Saving time and improving quality with online data services
Maintaining the background mapping for its many GIS applications used to be a challenging and time-consuming process for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). The organisation is now able to rely on Esri UK’s online data service, which both saves time and enhances the user experience.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is the Scottish Government’s advisor on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Its role is to help everyone understand, value and enjoy Scotland’s nature now and in the future. It does this by providing advice and information to support projects that benefit wildlife, habitats and landscapes, or that encourage more people to enjoy nature responsibly.
GIS professionals no longer have to spend hours at a time updating the background mapping for the organisation’s GIS applications
For no additional cost, SNH now has access to a vast library of maps including large-scale maps that would otherwise have cost up to £5,000 a year
Esri UK’s online data service delivers exceptional user performance and can scale up to meet unexpected peaks in traffic
SNH is legally required to “actively disseminate” natural heritage information, but felt that answering inquiries as they arose by telephone, fax and post was not fully satisfying these obligations.
“We wanted to be able to provide a better service to the public, as well as save time and money”, Mark Robson, GIS Manager says. Consequently, SNH decided to develop an interactive mapping service to deliver information, whether about wildlife in the Cairngorms, facts about a Site of Special Scientific Interest or for planning a trip to a National Nature Reserve.
We wanted something that we could develop very rapidly, that would offer us ‘Web 2.0’ type capabilities and that could easily be integrated with the rest of the organisation’s website
Mark Robson – GIS Manager at SNH
As a longstanding user of GIS, SNH needed a web-based solution that was compatible with their existing GIS architecture. “We wanted something that we could develop very rapidly, that would offer us ‘Web 2.0’ type capabilities and that could easily be integrated with the rest of the organisation’s website”, says Mark Robson, GIS Manager.
Esri UK’s Customer Care team worked closely with SNH’s GIS team to migrate from ArcIMS to the latest version of ArcGIS Server, which includes the Flex Application Programming Interface (API).
Flex made it easy to create web-based mapping applications with the desired look, feel and general style, and SNH was able to create a proof of concept application within a matter of hours. In development, SNH used ESRI’s hosted services, while still implementing ArcGIS Server. “When ArcGIS went live, it was very easy for me to switch from the hosted system to our own system,” says Richard Betts, Senior GIS Officer.
A key capability of Flex is its ability to integrate data and services from third parties. SNH created a mash-up, seamlessly importing species data from the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) into its own website. “Previously, we had provided a lot of information into the NBN, but we needed a way of making that information accessible to our own customers,” explains Richard Betts, Senior GIS Officer
SNH’s GIS team found the documentation on resources.esri.com well organised and well written. This helped them understand the capabilities of the ArcGIS Server and speeded up application development. “The whole application build took less than four months”, estimates Betts. “Considering how much new software was involved and the complexity of our environment, that was pretty quick.”
ArcGIS Server allows us to deliver information in a far more accessible way and to a wider range of people, from planners and developers to school children
Mark Robson – GIS Manager at SNH
The site is helping achieve the goals of openness and value for money for the people of Scotland. SNH launched its interactive mapping in March 2009 and the site attracts an average of 3,000 visitors per month, with 20,000 individual page views per month. Most importantly, two thirds of users are return customers. “This demonstrates that users value the site and consider it worth visiting again,” says Betts. “We have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of unprompted positive feedback we have received from both users and partners,” says Robson.
Whereas it used to take over a day of an area officer’s time to answer a fairly standard query, now customers can easily find information for themselves. “GIS enables us to work more efficiently and frees up people’s time to focus on the quality aspects of information management”, observes Alan McKirdy, Head of Information Management.
New audiences now access SNH data. “ArcGIS Server allows us to deliver information in a far more accessible way and to a wider range of people, from planners and developers to school children”, explains Robson.
GIS enables us to work more efficiently and frees up people’s time to focus on the quality aspect of information management
Ian McKirdy – Head of Information Management at SNH
More content will be made available online. “Self service has proved to be better for our customers and a more efficient use of our time”, says Robson. “The next step is to take advantage of the simplicity of the ArcGIS Flex API to expand this service to cover all our data.”
Robson and Betts believe that the wider deployment of online interactive mapping will help to elevate SNH’s reputation. “It is now much easier for people to see what we do, what we stand for and why we are here”, concludes Robson. “Use of GIS on our website is helping to increase awareness of the value of what we deliver for the people of Scotland.