Geospatial on a Budget 5: The Force of Visualizing and Mapping Data

August 24, 2016

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Editor's note: Welcome to the fifth installment of our 2016 series, Geospatial on a Budget. Today we're examining data related solutions. Whether you’re collecting, storing, analyzing, mapping or presenting data, there are some good options for you that will keep the accounting department happy and get your critical analysis done.

We love data! From counting how many likes your latest post received to watching the graph rise on your 401K, we are surrounded by mountains of data. As geospatial professionals, mapping all that information is at the heart of the industry. Solving problems and highlighting issues using geographic analysis is our bread and butter, the foundation of the geospatial industry. If the geospatial industry had a “force,” data would be it! While we’re keenly aware of the “spendy” options for finding and managing data, what options are available that won’t break the bank?

Finding Data

Start with your local, state or national data warehouses. Especially for United States data, these resources are replete with information that may compliment your project. Next, explore the data that is included with your GIS software. Most GIS software companies include a myriad of international data with their software to get you up and mapping quickly. Finally, check in with the various online communities. You never know what data a colleague may have created and is willing to share with you and your project.

If you were inspired to plant a tree by the Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony, then you might like the tree data available from Earthdefine. They say, “We have the largest collection of tree related data that can provide a low-cost solution for organizations. Essentially these are high resolution raster classifications of tree cover and Canopy Height Models (CHM) for multiple states that can be extracted to any area of interest and delivered quickly. The pricing is discounted significantly for large areas.”

Data and Mapping in the Cloud

Ever envision little ones and zeros camping out on those white tufts in the sky? The use of cloud technologies is ubiquitous for many software options that are pillars of our daily workflow framework. The geospatial cloud applications are no different. If you need easy to use mapping solutions and want cloud-based options, then these apps might be the ones you seek.

GIS Cloud brings you a variety of data and mapping options that are budget friendly indeed — FREE. Even their priced products are on budget. GIS Cloud offers cloud-based GIS solutions ranging from their Mobile Data Collection application to Map Editor, Maplim and Fleet Management apps. They are poised to integrate with your existing workflow with products such as Publisher for ArcMap which is a “single click solution to get your maps and data from the most popular desktop GIS right into GIS Cloud! The extension is free and compatible with Esri ArcMap 9.x and 10.x.”

Hexagon brings their Smart M.App collection to the party. They describe it as “a cloud-hosted, map-based dynamic information service, a light-weight application that utilizes the Hexagon Geospatial geospatial operators to give insight into specific business problems.” For example, one of their partners has created a Greenspace Analyser, which makes use of data from across time to provide a dynamic view into the way greenspace has changed in the area of Milton Keynes, UK.

A Hexagon Smart M.App is really two things:

1.       Smart M.App for Users: Customers can visit the M.App Exchange, an ecommerce site where they can go and purchase cloud-based solutions that provide access to the dynamic Smart M.Apps. These are low-cost, specific applications that are designed to fit a specific gap in the geospatial workflow, or to provide a way for non-geospatial industries to quickly include location-based information into their business analytics.

2.       Smart M.App for Developers: People who are interested in designing, creating and selling their own Smart M.Apps can do so. "This is what sets the Hexagon Smart M.App apart: We are encouraging people with the domain or local need expertise to build and sell their own Smart M.App. We will be providing them access to hundreds of spatial operators, as well as the ability to connect to data and business analytics to take their own million-dollar idea and act upon it."

Tableau says that they are “cloud analytics for anyone, anywhere.” While their products for desktop and online just make our budget cutoff, they offer free software for students and educators. According to their site, “Whether you’re a student creating scatter plots for a project or an educator instructing an economics course, Tableau will enhance learning and teaching with a fast, easy-to-use, visual analytics platform.”

Carto (formerly CartoDB) is “an open, powerful, and intuitive platform for discovering and predicting the key insights underlying the location data in our world.” Their service is free up to 250 MB of space. Their pricing models increase with the storage you need. This solution is another great way to get started with little investment.

Depiction “is mapping, simulation and collaboration software that puts expert-level technology in the hands of everyday people.” Their à la carte apps and add-ons make customizing your solution easy. They have categorized their solutions based on who you are and what you need.

GeoUnderground provides our clients a total solution for digitally capturing underground infrastructure location data and software to manage that geospatial data.” They are a Google for Work Technology Track Partner built on the most used map in the world, Google Maps. Companies providing services to pipeline owners and asset owners themselves are seeing the value of GeoUnderground to manage their data and allow anyone inside or outside their organization the ability to view, edit, attach supporting documents, photos, videos and more, securely through the cloud.

Using Maps in Microsoft Office

If you need options that work within Excel or PowerPoint, then you may appreciate these solutions.

E-Maps is, according to their site, “the quickest map in Excel. E-Maps is a unique plug-in, designed for Excel 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016.  E-Maps enables you to generate professional maps within a few clicks. E-Maps is sold based on a yearly subscription. E-Maps for Excel™ is available in three versions.”

ArcGIS Maps in Excel

Already have an Esri ArcGIS Online Organization subscription? ArcGIS Maps for Office is included in your subscription. Is the subscription too expensive? Esri offers discounted prices to nongovernmental organizations, schools and nonprofits. You can get a quote for your organization with a simple phone call.

Data is the lifeblood of our geospatial careers. It shouldn't be too hard or expensive to find and manage. The companies we've highlighted certainly have made that goal their mission, and we hope you're inspired to make your data easier with the tools they provide. If you have other ideas for easy and affordable options, please share them with us by emailing 


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