What applications and workflow(s) do you use for gathering, displaying and storing GPS data, with your centralised corporate data, for people who are not GIS folk?

We're in the process of standardizing across all branch offices and I'd like to hear what other folks are doing. While we have GIS users there is a significant and growing number of staff who are not and will never be GIS practitioners but are nevertheless called upon to work with spatial data. Putting Arcmap on the desktop is too expensive in time and training let alone dollars, which also knocks Quantum GIS and friends out of the running.

Google Earth is certainly easy to use and the latest versions import GPS data with a minimum of fuss. GE doesn't work for us because their base imagery in our area is so poor it doesn't line up with GPS data by tens of metres and there is no facility to replace their base with our own. Also the GE elevation model is poor and the GPS tracks disappear beneath the ground unless one discards the GPS elevation on import.

The free ArcReader solves admirably the problem of fast and easy geo browsing with custom base data -- provided the central agency has ArcPublisher, which we do -- but there is no means of easily dropping GPS data on top.

Garmin now has the free Basecamp, but there doesn't seem to be an easy means of getting the GPS data out of Basecamp and into our central data repository (unless I've missed something?).

So how about it, what do you do?

UPDATE:At the moment the primary use case is for field staff (water license inspectors, conservation officers, wildlife biologists) to collect points and tracks in the field, bring them back to the office, overlay on our in-house base data, pan/zoom/browse/etc., do the odd Identify query, export as bitmap or wmf to include in a report, and save the GPS data somewhere in an ArcGIS accessible format.

We, the real GIS folk, pick up the GPS data from the drop box and stuff it into a proper geodatabase for shared corporate use, after the appropriate data massage is complete.

  • I'm aware of Mark Cederholm's GPSLayer for ArcReader, and we use it, however it doesn't allow the end user to connect ArcReader to their GPS and download the data themselves. Oct 26, 2010 at 20:22
  • 2
    Which tasks should your "non GIS folk" be able to perform with the tools?
    – underdark
    Oct 26, 2010 at 21:46

4 Answers 4


Colleagues of mine once had a similar task: "Create a tool that allows the user to overlay satellite imagery with polygon data from PostGIS and offer them easy ways to classify the polygons. (Minimal training necessary)" ... They used QGIS, hid away all unnecessary tools and toolbars, added buttons and keyboard shortcuts for classification, done.

I think you could do the same. Hide all unnecessary tools and probably even load the background map on program start. The user just needs to be taught how to use GPS Tools to import their data. There are functions for saving bitmaps and exporting GPS data into all kinds of formats.


Not sure what your requirements are for field hardware, but have you looked at the ArcGIS API for iOS or Windows Phone? Combined with ArcGIS 10 feature services, these make for some very straightforward field data collection workflows. The data will then already be in ArcGIS, so you could then push it out using ArcGIS Reader, or better yet, one or more simple web apps built on the ArcGIS web APIs.

  • That doesn't seem to fit the requirements, especially: "overlay on our in-house base data, [...] export as bitmap or wmf to include in a report, ..."
    – underdark
    Oct 30, 2010 at 20:29
  • What format is your in-house base data? I'm not sure about the WinPhone or iOS APIs, but I know with Silverlight and WPF you can export maps to bitmap. It may be possible on WinPhone as well since it's built on a version of Silverlight. So depending on the tier you need to save bitmaps on, it could be an option.
    – zwaap
    Oct 30, 2010 at 20:44
  • An API is uninteresting because we have no developers on staff. I've been looking into ArcGIS Mobile this morning, from which it appears the esri phone apps are built from, but it's unclear whether it can function disconnected from a network, or if it can be installed on regular laptop or pc, or if it can download from gps (e.g. do more than just live gps display/capture), or can be use without ArcGIS server. Nov 1, 2010 at 19:11
  • @zwaap our in-house data is file-gdb and geotiff. I'm sceptical bitmap base maps would work. The vector file-gdb's are 1.5gb, any raster representation of that will be many times larger. Nov 1, 2010 at 19:16
  • Got the skinny on ArcGIS Mobile: it requires ArcGIS Advanced Server, a $50k touch, to set it up and give it marching orders. It does have all the other desired attributes; even so colour me Not Interested. :) Nov 1, 2010 at 21:09

I gather a lot of point data with GPS camera and use either Geosetter or the QGIS geotagging function to convert to shapefile point layers.

Make the data available on Google Drive, give differing privileges to users with Google Apps for Business account management. Put pre-configured QGIS project files in the root of each users folders, use relative paths. Packages of folders and QGIS project files can be copied to new users as they come along.

This is working well now, if you put your data as a kml in a folder and share that to the users, either as a public folder or password protected, you should find that the kml opens straight up Maps in the browser.


This is what we do, generalized of course.

Field staff collect data (waypoint or track) using a Garmin gps. Each staff has a personal workspace for each field member to store their gps or other spatial type data. To translate into shapefiles, they are using DNR GPS (formerly DNR Garmin). It is important, for record keeping, to distinguish between transitory records and permanent/corporate records. These shapefiles they create, are transitory or temporary and mostly used for planning or tracking situations on the ground.

Field staff are all using ArcGIS and can view their personal shapefiles anytime. The transitory files are not needed to keep for a long period of time and can be deleted at any time. Once they determine it is worthy for us to map on a map product, it then enters into our permanent geodatabase.

GIS staff clean and edit the lines and add some attributes to make it all hunky-dory. Field staff must be informed of this process, otherwise it will not work. It's also important to consider the legality of the information being collected. Sometimes the transitory data may become important for legal reasons and that information must be stored as part of a more permanent collection. This workflow could be modified for those field staff without access to ArcGIS...it makes more work for the GIS Tech or Analyst because the field staff would notify the GIS staff of the data whereabouts in the staff file, and then the GIS staff would have to do all the translation and view the data with the field staff and collaborate together to make decisions on what to do with the data.

Often, our GIS staff are also translating bits of our corporate data into gps format for field staff to add to their Garmin to have with them while working out in the field. I like the fact that there is an environment set up for the field staff to store their gpx and shp data that doesn't clutter up the main digital filing system. This is set up in our corporate network however a similar method could be set up online if needed.

Note: we value the importance of ArcGIS to our field staff and our office contributes to a pool of floating licences within the corporation.

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