Digital transformation

The technical leap in GIS field apps for mobility

Jul 30, 2018

In the Northern Territory we’re faced with vast distances which bring the challenges of working offline due to mobile coverage dead spots and patchy internet connections.

New features and offline capabilities in Esri’s ArcGIS suite of apps bring improved capabilities to organisations using geospatial data.

At a recent lunch and learn event at the Darwin Innovation Hub, we were joined by Marika Vertzonis, product engineer from Esri Inc.

With a background in environmental engineering and extensive work with local governments and water authorities, Marika has a strong interest in bringing GIS to the field and finding better ways to collect, edit and synchronise field data.

The highlight of the presentation for me, and I know for a lot of our NT users too, was to see the lightning-fast speed capabilities of new offline functionality in the Esri mobility suite, including Collector, Workforce, Navigator, Explorer and Survey123.

Marika demonstrated a couple of US examples where local governments have benefitted from out-of-the-box mobility tools.

With a permanent population of approximately 1000, the Village of Clarkston in Oakland County, Michigan, hosts the annual Taste of Clarkston event, attracting over 18,000 visitors. The city found a quick, cost-effective solution to plan the event and provide a platform where stakeholders and agencies can view, share and interact with data. Esri mobility apps provided the solution: Web AppBuilder created the interface; Collector enabled mobile data collection and sharing; Workforce delegated tasks. Everyone is using the same map, and when there are changes, every user sees the same changes at once.

This was a great example of using out-of-the-box tools to manage an event that falls outside of the organisation’s daily technology capabilities.

Another case study showed how the City of San Francisco took GIS out of the office and out into the field using Survey123 for utilities asset inspections: survey times were dramatically reduced, paper records were eliminated and the city was able to quantify the savings in dollars.

Finally, Marika showed the Esri Explorer app with a Web Map using Vector tiles and thousands of points in a lightning fast, offline use case.

When it comes to effective field GIS – and field mobility – it’s not just about the app on the device you take out with you; it’s about the family of enterprise products that each bring their own strengths and areas of focus appropriate for the business task at hand.


Here’s a brief summary of the Esri family of field apps and their key strengths:

Explorer for ArcGIS puts your existing web maps on devices for offline access. This app allows for a minimal amount of editing – you can sketch, annotate and share maps – for example as a PDF-alternative. Explorer is ideal to take information out into the field to aid decision-making.

Navigator for ArcGIS is the mapping tool that lets you add your own data. Standard commercial routing software is limited because it’s restricted to street addresses and permanent assets. With Navigator you can add your own data – for example, a series of private roads, tracks, trails, remotely-located plants and assets – enter the coordinates and navigate from one point to another.

Collector for ArcGIS is a map-based data collection tool which lets you add maps designed in ArcGIS Pro or Online, with the ability to edit or add new features – or even add attributes to existing features. Collector also includes high-accuracy GPS integration, so you can link external devices such as GNSS receivers.

Survey123 is a field data collection tool that’s ideal if you need to customise survey forms. Survey123 lets you build intelligence into your survey questions to ensure the data you’re collecting is accurate. It also has an online web tool that helps you with data analysis. Its interface is consistent across devices, such as iPhone, tablets and desktops, for ease of integration. Survey inputs can include photos, annotations, signatures, drop-down boxes, stereo buttons, check boxes, Spike mobile laser measurements and more. Results can be exported in multiple formats including email, SMS, Excel, Word, or Google text, etc. with AppStudio you can customise Survey123 with your own organisation’s branding, colours and logos.

Workforce for ArcGIS helps you assign activities to field workers. Use it to plan and coordinate activities; one of its strengths is location awareness of field crews – letting you know where the team is. It’s also useful for allocating tasks to field workers – you can allocate tasks to the relevant workers.

Web AppBuilder is the tool that lets you tailor web maps created in Explorer, and data from Collector to an audience who need to see the content but not necessarily interact with it. This is a user-friendly drag and drop environment.

Web AppBuilder Swipe Widget

Operations dashboard for ArcGIS is the web tool that configures the output of your project, enabling real-time monitoring of field operations. As field crew collect and update data, office staff can see the data reflected on the map. This is particularly useful for situations such as emergency response scenarios, or time-critical operations (such as census data collection). You can also add a dashboard view for management who need to see high-level progress rather than the nuts-and-bolts data.

These mobility apps are not just for GIS users, they’re for the entire organisation. The apps exist and they’re ready to deploy now.

All it takes is a business case and strategy that shows your organisation’s executive the far-reaching benefits of the ArcGIS mobility apps stack.

To get started with the suite of ArcGIS field apps, talk to a consultant on 1800 870 750 or send us an email and we’ll be in touch.

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