If you are a long-time user, you likely think of ArcGIS as the software product that you use to get professional GIS work done. You use ArcGIS to compile geographic information, to make maps, to perform analysis, and to conduct meaningful projects. Many also use ArcGIS to publish and share authoritative data with others using ArcGIS for Server.
As technology moves ahead, we are transforming the meaning of GIS. Consequently, we are beginning to think of ArcGIS as a comprehensive system that enables everyone to work with and apply geographic information. The way in which most people work with geographic information is through the power of maps. Not just printed maps, but online interactive maps that provide windows into your organization's information, into analytical tools, and into key tasks and workflows that people in your organization use every day to work more effectively.
The ArcGIS system enables authoritative geographic information to be created by the GIS community and to be leveraged by people across, as well as outside of, your organization. This system includes software, an online cloud-based infrastructure, configurable resources such as ready-to-use web and mobile applications, ready-to-use basemaps, and authoritative content that is created and shared by the GIS user community. This system enables geographic information to be brought to life and used through maps.
ArcGIS Web Maps encapsulate map services and related GIS services to bring your data to life on the web.
Each web map will typically have a basemap that is combined with operational overlays in a map mashup. These online maps also include focused tasks that can be performed on the operational layers. For example:
While the history and roots of ArcGIS are in workstation and desktop computing, ArcGIS is now truly accessible everywhere on a variety of different platforms. It is much more than back-office, enterprise technology. It is also a platform for sharing and using geographic information everywhere.
GIS professionals have traditionally worked on GIS projects in which they pose questions and analyze a situation or plan. They do this by compiling key layers of geographic information, performing analysis, reaching some conclusions, then they present and share their results.
In addition, these same GIS organizations have built, and will continue to build and share, key foundational layers of information. They are recognized as the data stewards for many critical information sets for their geographies and themes. We all expect these organizations to compile and share their critical information layers. Online GIS enables these organizations to put this information to work in many applications and settings.
These GIS professionals share their results as maps, data, and analytical models with other GIS pros using ArcGIS datasets and packages. More importantly, they publish their results as useful map services and related GIS services inside of their enterprises and on the open web. This enables anyone to leverage the power of GIS. This trend for information sharing is expanding.
A key to this rapid growth is the ability for GIS pros and online map publishers to leverage their rich information services into useful map-based information products for sharing. These web maps provide focused information products that are targeted to specific audiences and the work they do.
Online sharing is about combining multiple services into web maps and apps. These simplify how everyday people access and use advanced GIS capabilities through a familiar and commonly used online mapping experience, much like they use Google, Bing, their in-car navigation systems, smartphones, and so on. This is significant. Novice users and nonexperts can access and use the value of GIS without a lot of GIS education and training.
A new aspect of the ArcGIS system is how organizations create, manage, and share their web maps and apps with new audiences. They do this by using their online accounts to identify their staff who are informational authors and publishers (the ones who create useful maps and apps) and who their end users are, which they support.
Publishers actively create and manage their map-based information products as well as the underlying GIS services and data that are then fed into a series of useful web, mobile, and runtime apps. They use their ArcGIS Online organizational accounts to provide access to these useful information products for their end users.
End users get connected to their targeted map-based information products through websites, applications, and mobile systems. They open and use these informational products. They use maps as reports. They use maps to enter and compile new information that flows into the organization's operations. They use maps to analyze models and results to make decisions and derive conclusions. They present their plans, status, and activities using maps. They use the ArcGIS system to support many of their operations and day-to-day activities.
End users who access maps and apps created with the ArcGIS system don't need to know anything about ArcGIS or even be aware they are using an information product created using it. For example, a citizen might look at a map embedded in their city's website to see the status of a particular city service, or download a smart phone app that lets them report graffiti in their neighborhood. Or they might search the web and come across a national map showing environmental hazards, zoom to their neighborhood, and then email a link to that map showing that extent to their neighbors, or post a link to the map in social media. In all these examples, the end user is using the products of ArcGIS without needing to know anything about it. This is a very important aspect of the ArcGIS system because for GIS professionals a key goal of working in the GIS field is to make geographic information easy for anyone to access and use. We all believe that as it becomes easier for anyone to access and use the power of maps, more benefits will flow from the use of GIS in science, education, business and government.
Here are some of the key components that are part of the ArcGIS system.
ArcGIS for Desktop — Comprehensive software used by GIS professionals on Windows PCs for the full range of GIS activities including data compilation, mapping, modeling, spatial analysis, and geoprocessing. ArcGIS for Desktop extensions provide additional functionality such as amazing 3D visualization, network analysis, schematics, and geostatistics. Desktop is the starting point and foundation for deploying GIS in organizations. It is used by professional GIS staff for desktop mapping, reporting, and analysis. It is also used by data compilation staff to create and maintain critical foundational data layers that fuel other GIS applications. This role for data stewardship is quite significant.
ArcGIS for Server — Powerful GIS back-office software that enables centralized, enterprise-level geodatabase management and server-based publication of maps and geographic information services throughout the enterprise and on the Internet as web services. ArcGIS Server supports the leading enterprise database management systems (DBMS): Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, Informix, and PostgreSQL. It is available on Windows or Linux servers on-site or in cloud configurations. ArcGIS Server provides the core technology for implementing large-scale GIS in organizations and businesses worldwide.
ArcGIS Online — Complete cloud-based, collaborative, content management for working with geographic information. The ArcGIS Online platform is a key capability of ArcGIS and is leveraged throughout the ArcGIS system. Anyone can use ArcGIS Online to find, create and share maps by visiting the www.ArcGIS.com website. This website provides free access to authoritative maps and data published by Esri, its partners and the GIS community. Anyone can login and create their own web maps by mashing up this data with beautiful built-in basemaps, loading their own data in from files and spreadsheets, or creating features using drawing tools. Web maps can be authored in the ArcGIS.com map viewer or ArcGIS Explorer Online which adds additional functionality, such as the ability to create map-based presentations. Web maps can be viewed in those clients, embedded directly in web pages, viewed on smartphones and tablets using the free ArcGIS apps, or opened in ArcGIS desktop clients.
ArcGIS Online for organizations — Through a subscription, organizations can use ArcGIS Online as a hosted GIS server in the cloud to publish their maps and data online. The ArcGIS Online for organizations platform provides an on-demand, secure, scalable infrastructure for discovering, assembling, storing, and publishing web-accessible maps and data. Full organizational control is provided including the ability to administer users, access levels and storage. Information can be shared publically or restricted to use within the enterprise. The ArcGIS Online website can be completely customized and configured as a private or public portal and you can also create map and data galleries for your users and customers. Click here for more information about ArcGIS for organizations.
ArcGIS for Mobile — A comprehensive set of apps that enables people to use maps, access GIS, and collect data while on the move. Apps are available for smartphones and tablets (Apple, Android, and Windows Phone) and mobile devices, such as specialized professional GPS and data-collection tablets, running Windows Mobile, Windows, Android, or Qt. Uses include professional data collection in the field, providing employees with an up-to-date common operating picture and sharing information with consumers and citizens. Maps created with ArcGIS Online can be immediately accessed on a smartphone or tablet.
ArcGIS Explorer — A free client for viewing and visualizing GIS data. ArcGIS Explorer is a great way for anyone to work with GIS. A key feature is that users can create beautiful interactive map-based presentations. ArcGIS Explorer comes in two forms:
Basemaps and data — Underlying every great map is a great basemap. ArcGIS Online provides users with beautiful authoritative basemaps including imagery, topography, streets, terrain, oceans, and more. These contain data from Esri and its partners, along with community data built by user organizations worldwide and published by Esri through the Community Maps program. Esri also provides a wide range of additional key datasets that are symbolized and ready to put to work. A wealth of specialized maps, data, and tools are also made available by the GIS community via ArcGIS Online.
Industry-specific templates and data models — When you use ArcGIS, you will engage with various technical and user communities to collaborate on building and sharing maps, apps, and key content. These resources provide the foundation for implementing GIS in your organization. These cover every industry, from local government land records to defense and intelligence, and are created by Esri experts working with ArcGIS user communities. The resources are ready to deploy and easily configured. For example, you can use one of the information models to implement your GIS database, assemble and collect your data, then apply an array of map and application templates to this data to create great-looking, fully functional, intelligent maps. Your starting point for these resources is the ArcGIS Communities page where you can also find documentation, blogs, samples, user forums, and videos.
Developer tools — ArcGIS includes a rich set of developer APIs (application programming interfaces) for implementing custom apps and workflows. APIs are available for web apps, desktop apps, mobile apps, and for embedding GIS and mapping functionality into external applications. This is an important part of the ArcGIS system because it allows you to satisfy the specialized requirements of particular users and workflows and also to target completely new audiences for your GIS beyond the traditional GIS user base, such as consumers using smartphones.
With the ArcGIS system, as with any system, you simply choose the parts that you need to accomplish what you want to do. For example, if you just want to make a map you can add into a web page showing population trends in a city, you would use the ArcGIS Online website. On the other hand, if you are a professional GIS user in the GIS department of an organization, you'll likely spend most of your time with the ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS for Server software, and also work with industry-specific resources. If you are a developer looking to create a specialized application for a particular industry or market, you'd use the developer APIs, and so on. The names and specifications of the various ArcGIS products are ultimately not as important as the fact you are using the complete ArcGIS system to support your work and to make a difference.