the data the stakeholders are creating and sharing may not be correct or up-to-date. 

These two links are examples of stakeholders using maps to share information about a utility (in this case identifying where main breaks have occurred) – LA Main Breaks Map from the Los Angeles Times & LA Main Breaks Map from Southern California Public Radio.  No doubt the utility is the most accurate source of information on main breaks in their service area, but in this example stakeholders have created their own versions of this information and are sharing it on a map.

The internet also allows well-meaning stakeholders to step in and fill what they perceive is an information void.  Here is good example of using a map to do this – Are you affected by the boil water advisory? Use this map to find out

Please keep in mind that neither of these examples are a criticism of a utility or the entities that have put this information onto the internet.  It’s just meant to illustrate the point that information about utilities is being created and shared on the internet by stakeholders, often times in the form of interactive maps. Also by no means do I want to suggest that volunteered geographic information isn’t valuable for utilities. But information that a utility is the only true authoritative source of should be shared by the utility, not managed by the stakeholders or the public.

So how can browser based GIS maps help overcome the challenge of authoritative communication?  Quite simply the utility can publish interactive browser based maps through their GIS, becoming the only credible source of this data and eliminating the need or temptation for stakeholders to create and share data that may not be correct.  A utility could make their published interactive map accessible only through the utility’s webpage and can include their logo to let stakeholders know the information is directly from the utility.  A utility can also include some form of metadata (information about the data on the map) and a disclaimer on the map to let the public know the appropriateness of use.

Timely Communication

Increasingly customers of all businesses (including utilities) expect information on the internet to be up-to-date.  This is especially true in an emergency situation. 

A utility emergency usually has multiple pieces of information that have a location.  These locations may be an exact point – a water main break, maybe a series of points – customers experiencing basement backups, or could be a polygon – a boil water area.   The same concept holds true for planned utility operations that affect customers such as hydrant flushing or valve exercising activities that might disrupt traffic or make their water cloudy for a short time.

So even though these emergency situations are defined by locations (and may change rapidly) some utilities might only use textual descriptions to convey location information to stakeholders.  For example you may see at the top of a utility’s web page “Boil Water Alert in Southwest Area of Service Area” with some streets given to bound the boil water area.  We’ve heard from some utilities that the way the implemented their external web page leaves them with the ability to rapidly change only certain text items on their landing page.  Unfortunately it’s hard for many people to translate a textual description into a mental map, especially during an emergency.

Utilities may also give a link to a static map of the affected are in a PDF or image file (odds are that static map was produced with GIS).  While commendable that a utility is using a map to convey this information, a static map can frustrate stakeholders as well, because (like the Twitter example at the top of the blog) they don’t get enough information from the map.

A browser based GIS map can also help overcoming this challenge (and can also help you comply with increasingly stringent emergency notification laws).  A utility can simply publish an interactive map with the layers of data that describe the event on a simple base map.  That is exactly what the Boil Water Event Viewer in the Customer Interaction Template is intended to show you how to do.  Once the map has been published you can put the URL for the dynamic GIS map onto your webpage.  So if you only have the ability to rapidly change text in your utility’s webpage, than you can just the URL with your textual description of an emergency event.  As the event unfolds and you need to change the map, you can just edit the data layers that you published on the map and the map is automatically updated.    When the event is over, just remove the URL and take down the map service.  With ArcGIS you can quickly publish these web maps and update the data you are displaying.   Because the interactive map is published by the utility you are the authoritative source of map based information during the emergency.

No doubt you’re starting to hear a lot about ArcGIS in the Amazon Cloud at the ArcGIS 10 release.  This type of public notification scenario is a perfect use case for an elastic GIS publication environment that is stored in the cloud and won’t impact your internal GIS publication environment behind your firewall.

Have any thoughts on this? Please share them.

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This Just In: Business Analyst Online Attracts New Business

 by Brenda Wolfe

I thought I would take a moment to share what I consider to be a very heart-warming story.  The City of Redlands was kind enough to tell the story of how Business Analyst Online helped to bring a new restaurant to town in a recent news article: Redlands Daily Facts Article.

Okay, I might be a bit biased given I am the product manager for Business Analyst Online, but you can judge for yourself by reading the article.  I think I already spoiled the ending, but it is still worth reading how others use the software to their advantage.

Brenda

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Announcing the ArcGIS API for Flex 2.0 public beta

The ArcGIS API for Flex, version 2.0, is now open to the world through a public beta release. Visit the ArcGIS API for Flex 2.0 SDK to read help, samples, and developer reference topics for the API.

Like its JavaScript counterpart, version 2.0 of the ArcGIS API for Flex introduces support for Web editing, a “feature layer” for working with client-side graphics, support for time-aware layers, an expanded geometry service, new components, faster queries, and many other features. See the detailed What’s New for more information, including migration steps.

ArcGIS<br />
API for Flex 2.0 temporal renderer sample

For a good overview of the Flex API 2.0, check out this video from the ESRI Developer Summit.

Many of the new features require ArcGIS 10. If you don’t have ArcGIS 10 beta, you can still try out the API using an ArcGIS 10 sample server that ESRI has made available.

Have fun exploring the new API! We look forward to your feedback.

Contributed by Bjorn Svensson of the ArcGIS API for Flex development team.

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Testing Public Safety Workflows at ArcGIS 10 (Part 2)

To follow up on my previous blog post, I wanted to pass along additional information on the projects that the Public Safety team worked on, as part of our week in the Holistic Testing lab. In addition to the ArcGIS Desktop GIS projects that were highlighted previously, we also had several people focused on ArcGIS Server (Web and Mobile) workflows to support the Public Safety community:

1. ArcGIS Mobile: ArcGIS 10 provides several enhancements on the mobile side that are important to public safety organizations. One significant addition is the ability to extent mobile projects to tablet-based PC’s using a ready-to-deploy app. This application supports a new “View Field Crew” task; being able to see the location of mobile workers both in the field and back in the command center/office is helpful to efficiently task teams to carry out the mission in addition to enhancing safety. Photos can also now be captured directly on the device and embedded inside the feature as either a Raster or Blob object. Check out the screen snapshots, below, for a quick look:

The mobile project application showing the field crew: 

 A photo captured in the field displayed as a feature attribute in
Desktop:

 2. Web Apps using the JavaScript API: The new ArcGIS Server Web API for JavaScript (version 2.0) provides powerful new tools for building an effective community mapping Web app for Law Enforcement. Two exciting new features were tested: Feature Service and Time-Enabled Service. Using sample crime datasets, one tester created a Web application using the new JSAPI that would allow community members to report information by sketching on the map, and have this new data stored directly in a Geodatabase. It’s interesting to imagine how Law Enforcement agencies could use these new techniques to gather intelligence from the public; for example, a user could draw a single point location on the map to report suspicious activity, or sketch an outline of an area of concern and add comments. Also tested was the ability to use time-enabled services. A tool called “time slider” lets the user visually adjust the particular time window to determine what crimes are displayed on the map – this assists in understanding not only the spatial aspects of crime patterns, but temporal patterns as well. See the screen snapshots, below, of our early prototype:

Feature services allow simple user sketching to create data on a map:

The time-slider control lets users easily filter incidents based on date: 

3. Web Apps using the Silverlight API: in addition to the JSAPI, we also had testers working on the newest version of the Silverlight API (version 2.0) and its potential applications in Law Enforcement. Of particular interest are the Feature Service and Time-Enabled Service (sound familiar?!). Our Silverlight testing focused on prototyping an internal Web app that officers within a Police Department would use for fairly typical crime analysis tasks – querying, mapping and charting – but we dressed things up a bit with a time-slider filter for the dates. Time-enabling the map, both in the Desktop and Server, is something that we see as a very compelling use-case, so we wanted to make sure we understood the process in several different client environments. You can see the screen snapshots of our results, below:

Performing a query results in a bi-directional bar chart and map, giving two views of the results: 

The time-slider control filters the incidents by date, on the map and the data grid:

So this concludes the test of ArcGIS 10 for Public Safety! We hope that you find this informative, as you start looking forward to the next release and how it can help enhance your applications and workflows. As always, we look forward to your comments and suggestions.

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A Brief Overview of Cartography – The First Article in a Series on Cartographic Design and Optimization Methods for the Business Analyst Products

by David Palomino

The following is a brief introduction to cartographic concepts, many of which you may be familiar with. The purpose of this first article in a series on cartography is to bring these concepts to the forefront for those who have a very limited exposure to GIS and cartographic methods.

One of the main roles I play at ESRI is that I am the guy who gets to update, design, and optimize the Business Analyst MXD each year. Not only does this add value to the BA Products, but it’s really fun to do. Because I don’t want to keep all of the fun to myself, I am setting out to write a short series on Cartographic Design and Optimization Methods, and to show how this adds to the overall quality of our Business Analyst Products. The first entry in this series covers a brief introduction to Cartography.

Cartography is Art
Cartography is an art. This is apparent, as there are many colors or shades, hues, and line thicknesses just as there are these elements in many paintings. As is the case with art, cartography also has psychological and social aspects to it. Depending on your level of involvement and experience with GIS, interactive cartography is also exploratory. You may be asking: How is cartography “social”? What is meant by “exploratory” cartography? Let’s dive in and take a look.

Psychological
We view colors, shades, and hues not just to identify colors and shades, but to see meaning and interpret our world. For example, if you’re viewing a lake from the air, you may notice that some parts of it are light-blue, while other sections are dark-blue. You would perceive that the lighter areas are relatively shallow while the darker waters are deep.

Figure 1 illustrates this point. Most people will view the circle on the right as “popping out”, the left circle as somewhat neutral, and the black circle as a “hole” in the backdrop. Also, it’s common to perceive the red circle as slightly bigger (if the object is closer, it must be bigger too), when, in fact, all of the circles are the same size.


Figure 1

Our brains also interpret certain colors to represent natural features. For example, blue lines or blue polygons are easily interpreted as bodies of water; whereas a gray line may be interpreted as a road.

Social
There are social constructs to cartography as well with the use of color. A Red-Yellow-Green color scheme often is used to depict high density, such as Population Density, with red being the high density spot. Because red is considered a warm or “hot” color, we use the term “hot spot” or “heat maps” to communicate locations for optimal sites to put new stores, locations of endangered species sightings, or areas of low and high crimes rates. However, when it came to monetary type demographic data, such as Median Household Income, Median Home Value, etc. the Red-Yellow-Green color scheme would not do. Since the color of money in the United States is green, I changed the color scheme to White-Green, with the darker green areas being the most affluent.

Figure 2 shows the Median Household Income for the Long Beach/Palos Verdes area of California, with some parts of Long Beach being very poor while Palos Verdes and the beach communities of southern Santa Monica Bay being affluent.


Figure 2

Exploratory
With GIS, cartography is getting ever increasingly exploratory. In years past, static maps were read like books – all of the information was there in front of you to see. The beauty of GIS is that information is “there” in front of you, while simultaneously there is potentially an endless amount of information that can be mined, discovered, manipulated, and used. Thus, the exploratory nature of GIS renders maps as portals of information, rather than static “what you see is what you get” maps. With our Business Analyst products, you can discover relationships between Educational Attainment and Median Household Income levels and how this affects Consumer Spending patterns. You can use historical data to run trend analyses, as well as run predictive analyses with “what if” scenarios (e.g. “What if we closed Store A and opened a store at another site?”). Indeed, the amount of information and discovery at your fingertips (all information that helps you to make better business decisions) is enormous!

Next
Please stay tuned for the next in this series as we look at cartographic optimization methods that were implemented for Business Analyst 9.3.1 and why 9.3.1’s performance was several times faster than 9.2. Thanks.

David

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Water Utility Discussion Forum Updates

As you may have noticed, the location of the Water, Wastewater and Stormwater discussion forums has changed and the functionality has been upgraded.

The forums are now located here – http://forums.arcgis.com/forums/42-Water-Utilities

Going forward you can only create new discussion threads in the new forums and can just reply to existing threads in the old forums.

 

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ArcLogistics is now released!

The newest version of ArcLogistics has left the beta stage and is now available.
For general product information and features, see the
ArcLogistics product page.
From this page you can choose to start a fully functional and free 30 day trial of ArcLogistics.
All you need to download and start using ArcLogistics is a free ESRI global account.

For online help files, tutorial videos, and support forums, please visit the redesigned
ArcLogistics Resource Center.
Here you can view tutorials, interact with ESRI staff and other users, and view news and announcements regarding ArcLogistics.

Finally, we’ve found that a lot of people have questions concerning compatibility of this ArcLogistics
release with other ESRI software. We’re happy to say that you should encounter no compatibility issues with
any ESRI software including ArcLogistics 9.3. That means you can run ArcLogistics alongside ArcGIS 9.3.1,
10 Pre-Release, or ArcLogistics 9.3 without any problems. The reason for this is that the newest version
of ArcLogistics is built using new technologies and relies on online services for mapping, geocoding, and routing.
The normal core engine files that most ArcGIS products rely on are no longer necessary.
This results in a smaller download package without any large datasets for you to manage.
It should also streamline the software distribution and update processes as well.

Whether you’re new to ESRI software or an experienced ArcLogistics 9.3 user, we hope you find ArcLogistics
easy to use and beneficial to your business practices. Let us know what you think in
the forums.

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