Three Rivers Park District serves the suburban areas around Twin Cities, Minnesota. Covering an area the size of Rhode Island, the district comprises 27,000 acres of regional parks, bicycle trails, educational farms, and various natural areas. Committed to environmental stewardship and enjoyment, the district hosts nearly 11 million visitors annually, engaging them through various events, programs, and activities — from summer camps to movies in the park. In the center of all this activity is a forward-thinking GIS department focused on using Esri’s technology to increase efficiencies, collaboration, and ease of use in innovative ways throughout the district.
Over the past decade, the approach to GIS at the Three Rivers Park District has undergone a major digital transformation. To facilitate this change, the GIS department took a close look at existing processes and identified ways to centralize to evolve into a more efficient and approachable solution. A major focus of the GIS department, at that time only two team members, was to ensure that their solution could scale to serve their many users — without having to greatly scale their department. Simon Morgan, Senior Manager of GIS and Business Applications at Three Rivers Parks, said: “The plan was to set our solution up such that life is as simple as possible for our users.”
The department’s first approach was to move from a disjointed system, containing thousands of datasets spread across folders, to an organized, centralized enterprise geodatabase. In addition, the park district leveraged ArcGIS Online and migrated its mature on-premises standalone server to the full stack of ArcGIS Enterprise. The team began to leverage applications like Collector for ArcGIS for field data collection across the district.
Embracing modern solutions allowed the district to take advantage of new functionality in the Esri platform to address challenges in data sharing and access. “We had a process to publish data to the server because we wanted to keep it on-premises for control of data and integrations with other applications. However, because users wanted to use the data in Collector, we would add the data to ArcGIS Online, manually register the services and make it available to them. It was a lot of leg work,” said Morgan.
The solution to this data availability challenge presented itself at the 2017 Esri User Conference. “It finally dawned on us the way to empower users to truly have control of data was to use distributed collaboration between ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online,” said Morgan. Distributed collaboration enables the sharing of content between the two systems, from layers to web maps to other data types, in a way that is automatic and seamless.
Shortly after the User Conference, the district deployed ArcGIS Enterprise 10.5.1, including the Enterprise portal. The district then migrated to ArcGIS Enterprise 10.6 within a few weeks of its release. Migrating their environment allowed the Three Rivers Park District to start using collaboration to share data easily between ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online — no longer needing to manually register services. The district was able to continue to manage the data in ArcGIS Enterprise and share it to ArcGIS Online for seven different groups of data collectors to access layers for more than 20 parks.
Morgan noted one of the added benefits of deploying ArcGIS Enterprise was that it enabled users to take a more self-service approach. Instead of funneling all requests through the GIS department, creating extra work for both the department and their users, users could now take control over their own services. Morgan said, “Some of our users need [to maintain] their data in ArcGIS Enterprise. So, they were given the ability to turn their services off to make these changes. Collaboration then auto-registers these services with ArcGIS Online so their data is wherever they are working, in Online or in Enterprise.”
Morgan added that previously, the GIS department handled all publishing and service management tasks. “During last year’s collection, when collectors in the field wanted to add a field to their feature class, they had to put in a help desk request and wait for us to schedule downtime. It could take a day or two. Now, it takes minutes. They can just do that themselves. They can shut down the service in the middle of the day because they own it.” A field is a data type such as numbers, text, or dates; while a feature class is a database table that includes spatial data.
In many ways, implementing ArcGIS Enterprise has improved workflows for the district, both in the way their data is automatically made available between ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online, to the way that GIS tasks are handled throughout the organization, saving time and empowering their users.
Morgan calls their solution a “three clicks or less” rule that makes it easy for users.
“Three clicks or less is very important to our organization,” he said. “It helps ensure that solutions are a valuable tool and not a burden! So, we have to honor that principle.”
To kick off the park district’s data collection season in the spring of 2018, the solution went live for a few groups including wildlife and forestry. “It is making their lives easier even if they don’t realize it,” Morgan said. “We’ve designed it so well that they don’t even realize how much has changed, except now they have the ability to make the changes in the field, when they want to.”
We have loved having the collaboration capability. It made it so much easier to deploy ArcGIS Enterprise but keep ArcGIS Online. Probably the best compliment I can give is that we haven’t noticed it since we turned it on. Meaning it just works.