If it looks like ArcMap, you’re doing it wrong

ArcMap, and the whole ArcGIS Desktop suite, are powerful tools for GIS professionals to use on their desktop computers. For them, there is simply nothing better than ArcGIS Desktop, including the new ArcGIS Pro. But, when creating a web app to access location-aware data, if it looks like ArcMap, then you’re doing it wrong.

Moving GIS to the Web

Location-aware data is critical to the daily workflows of many people. They don’t want access, they require access. Still, the power and complexity of a full-blown desktop GIS solution is often overkill for those users and their increasingly pressured IT departments. Delivering focused web apps streamlines the workflows of users and IT support.

Ten years ago, the appropriate solution was indeed to build a web application that looked like ArcMap. Then, you would add every one of your organization’s layers to the map, and enable every tool that you would ever need. The result? A web-based solution that was only understandable to the same experienced GIS users, who also have an in-depth knowledge of the data. A trained GIS analyst could use the system, but not an average web user.

To empower regular folks, ESRI has been urging developers to build simpler, focused web apps, with tools that are specific to their intended workflows. Sidwell’s Portico has been doing this since the beginning. As the name implies, Portico is an entryway to an organization’s catalog of GIS data.

Portico is a Configurable Map Viewer

Traditionally, Sidwell’s customers have considered Portico to be a land records viewer. However, that is just one specific application. Sidwell configures Portico for applications that are tailored to specific audiences and workflows. Customers have successfully deployed Portico for emergency management, election districting, recreation resources, safe routes to school, green buildings, and many, many other areas. Customers have had Portico configured for secured access, allowing them to publish sensitive data, and some even charge a subscription fee for access to premium data.

The Right Tool for the Job

For each of the intended workflows, Portico only includes relevant tools. Widgets for Pictometry, Zillow, and StreetView are not relevant for every application, so they can be turned off. But, in the right application, customers can enable advanced widgets like historical imagery and search criteria. In all cases, Sidwell focuses on tools that are simple and intuitive. For example, in our Land Records viewer, the Smart Search widget is always available, ready to query every layer at once. Similarly, in order to find parcels in our Land Records viewer, simply draw on the map! Contrast that to other viewers where you need to activate a search tool, choose a layer, select a brush, input your query, click a button, and all of those things are tedious for most users.

With Portico, you don’t have to know how or where to look, you just look, because Portico gives you the right tool for the job — nothing more, nothing less.