Mowing your Own Lawn

By: Chris Fricke, Solutions Engineer

“They say that something like 90% of the world’s information is spatial.”

This is usually the quote I use when I feel I need to explain to people what I do for a living.  I then go into how I help municipalities and local governments across the country develop and publish their data out to their local constituents.  It makes everyone feel really good and usually distracts from any Buster Bluth references.

The theory that most data is spatial has opened up new doors across business units in local government.  Focused apps like the My Government Services, Tax Parcel Viewer and Executive Dashboard have set an expectation that not only will GIS applications display where, but that they will also display what, why, and how.

However, I feel like the quote is missing a key element, 90% of the world’s information is not spatial- it is spatially related.   Case in point:  the assessor information joined to your tax lots in the Tax Parcel Viewer is not spatial data, it is business data and it probably should not be managed by the GIS folks.

For this reason I would like to introduce the concept of Mowing Your Own Lawn.

Mowing your own lawn is a strategy for keeping data stewardship with the departments that own the data. Instead of maintaining tons of attribute information, GIS should instead focus on just the spatial component.  GIS should then provide a mechanism for non-GIS folks to maintain their attribute information or link to external resources.

Here are a few tips and tricks for mowing your own lawn:

Directly pull from other business systems

At ArcMap 10.0 Esri introduced query layers and at 10.1 they made tables with native geometry types pretty transparent to the end user.  This means that any data that has an X and a Y can be pulled directly from that source.  Instead of duplicating 911 or other incident data into your GIS database, now you can simply create a query layer in ArcMap referencing the other database.  This prevents GIS from maintaining security on data that should be maintained by E911.


Join to other business systems

Assessing data is always a huge pain.  Usually by the time the data makes it through the extract, transform and load (ETL) process into the GIS data, it is already out of date!  Then the data might sit there for a week until the next ETL process updates the Tax Parcel feature class.

Wouldn’t it be great to create a live link to the assessor’s database with a spatial view to represent the join between Assessing data and spatial data?  You can do this incredibly easily at 10.1 with the ability to create Spatial Views through ArcCatalog.


Create focused attribute editor apps

Often the data we would like to display simply does not exist in a format GIS can use.  This calls for getting the folks with domain expertise to populate the data for us. A focused application that only allows for users to edit attribute information is a straight forward method for collecting this information without a ton of training.

Need someone to fill out Park information?  Simply roll out a simple attribute editing web app that allows park personnel to fill out what amenities are available at the park and what time the parks are open.  BAM!  It automagically updates in the locater app open to the public.


So yes, 90% of the world’s information is spatial, but it doesn’t mean we have to maintain it all!

2013 RECon Recap


By: Adam Korn, Charlie Blaesser, and Sonny Beech

For the third consecutive year, we attended RECon, the premiere Retail and Real Estate convention in Las Vegas, with more than 1000 exhibitors, and 30,000 professionals in attendance.  Held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, RECon hosts a diverse mix of companies servicing the global Retail industry, from traditional real estate management and broker-type companies to technology providers that empower Retailers to improve overall performance, including their site selection and optimize their brick-n-mortar strategies.

One noticeable improvement at this year’s show over the past few years was the energy level.  Retail is bouncing back, and Retailers are starting to once again explore growth strategies, and how they can use the latest technology and sales platforms to reach their targeted audience, and deliver the desirable performance and consumer experience.

This year’s show didn’t produce any seismic announcements; but GISi, alongside Esri and other technology partners demonstrated a series of new technologies that help Retailers better manage and optimize their store networks, improve their forecasting capabilities, and better predict actual performance, and how newly available “big data” can help develop trade areas, and identify customer travel and behavioral patterns.

In Conclusion:

Retailing is not dying on the vine, it’s getting poised to pounce with new emerging technologies, and expanded presence in nearly every market.  In a space that is usually very traditional in the way they do business, they are now feeling like technology is moving from not only accepted but also now expected.

The expanding portfolio of technologies such as our SiteIntel platform or Spatially-enabled dashboards, and the ever increasing features of Esri’s ArcGIS Online are enabling Retailers to think beyond traditional bricks-and-mortar strategies, and leverage GIS to better reach and interact with their targeted customers, and drive performance and efficiencies with better logistics planning, and merchandising and marketing strategies across their store networks.

GISi spent a good amount of time meeting with Retailers, and other technology providers to gather information as we continue to design and develop industry-leading applications that bring the value of location, and spatially enabled technologies to a reinvigorated retail environment.

Esri Southeast DevMeetup

via Chris Bupp, Senior Application Developer

The Southeast Esri Dev Meetup went really well last night.  It was my 2nd dev meetup, and it was great to see several faces from previous meetups.  The event was hosted at Stats in Atlanta, GA.

My Highlights of the night:

  • Mansour’s Hadoop Presentation
  • 5 lightning talks (3 from GISi)
  • Fellow Esri Developers

Mansour’s Presentation:

In Mansour’s famous fashion, he was able to amaze, inspire, and scare you in a single 25 minute presentation.  His topic was “Big Data,” and amazed us with the sheer quantity and speed.  He then inspired us by showing us how easy it was, and how he laughs if people only have “millions of records.”  He then scared us by talking about real world big data… phone calls, sensor networks, and “unknown unknowns”


Lightning Talks:

I was able to give 2 lightning talks at this meetup.  The first was “Hands-on GIS” and talked about my 100 lines or less entry at the 2013 Dev Summit that integrated a LeapMotion device with an ArcGIS for JavaScript map (video).

via @AmyNiessen

My second lightning talk was comparing GeoTriggers to GeoEvent Processor.  My conclusion:  They have a lot of overlap in capabilities, but have a few key differentiators.

  • Concerned about mobile battery life? Use GeoTriggers
  • Don’t want to host a server? Use GeoTriggers
  • Want access to your data on AGOL? Use GeoEvent Processor
  • Want customizable processing or custom inputs/outputs? Use GeoEvent Processor
  • Want to pull down lightning strikes or Bouy data? Use GeoEvent Processor


Amy Niessen and Jim Barry did a great job putting this event together.  It was a great location, great food, and great people!  I can’t wait for the next event (and hope that it’s sooner than later).

Gettin’ Yammered!

By: Chris Judd

Here at GISi, we get Yammered.  Some of us even do it during work hours – and it’s not against company policy, in fact it is encouraged.  As a part of our commitment to Service Excellence, we need to communicate and let each other know when we are doing well.  This is premise behind my latest and first project here at the company, the Peer Recognition System.

Yammer Look and Functionality

Yammer describes itself as “a private social network for your company”.  It can be thought of as having the layout of Facebook and the following feature of Twitter but with the universe of people limited to just a specific company.  As you can see from the screenshot below, the GISi Yammer page has a strong resemblance to Facebook, sporting the similar blue and white color scheme:


Yammer as an Organizational Development Tool

A central goal of GISi is “To Be the Premier GIS Firm to Work For and With”.  As a company and as employees we are committed to our organizational development.  A part of this strategy is to facilitate feedback, not just up and down the management chain – but from peer to peer.  This recognition and acknowledgement of our good works goes a long way to build and improve relationships inside the company.  A couple years back, Yammer introduced their “Praise” feature for employees to recognize individuals or groups of people in the company. The praise interface is very similar to how one would post a normal status update on Yammer.  You input the person or persons you want to praise, add a little note about why you are praising them, and assign the topics/hash tags to list specific skills or products you are praising them about.


The Peer Recognition System is Born

The employees in our company started using the praise feature immediately after it was released!  It was decided that we needed to aggregate all of this good Karma so it could be tallied and reported in an analytical way.  This is where I came in.  I was given the assignment to gather up all of the kudos/Karma activity and harvest it to be displayed on the employee’s profile page on our company intranet.

Putting the technology together really wasn’t very difficult thanks to Yammer’s Rest API.  Here the steps that I took:

  • Everything starts after you register a new application by going here:
  • yammer3

  • Get authenticated: Yammer has a very detailed tutorial on using OAuth 2.0 to get access to the data.
  • Use the Yammer Rest API to cull out the praise data.
  • yammer4

  • Create a database structure to persist the Yammer data.
  • Then I created a simple ASP.Net web page to display the data that I collected.
  • Used the Content Editor Web Part (CEWP) to insert the simple ASP.Net page in SharePoint as an iframe.

We broke down the data by the topic (or hash tag) that a person was praised for, inserted their praiser’s profile picture, added a count of the Karma that has been given and received – called the Karma Counter.

Final Product

Now it’s easy to see who has a stash of Karma in the company.  We can just browse over our company intranet profile and admire all of the good Karma we have built up or given out.  Check out the final results, looks pretty good, don’t you think?


2013 Esri Petroleum GIS Conference Recap

By: Joe Howell and Sonny Beech

Another fantastic Esri event and a great opportunity to network with over 1,500 petroleum, gas, and pipeline GIS users; the Esri Petroleum GIS Conference (PUG) didn’t disappoint. Held at the George R. Brown Convention Center is Houston, Texas, the conference had a great mix of events for attendees and we were able to note just a few takeaways.

The show itself didn’t hold any big surprises as Esri continues to emphasize ArcGIS Online as a platform and pitched the intranet portal as a solution for companies who are hesitant to use cloud hosting. They announced native GIS integration with PI, an api used by most SCADA and Vehicle Tracking systems. They also announced the deprecation of the C and Java api’s for ArcSDE, moving to runtime and engine for development. They are moving away from Application Tier of SDE, favoring Direct Connect management instead (this is very apparent in 10.1 desktop). Also ArcGIS Portal has completed the Active Directory integration.

The social was at the House of Blues and, as usual, the food and music were both great – though it was a tad bit loud to carry on conversations at length. Still it was a great opportunity to meet up with old and new friends for a night out in Houston.

In Conclusion

This was actually our first petroleum conference, so overall we both felt like it was very insightful. We’ve wanted to really get to know and participate more in the Esri petroleum circles and this conference was the perfect opportunity to accomplish this. For the first time, approximately 15-20% of attendees came from pipeline companies – and these folks added quite a lot to the discussion, which definitely helped make the conference even more of a success from our vantage point.

Esri Petroleum GIS Conference Social held at the House of Blues.

Esri Petroleum GIS Conference Social held at the House of Blues.

GISi Announces Partnership with Cityworks

Premier GIS Companies Align to Better Serve Clients in State & Local Government

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – May 2, 2013 – Two Esri Platinum Partners have joined together to better enable state and local government personnel, improve workflows, and leverage technology to gain efficiencies in the operation and maintenance of assets.  The partnership between Geographic Information Services, Inc. (GISi) and Cityworks – Azteca Systems Inc. brings together nearly 50 years of combined experience in spatial technology and over 220 dedicated employees.

“We are thrilled and honored to become a Cityworks partner” said Lee Lichlyter, President & CEO of GISi. “Their products are the gold standard in the industry for asset and work order management.  Additionally, our companies share a common value of putting a client’s needs in front of our own.  Government entities across the United States now have world class product and implementation services available to them.”

“GISi becoming an authorized Implementation Partner adds a new level of experience and capabilities to Azteca Systems,” said Brian Haslam, President and CEO of Azteca Systems Inc. “Among Esri’s best-known and most respected partners, the breadth of GISi’s industry knowledge and expertise significantly enhances our ability to ensure the success of our mutual customers. Sharing a common mission to help organizations get the most from their GIS investment, we both believe the best solutions begin with strong relationships and a commitment to GIS. For all intents and purposes, GISi is really an extension to our corporate culture – something I’m sure our customers will clearly see.”

As a Cityworks authorized Implementation Partner, GISi is fully trained and capable of providing services aimed at facilitating a Cityworks implementation, including:

  • Esri platform installation & configuration
  • Cityworks installation & configuration
  • Cloud management services
  • Integration services between Cityworks and other enterprise systems
  • Data management & workflow analysis
  • Capacity analysis & architecture design
  • System review & optimization recommendations
  • Facilitate extending existing Cityworks implementations throughout the organization
  • Identify flexible deployment options for office staff and field crews
  • Help organizations manage public engagement (citizen request management) through Cityworks

Sean Savage is leading the effort for GISi under the new partnership, bringing nearly 5-years of experience working with one of the most extensive Cityworks Server implementations to date at Oakland County, Michigan. If you would like to learn more about the GISi service options and how they can help facilitate or improve your Cityworks implementation, please call Sean at 205.941.0442 ext. 179 or email him at

About Azteca Systems Inc.

Since 1986, Azteca Systems Inc. has been providing innovative GIS-centric Management Solutions to agencies that own and care for critical infrastructure, capital assets, and property. Built exclusively on Esri’s ArcGIS technology, Cityworks is a powerful, scalable, and affordable solution for asset management, permitting and licensing. Time-tested and proven technology, Cityworks is Empowering GIS™ at more than 450 user sites around the world.

About GISi

GISi is an award-winning GIS professional services firm located in Birmingham, Ala., with offices throughout the United States.  GISi has a passion for delivering customer driven location technology solutions to federal, state and local governments, and commercial organizations.  To learn more, visit or call (205) 941-0442.

Rachel Ankersen, Marketing Coordinator, GISi
(205) 941-0442 x 120

Esri Southeast User Conference Recap

By: Kevin Stewart, Sonny Beech, Rachel Ankersen

The Southeast 500 – not a race, but rather the approximate number of attendees at this year’s Esri Southeast User Conference in Jacksonville, Florida (formerly Southeast Regional User Group – SERUG).  Overall we felt like it was another positive sign that State and Local Governments are on the road to recovery from previous years of economic challenges.  While most of the attendees hailed from Florida and Georgia, there was user representation from every state in the southeast region.

ArcGIS Online continues to be a major focus for Esri

ArcGIS Online was definitely the hot topic for Esri this year.  In fact it was mentioned so many times that we may have actually overheard the front desk employees of the hotel talking about it when we checked out on Wednesday.  To start the plenary session, Mike Dyer did a demo during his opening remarks, showing how he could import a spreadsheet of conference attendees into ArcGIS Online. He followed by showing the various ways the existing ArcGIS Online applications could be used.

Esri continues to pour resources into this initiative and users appear to understand it more and more.  With ArcGIS Online and Esri’s other initiative, ArcGIS for Local Government, Esri has provided a comprehensive platform to solve the most common problems in state and local government:

·         do more with less;

·         easily deploy maps & apps;

·         become more relevant – support the business;

·         the need for quick wins;

·         suffering from paralysis (have stagnated);

·         support for the increasing demand of citizen engagement.

Our biggest take away from the show is that the Esri platform and vision are all there for GIS shops to maximize their Esri software investment and support the business of Government.  As a service provider in this industry, this is very exciting.  In a very short period of time we can help a local government go from absolutely zero location technology to web and mobile applications.  It wasn’t very long ago a jump like that would have taken years let alone months.

In Conclusion

We felt like users are really getting it and conversations we had in the hallway and breakout sessions were evidence.  Esri’s messaging of targeted, focused applications is starting to resonate with users. There were conversations about users creating web maps for specific projects or to support a specific business function.  In fact we had one conversation with a user and their journey from custom applications that had handcuffed them in the past to becoming a pure out of the box shop.  This is a result to the work that Esri has done by creating targeted focused applications and making them available to the user community.  Overall, the break out sessions, plenary, and socials were intimate and a fun atmosphere of learning.

GISi team pictured left to right: Kevin Stewart, Rachel Ankersen, Sonny Beech

GISi team pictured left to right: Kevin Stewart, Rachel Ankersen, Sonny Beech