What is Mobile GIS?
Advances in mobile computing and GIS technology are enabling organizations to take GIS to the field; interact directly with the information you need to view, capture, and update; and synchronize changes between the field and office with ease.
Growth in mobile computing technology that makes mobile GIS possible for organizations that rely on geospatial capabilities in the field includes the following:
- Positioning technology to enable accurate GIS data capture (Global Positioning Systems, Laser Range Finders, RFID)
- Powerful mobile operating systems and device platform advancements (such as Smart Phones, Pocket PCs, and Tablet PCs) that can bring GIS capabilities to varying field environments
- Integrated wireless communication capabilities (Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth capabilities) that enable internet/intranet GIS access and synchronization from the field to the office
There are several types of Mobile GIS applications:
- Map viewing and map navigation systems—Low-accuracy and low-cost solutions for enabling a mobile application for map use in the field. This often includes the ability to capture or sketch unstructured map data (map notes).
- Data collection and maintenance systems—Accurate and professional solutions for field data collection and maintenance that ensure the accuracy of your GIS data layers.
- Survey systems—Highlyaccurate and higher-cost solutions for field survey data collection. Surveying has not traditionally been considered a common part of GIS workflows; however, this is rapidly changing.
Traditionally, spatial information has been taken to the field using paper maps, often in the form of map books. Information collected with a map book in the field was sketched as notes on paper maps and entered into the GIS when the field-worker returned to the office. Field inspections were often performed using forms that were taken to the field, filled out on a clipboard, and entered into a database upon returning to the office. Data entry of paper information was inefficient, repetitive, and prone to error.
Organizations have begun to replace their paper-based systems with mobile applications, and as a result, a number of mobile GIS tasks have emerged:
- Field map viewing—Taking your geospatial information to the field as mobile maps and enabling query of asset information using a map adds value to field decisions. By adding navigational support using GPS, you can use map locations to zero in on information for field tasks. In these applications, users often add the ability to report locations to the office (for example, capturing and reporting the location of your mobile work force). This enables the ability to create an operational picture for your field workforce.
- Field inspection—Field crews inspect assets in the field (for example, transformers, water meters, street signs, buildings, timber stands, and so on). Mobile workers report on each asset's condition and operational status, often taking a picture of the asset and using GPS to improve locational accuracy of features in the GIS.
- Field data collection—Collection of new information in the field with a streamlined data collection workflow is a common task. Integration of location positioning systems such as GPS devices and laser range finders along with intelligent form and menu driven attribution of new data is critical.
Mobile GIS solutions enable field workers to complete their tasks by either providing a set of capabilities in a generic, map-centric application framework that requires the field worker to discover how to use, or as a workflow-driven configurable application that will guide the field worker through their tasks. Each solution can be successful depending upon the size and sophistication of the field workforce.
ArcGIS provides three mobile GIS solutions that address simple to complex field tasks in a variety of frameworks. They are:
- ArcGIS Mobile—ArcGIS Mobile includes a task-driven mobile application for Windows Mobile and Windows devices that uses a web services architecture to synchronize information between the field and office. Field maps and field workflows are configurable using a desktop application called the Mobile Project Center. ArcGIS Mobile includes tasks for field map viewing, field inspection and field data collection. ArcGIS Mobile also includes an SDK for building very focused applications that run on both Windows Mobile devices and Windows (notebook/tablet) devices.
- ArcPad—A mobile GIS application for taking GIS to the field. ArcPad is map-centric and focuses on field tasks that require relatively simple geographic tools. These tasks are typically performed on handheld computers (running Microsoft Windows CE or Pocket PC).
- ArcGIS Desktop and ArcGIS Engine—These products provide tools for high-end mobile GIS with sophisticated mapping, display, and editing tools. These solutions focus on field tasks that require more sophisticated geographic tools, typically running on high-end Tablet PCs. Often, the map displays used in the field on Tablet PCs must contain detailed information in high-resolution.
Regardless of the mobile GIS solution that you choose, ArcGIS Desktop is critical to the success of your mobile GIS efforts. ArcMap is the primary tool used to author mobile maps and fuse updates from the field into the enterprise GIS. ArcCatalog is the management console used to build data and transactional models inside of the GIS that are best suited to managing field updates.