My goal is to create a system that is so easy to navigate and understand that, regardless of their familiarity with GIS, my colleagues' first thought is to come to OSI's Geospatial Hub instead of sending an email asking us for a one-off static map or shapefile.
Open Space Institute Gives Everyone in their Organization the Power to Visualize Data and Answer Geographical Questions
The value of data and maps multiplies when they are readily accessible. When everyone in an organization has secure, straightforward access to data and maps, they are far more likely to use them. This is logical but not always common practice due to system and knowledge limitations.
Open Space Institute (OSI) is an environmental conservation organization and innovative leader in the land trust space. By protecting scenic, natural, and historic landscapes, it provides public enjoyment, conserves habitat and working lands, and sustains communities. Maps play a key role in land conservation work and are regularly used to inform prioritization planning and communicate progress to stakeholders. OSI always leveraged the power of maps but took a traditional approach by using static paper or PDF maps. This approach inundated OSI's geographic information system (GIS) team with time-consuming requests for specific maps and data. To respond to its growing needs, OSI implemented ArcGIS Online, a web-based mapping, analysis, and content management system that enabled self-service access to interactive data and maps.
A central server in the New York City home office held OSI's geographic information, which staff across the East Coast accessed through VPN. Remote access was cumbersome and time-consuming, which discouraged remote staff from accessing the information. To avoid this process, they would save a copy to their local drive or send an email to the GIS team asking for the specific data and map to fulfill their current project.
User: Open Space Institute
Challenge: Access to geographic information was cumbersome and time-consuming.
Solution: ArcGIS Online with its web-based content management system, straightforward map authoring, configurable web applications, and data collection workflows.
Result: Everyone in the organization can quickly access maps and data to independently answer their geographical questions.
This was problematic for two reasons: First, the copied geographic information saved to their local drive quickly became outdated and inaccurate. Second, the GIS team spent considerable amounts of time making basic map and data customizations and generating PDF maps.
OSI implemented ArcGIS Online, a web-based mapping and analysis product. It fulfilled their needs through its web-based content management system, powerful dashboards, configurable web applications, straightforward map authoring, and data collection workflows.
Secure, web-based content management system
OSI staff, regardless of where they are located, can conveniently access their data and maps through ArcGIS Online, a software as a service (SaaS) product that runs on any modern web browser. The maps are not static PDF maps; they are interactive web maps that provide enhanced details and new perspectives when zooming in, searching, and interacting with the data.
By organizing their maps, data, and users into groups in ArcGIS Online, the GIS team provides secure and convenient self-service access to OSI's geographic information. Team members, through their licensed identities, are assigned to a group and given access to the subset of the organization's data and maps relevant to their work. The GIS team updates the web maps and data in each group, providing everyone with current information.
OSI staff access their data and maps through a hub site created using ArcGIS Hub, an application included with ArcGIS Online. The site provides an overview and branches into specific pages for each of OSI's programs. The hub site and pages follow the same group sharing rules set up in ArcGIS Online by the GIS team.
To answer commonly asked data and location questions, the GIS team created dashboards using ArcGIS Dashboards, an application included with ArcGIS Online. The dashboards include information about all of OSI's current landholdings, potential projects, projected dispositions, and grants distributed. Teams, including External Affairs and Stewardship, use the dashboards to gain a clear snapshot of organizational interests and answer questions such as, How many easements do we have in Ulster County, NY? or How many acres do we own in this state? The dashboards also provide a quick way to see what OSI is doing in an area of interest.
Straightforward map authoring
OSI staff often have specific visual requirements for the maps they share with stakeholders. This may include a specific basemap, symbols of a certain color and size, and a specific map extent. With the straightforward visualization tools in ArcGIS Online, anyone—with or without GIS experience—can customize the look and feel of their map. With this workflow, the GIS team can create one map, and the staff can create custom visualizations to meet their specific needs.
Configurable web applications
To share data and collaborate with outside partners, OSI created several configurable applications ranging from simple map viewers to more complex interactive mapping tools using ArcGIS Web AppBuilder. The focus of these applications has grown from singularly focused projects to large, regional landscapes, and they have allowed OSI to work efficiently with partner nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); consulting groups; and federal, state, and local government offices. Depending on the desired experience, OSI configured each application to allow users various capabilities such as filtering and searching datasets, adding datasets of their own, and producing simple map exports. All these applications were configured within the ArcGIS Online system and required no coding, scripting, or special customization.
OSI also built stories with ArcGIS StoryMaps to increase awareness, encourage donations, and gather community input. Its stories include engaging components such as time-lapse maps showing the positive progression of protected lands, guided journeys along river and land, and encouraging narratives of successful conservation efforts. Supporters, local citizens, and partners find OSI’s stories through its website, social media platforms, and e-newsletters.
Data collection workflows
Not only did OSI bring data from its central server when it implemented ArcGIS Online, the organization also has an ongoing need to collect data. For example, OSI has a legal requirement to visit every property on which it holds an easement or owns. Historically, after visiting a property, staff would fill out a PDF form and later submit it to the database manager to store. Today, they use the mobile applications included with ArcGIS Online to streamline their workflow. They built property monitoring forms into ArcGIS Survey123, which allow staff to complete the form, collect the stakeholder's signature, and upload reports directly on-site. ArcGIS Field Maps is used to record site-specific observations, take geolocated images, and track the area and distance covered during each site visit. Data from both applications is seamlessly fed into the ArcGIS Online system and can be displayed instantly for the team to review.
Accessing geographic information is now very efficient for OSI staff. With ArcGIS Online, everyone in the organization, regardless of where they reside, has the power to quickly visualize and answer their geographical questions. Staff are using the maps and dashboards to independently answer their questions. They are also sharing interactive maps on screen in meetings with landowners and partner organizations. This practice clarifies conversations and makes their meetings more efficient.
The OSI GIS team includes two people who serve an organization of 60 individuals in multiple offices along the East Coast. Their success is a testament to how quickly an organization can transition to web-based mapping, content management, and data collection. ArcGIS Online provides a robust content and user management system as well as applications such as ArcGIS Hub and ArcGIS Dashboards that only require configuration—not development—to set up in an organization.
Now that the OSI has self-service access to its current data and maps, the GIS team is free to think of more ways to use the technology, and the entire organization is sure to discover new ways to engage its stakeholders through the power of data and maps.
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