"Experience Builder is delivering a whole new level of flexibility to be able to offer a range of ways to look at your information. I think what Experience Builder has done is tap into new ways for delivering business intelligence."
North Carolina Manages Inventory of State-Owned Real Estate with Web Experience Builder Solution
The State Property Office, under the North Carolina Department of Administration (DOA), wanted to move from a text-based search engine that manages the state’s inventory of real estate.
ArcGIS Experience Builder
The new site created with ArcGIS Experience Builder is now viewable on mobile devices, incorporates maps to give geographic context to data, and enables better search functionality for users.
The population of the Tar Heel State, North Carolina, has grown by 8.9 percent since the 2010 Census, with the state ranking among the top five states people moved to in 2021, according to a survey. The growing population also means a surge in business for the state, new construction projects, and the expansion of existing properties like universities. The State Property Office, under the North Carolina Department of Administration (DOA), provides professional real estate services for all state agencies within North Carolina.
The services include the buying, selling, and leasing of property like warehouses and office buildings to state agencies. The State Property Office maintains the inventory of the properties via a public-facing website designed for organizations or individuals that may not have data on their own inventory. Users can see if a specific transaction has been completed, what the current inventory looks like for state-owned properties, and whether a building has been accepted into the state's inventory.
The site dedicated to managing the inventory was a text-based search engine accessible by the public. The State Property Office set out to create a new web page that included a map viewer to visually display data and search results. The office also wanted to provide more real-time information and have the data integrated with Esri technology.
The State Property Office partnered with Patrick Engineering Inc. to develop a new geocentric web page with a tool designed to create web applications and compelling web experiences. The new site has enabled users to view data, more easily obtain search results, and deliver superior business intelligence.
Users could query the database on the public-facing site to find information on the more than 11,000 state-owned buildings and about 5 million square feet of leased space. However, there was no visualization component or geographic data tied to any search results. Users also couldn't export records from the site. Previously, users had to capture a screenshot of the results.
According to John Cox, the facilities information section manager for the State Property Office, says, "We had to develop a new interface to the public-facing site to tap into that [geographic] data. The original site for searching and querying was text based, so it didn't have a map viewer as a part of the page."
The State Property Office also wanted to develop a new site with ArcGIS as its backbone and using Cartegraph software that seamlessly integrates with the ArcGIS system, explains Charlie Charping, a geographic information system (GIS) consultant with Patrick Engineering. Cartegraph software is designed to help organizations manage physical assets and operations.
"Another driver for the [new] site was to be able to tap directly into that [geographic] data," says Charping. "Since that data was already in Esri format at that point now, it just made sense to have the public-facing site tap directly into that data, instead of some complex process to extract the data from geographic information system and then put it back in another database just to get it back into the legacy system."
John Young, director of geospatial services for Patrick Engineering, echoes this sentiment and says he and Charping aimed to tie the data back to the State Property Office's real property management system to ensure that users could obtain near real-time information. This would also enable easier updating of information on the site.
"There was just a need to update and make that [data] available to the citizenry of the state of North Carolina," says Young.
With a strong interest in the project, Patrick Engineering, an engineering, design, and technology firm founded in 1979, began work on the new site. As an Esri partner for more than 20 years, the Patrick geospatial services team selected a product they had learned about at the Esri User Conference: ArcGIS Experience Builder. ArcGIS Experience Builder is a tool that allows users to transform data into web apps without writing any code. This would be the first time Young and Charping used Experience Builder for a client project.
"As soon as I learned about it, I knew immediately that this was going to be a great solution for many of our clients without even having any use cases at that point," says Charping.
For Charping, a primary driver for selecting Experience Builder was to have more control of the layout of the site compared to other solutions. He explains that without Experience Builder, the team would have had to recruit more developers to build the custom site from scratch. In addition, since the solution needed to integrate with ArcGIS Online, the Patrick Engineering team wanted to capitalize on the out-of-the-box tools Experience Builder offers, which reduces costs.
"Having Experience Builder was just a great option because it allowed us to be competitive in scoping the work with John [Cox], because having that SDK to work with meant that we could do the work at a lower cost . . . saving the State of North Carolina money and [providing] a great end product," says Charping.
Charping learned how to use Experience Builder with self-paced learning, including watching educational videos, reading available documentation, and connecting with other users in the Esri Community for users of Experience Builder. He says Experience Builder was very intuitive for GIS professionals who have developed with SDKs from Esri.
"In a nutshell, I taught myself how to use it, and it seems to be a great tool [that will] continue to mature and bring even more functionality," says Charping. "There were some hiccups along the way but . . . this speaks to the work [staff] have done at Esri. I was able to figure all this out without having to go through any instructor-led training."
Charping and Cox kicked off the project by meeting to discuss what Cox wanted in the new site, which included a map viewer and the ability to export data. Cox also wanted the look and feel of the site to be similar in layout and navigation to the legacy system for a simple transition for users. The team assembled a group of other state agencies to view the test site and provide feedback on the look and feel of the page.
The new site was moved from a locally hosted system to a cloud-based system with GIS data added. Cox says the State Property Office provided some training to users on how to use the tool, and feedback from them has been positive.
The data in the system is organized by locations, including county and complexes, which are geographic locations. Data also ties in with the North Carolina Department of Insurance for agencies that want to confirm that a building is insured.
The new site has improved the user experience with enhanced capabilities such as exporting records and visualizing data on a map, giving state agencies geographic context to their data. With 8,000 hits to the site over the course of seven months, usage has increased and the site now gives users details on their current inventory. The map allows users to see building locations, a notable improvement from the previous text-based system.
The new Experience Builder site is now viewable on mobile devices and tablets and gives users full functionality, even if not on a desktop computer. The site is composed of multiple pages that are sorted by property and asset type. Predefined queries mean users can search by department division, county, street address, or building name. Once a result is selected, the map will zoom to that area and highlight it.
The site has empowered users to obtain the data they need on their own, without needing assistance from the State Property Office. Previously, state agencies would call or email the office with requests, and Cox would have to create a report; export it to a spreadsheet program; clean it up; and then send it to the user and create a map, if required. Now, users can see the property and export the data themselves.
"Once the users were fully trained and they learned how to use it, it reduced calls and inquiries to me directly. It's helped my job and my staff serve the state agencies and the public with information," says Cox.
Experience Builder lets users easily add and manage pages, which was beneficial for this project, according to Charping. He explains that because the site had multiple pages that had similarities, the ability to take a page and duplicate it and change out the titles and data sources—as opposed to creating a page from scratch—was valuable.
"The ability to look at the [page] outline and give it tags and titles that made sense to me as I was building it was super helpful to make sure that I was connecting all the dots and architecting this in the correct way," says Charping.
The property data from the State Property Office is now being managed with Cartegraph and Esri technologies. Charping explains that with Experience Builder, the team tapped right into the REST services coming out of ArcGIS Server, increasing efficiency by not having to do more extract, transform, and load (ETL) work on data to put it back in another database.
"If it weren't for this site, I think we would've had to jump through some other hoops to wire up that data back from Cartegraph into [the] legacy system," says Charping.
Experience Builder enabled the Patrick Engineering team to customize the design of the new site. Charping believes the ability to customize the site's layout has resulted in a more holistic view of what the site is intended to show and gives people better ways to interact with that data than they could get with just a text-based search.
"[I liked] the flexibility to place elements on the page wherever you want them to be, and the ability to really create more of a full website, not just a single map viewer," says Charping. "I feel like it opens up the floodgates for GIS professionals to be able to produce something that is based on GIS but—as the name [says]—is a whole experience."
Young adds, "There is a lot of business intelligence or tools out there that present a lot of ways that you can consume analytics, but if you're just looking for business intelligence about a particular asset, I think Charlie's proven out that this is a very good tool to use."