Esri supports your field operations with apps for data collection and workforce management. Keeping up with what is new is hard when you are busy collecting data in the field. In this article we describe the different apps and help you choose the one that is right for you.
The Esri Apps for field operations are part of the ArcGIS platform. You can deploy ArcGIS as a SaaS solution (ArcGIS Online) or behind your firewall (ArcGIS Enterprise) depending on your budget and requirements. Regardless of your deployment, the ArcGIS platform supports field operations in the following manner:
- Planning – you will use ArcGIS to author the tools and the services that you need for your field data collection. For instance, you might need a web map, a data collection form, and editable feature layers before getting into the field.
- Monitoring & evaluation – while data is being collected in the field by mobile workers, the ongoing work is often monitored in the back office. ArcGIS provides dashboards and other tools than can track progress and check data for quality and consistency.
- Analysis & reporting – the ArcGIS platform has extensive capabilities for analyzing, visualizing, and disseminating the data that is being collected or updated in the field. This activity can start while the field work is in progress or wait until the field work is completed.
Field Operations Apps
For the field work itself, Esri provides the following apps:
These apps have overlapping functionality, so identifying the app that is right for you can be a challenge. Following is a brief overview for each one of them.
Collector was first released in 2013 as part of the ArcGIS platform. With Operations Dashboard it was a favorite app for demonstrating the capabilities of the new platform. Over the last years Collector was rebuilt to take advantage of the new platform capabilities. Collector makes it easy for field workers to accurately collect and update data in the field. It even works offline when connected from the internet by storing web maps and data collected on the device. Field workers can also attach photos, documents, video and audio recordings to their survey data.
Collector is all about maps and maps are composed of layers for which features are collected or updated. Before you can collect data in the field you should collect a feature layer in ArcGIS Online from one of the layer templates. A generic point, line, or feature layer might do. When creating the layer, check the ‘Capture GPS receiver information’ option to store that accuracy of your GPS measurements. When authoring the map, configure the pop-up to give access to the attributes that the field workers need to collect or edit. The example below illustrates how Collector can be used to collect inspection data in a related table.
Survey 123 release in 2016 is Esri’s premier app for form-based field data collection. It supports the open XLSForm specification and facilitates the creation of smart input forms with a multitude of question types. Survey123 includes an operations dashboard, survey analysis, and a report generator offering a complete solution for polling and field survey. Unlike other surveying apps, Survey123 has the capability to collect location data (points, lines, or polygons).
Survey123 is all about smart forms. These forms can be designed with a web designer or a desktop application named Survey123 Connect. The web designer uses a simple drag-and-drop interface and supports a variety of questions such as text, single choice, multiple choice, and Likert scale. You will probably include a ‘map’ question that can be used to capture location as a point, line, or polygon feature.
Survey123 Connect supports all XLSForm capabilities including multi-lingual support and the ability to skip or configure questions based on the response to previous questions. Forms are designed in an Excel workbook with multiple sheets, so you need some time to get the hang of it. One advantage however is that you have access to a great collection of templates developed by Esri and the XLSForm community.
Once the design of your form is complete, you publish and share it. Mobile workers then download the form to Survey123 on their mobile device and start collecting data. While data is being collected and transmitted in the field, Survey123 web can be used to view, edit, and analyze the data that is being collected.
QuickCapture was first released in 2019 and lesser known that its predecessors Collector, and Survey123. QuickCapture is super easy to use and particularly well suited for collecting data while on the go. Road agencies can use it to collect road furniture while driving since all they need to do is press a button on a mobile device. QuickCapture is also an ideal tool for crowdsourcing data. Nature lovers could use it to identify invasive species and community members could map potholes, uncovered manholes and other hazards within their community. The example below shows how QuicCapture can monitor pests and diseases.
To get started with QuickCapture you first need to create a feature layer. You can use one of the existing feature layer templates and add any additional attributes that need to be captured. Next, you use QuickCapture Designer, a web application, to design, save and share your project. Mobile workers then download the project to the QuickCapture app on their mobile device. Now they are all set to capture data while driving, cycling, or walking with the click of a button. Honestly, QuickCapture is one of these little gems that few people seem to know about.
ArcGIS Field Maps
Field Maps is the latest member of the family of field apps. It combines the functionality of ArcGIS Collector, Explorer, and Tracker with a single application for all your field data collection needs. Future releases of Field Maps will bring in capabilities of ArcGIS Navigator and ArcGIS Workforce. ArcGIS Collector, Explorer, and Tracker will be moving towards retirement, so this is a good time to find out what Field Maps has to offer.
In November 2020, Esri released Phase I of Field Maps which combines the functionality of Collector, Explorer, and Tracker. So early adopters can start using Field Maps to:
- View maps and find features in the field.
- Sketch and take notes with markup.
- Collect location and attribute data online and offline.
- Track their location to know where they have been.
Phase II of Field Maps will include workforce coordination capabilities that are currently present in Workforce. Phase III will include advanced Navigator capabilities such as turn-by-turn directions. Release dates for these phases have not yet been announced.
All previous apps focused on the collection of data in the field which to some extent makes them self-explanatory. Workforce on the other hand focuses on workforce management and allows you to assign work orders to mobile workers in as they are in the field. Using the ArcGIS platform one can monitor and evaluate the progress of field work in real-time, making ArcGIS Workforce a powerful solution. Workforce project are created and configured with the Workforce for ArcGIS web app.
Large organizations with extensive assets, a big mobile workforce and plenty of GIS resources and capabilities should implement or migrate to ArcGIS Field Maps and explore ArcGIS Workforce. Implementing these solutions at a large scale can be challenging but the pay-off will be substantial. Moreover, Spatiality staff will be available to offer dedicated support.
For smaller projects, the choice is between ArcGIS Collector, Survey123 and QuickCapture. Here are our recommendations:
- Use QuickCapture when you need to collect data while on the go or need to perform a quick initial assessment of all your field-based assets.
- Use ArcGIS Collector when you are collecting or updating location and attribute data for one or several feature layers. Your field workers should know how to work with maps.
- Use Survey123 when you are collecting field data through a questionnaire using enumerators who are not necessarily familiar with GIS and mapping technology.
Contact us for any feedback and questions that you might have and let us know how we can support you in your field operations.