COVID-19 has catalysed a global transition to remote work as organisations strive to fulfil the public health need of social distancing. Find out how your GIS team can make the transition a success in part one of our three-part series.

By setting up your environment correctly, your team will be able to remotely access GIS data and tools. Many of the remote work tips are based on a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), or in more familiar terms: Web GIS. Web GIS is a pattern or architectural approach for implementing a modern GIS, powered by web services.

  1. Understand the baseline requirements

    Before you can move to Web GIS, you’ll need to undertake an audit of the activities performed by your GIS team. The transition will be smoother with the assistance of ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS. Ensure that you can access MyEsri with the appropriate permissions and access online training resources and software downloads.

    If you haven’t already done so, consider how you would like to structure the groups, sharing permissions and feature level privileges of your Portal or ArcGIS Online organisation. A good starting point is to align your structure with your organisation’s corporate structure.

  2. Move data to the cloud and out of local storage

    Both ArcGIS Online and Portal for ArcGIS are designed to support distributed workflows and allow multi-user editing and editor tracking. Using hosted feature layer views, access to attributes and editing capability can be managed in conjunction with groups set up in your organisation. For further details see how to control data access and editing within ArcGIS Online.

    If you choose to continue to access on-premises data such as an enterprise geodatabase via a VPN, you will experience performance issues. In this situation performance can be improved by downloading a copy of the data, performing the required edits and uploading changes to the server. This method has the potential to introduce data quality issues if the process is not managed appropriately.

  3. Leverage the functionality of your Portal and Enterprise Geodatabases

    If your environment has Enterprise geodatabases as well as Portal, consider publishing feature classes from your database as referenced feature layers.

    Referenced feature layers offer many benefits:

    • Referenced feature services allow concurrent editing and reconciling through branch versioning

    • Enterprise geodatabase contents can be edited through Portal in a web browser with or through ArcGIS Pro without the need for a database/SDE connection through a VPN.

    • Branch versioning supports advanced data types such as parcel fabric and utility networks.

    • Field apps such as Collector and Survey123 as well as third party applications can be used to contribute to an enterprise geodatabase. REST APIs such as the powerful ArcGIS API for Python can also be used to interact with the data.

  4. Review your data structure and implement a clearly defined data model

    As part of the process of making your GIS data accessible in a distributed manner, it may also be wise to review the structure of your corporate data and ensure that it is organised in a way which complements the requirements of your distributed workflows.

    Within a distributed workforce, the ability to review edits to and run validation processes at a database level is of paramount importance for good data management. Make use of geodatabase features such as defining data types as well as subtypes, domains and topology rules. More advanced data structures such as parcel fabric and utility networks (briefly mentioned above) can further improve the integrity and usability of your GIS data.

    If you don’t already have a clearly defined data model, ArcGIS Solutions has template data models such as this Local Government Information Model which provides a template of how datasets can be structured for an entity such as a regional council. Other content such as web application templates are also available on ArcGIS Solutions which can be used to jumpstart the use of your GIS data within web applications.

  5. Embrace Web GIS, and use the tools at your disposal

    One key step to enabling a distributed workforce is to implement named user licensing within your organisation. ArcGIS Pro supports named user licensing which can be managed through Portal or ArcGIS Online. Within this licensing configuration licenses are tied to an account, rather than a specific client machine such as single use licencing. This flexibility is useful where staff may not be able to access their usual workstations.

    Both ArcGIS Online and Portal offer many methods to share content through an organisation; ArcGIS Pro projects can be packaged and shared with the organisation.

    The full functionality of Web GIS can be realised when your data is available as either a hosted or referenced feature layer. Feature layers facilitate data editing, view creation, symbolisation, querying and analysis through a browser interface.

  6. Test your implementation with a subgroup of remote staff

    Lastly, before implementing any widespread changes, it is highly valuable to test whether the new processes work as expected. A subgroup of staff can test a new process from home and identify any issues. Once these issues are resolved, you can roll out the changes to the entire work cohort.

  7. Ensure help is at hand

    With a significant change such as a distributed workforce, it is likely that unforeseen issues will arise even with comprehensive testing. To minimise disruption, it’s essential that system administrators are easily contactable.

    If workers are unfamiliar with a Web GIS environment, provide some workflow process documents to expedite the uptake in conjunction with internal support contacts.

    As an added layer of support, Esri Australia support is also available to customers with maintenance or paid support subscriptions.

More to come

Now that the the set-up work has been completed, in part 2, we’ll look at how to successfully use a distributed Web GIS environment with ArcGIS Online and portal environments.

Our team is here to help you and your organisation. For more information on distributed GIS solutions, contact the Client Success team.

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